The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Just Sanitation for all: Insights from DPU’s OVERDUE Knowledge Exchange in Tamil Nadu

22 February 2023

Between 9th and 18th February OVERDUE, a research-action network tackling the sanitation taboo across urban Africa, embarked in a knowledge exchange in the Tamil Nadu State of India.

OVERDUE Knowledge Exchange in Tamil Nadu group photo

Hosted by the Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) led by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), OVERDUE partners from seven African cities were exposed to gendered inclusive social mechanisms and technological options along the full sanitation chain supporting livelihoods and occupational health for sanitation workers.

Led by Prof. Adriana Allen at the DPU, OVERDUE brings together research institutions, NGOs and consultants focusing on, and working with the cities of Beira (Mozambique), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Mwanza (Tanzania), Antananarivo (Madagascar), Saint Louis (Senegal), Abidjan (Ivory Coast), and Bukavu (DRC).

So why bring partners from across Africa to Tamil Nadu to learn from TNUSSP? Since its inception seven years ago, this programme has made significant progress not only in bringing the voices, experiences and aspirations of sanitation workers to the fore but also in instituting tangible changes in the sanitation technologies and infrastructures that are now fully absorbed as part of the regional government’s toolkit. Thus, the knowledge exchange was rich both in field visits to Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTPs), community toilets and interactions with Self Help Groups (SHGs) on the ground but also in cross city and cross continent discussions between OVERDUE partners and the TNUSSP team. Tamil Nadu offered OVERDUE a chance to study the complete chain of sanitation as shared by the Hindu Newspaper on 10th of February.

sanitation chain graphic
Closing the loop: the full sanitation chain

After 7 days in the field, the knowledge exchange culminated in a panel discussion titled "Just Sanitation for all: Insights from Indian and African Cities" held in Chennai on 16th February (catch up here with the recording). The panel spoke to two questions at the core of our work and experience in India. First “What does it take to make technology work for the urban poor across the sanitation chain?” and second “How could community action and government action converge towards inclusive sanitation?”. The event drew a local crowd that engaged with 5 OVERDUE panellists, the discussion is reflected in articles published by DT Next and the Chennai Express.

OVERDUE Partners visiting Mannargudi Faecal Sludge Management Plant hosted by TNUSSP
OVERDUE Partners visiting Mannargudi Faecal Sludge Management Plant hosted by TNUSSP.

The journey across Tamil Nadu was rich and diverse, and a series of reflections are being gathered across the cities that will be shared in the form of four short blogs to be published on our website in the coming weeks. Armed with the insights and experiences we are now entering into the final year of OVERDUE and our aim is to advance just sanitation by counter-acting the multiple blind spots identified so far through our research. We will focus on regional capacity building and regional advocacy which will culminate in September 2023 with a Charter on African Cities for Just Sanitation, seeking to reframe the sanitation talks across UN High Level Political Forum and SDG Summit (Sept. 2023).

To learn more about OVERDUE, please visit our website: https://overdue-justsanitation.net/ and subscribe to get in the loo(p)!


Article sharing our plans for the trip and why we are in Tamil Nadu (The Hindu): https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/african-delegation-visit-tn-to-study-the-complete-chain-of-sanitation-model/article66489888.ece

Short piece published on 16th Feb (DT Next): https://www.dtnext.in/tamilnadu/2023/02/16/inclusive-urban-sanitation-practices-implemented-well-in-tn

Panel recording from discussion that livestreamed on 16th: https://www.youtube.com/live/Ie3LgVIyKv0?feature=share 

Post panel opinion piece (Chennai Express): https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2023/feb/21/sanitation-solutions-in-the-pipeline-2549265.html