Understanding Sanitation Tools and Approaches: Tools For Fecal Sludge Management

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Most urban dwellers with sanitation access are dependent on on-site sanitation systems. In the last five decades, there has been an understanding that sanitation means centralised sewerage systems which requires huge investments from the public sector. Parallely, there is huge political pressure of strict revenue generation with limited user charges to be collected from public. But Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 also states that ‘No one should be left behind’ and everyone should be included. Also, sanitation now is moving beyond access to toilets. The SDGs are the ultimate goal. Data limitations in sanitation service chain limit to the identification of problems which result in failure of management of service chain.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6 or Global Goal 6) is about "clean water and sanitation for all." It is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, the official wording is: "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” The goal has eight targets to be achieved by at least 2030. Progress toward the targets is decided to be measured by using eleven indicators. The six "outcome-oriented targets" include: Safe and affordable drinking water; end open defecation and provide access to sanitation and hygiene, improve water quality, wastewater treatment and safe reuse, increase water-use efficiency and ensure freshwater supplies, implement Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), protect and restore water-related ecosystems. The two "means of achieving" targets are to expand water and sanitation support to developing countries, and to support local engagement in water and sanitation management.

Image 1: Sustainable Development Goals by United Nations | Source:

SDG goal 6.2 mentions about ending open defecation and provide access to sanitation and hygiene and SDG 6.3 mentions improved water quality, wastewater treatment and safe reuse. The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) has made it its mission to help achieve Targets 6.2 and 6.3. Global organizations such as Oxfam, UNICEF, Water Aid and many small NGOs as well as universities, research centers, private enterprises, government-owned entities etc. are all part of SuSanA and are dedicated to achieving SDG 6.

In order to achieve SDG goal 6, it becomes essential for cities to develop approaches, frameworks and tools to support urban infrastructure. Tools and approaches like City Sanitation Plans, Water Security Plans and Toolkits help in better planning of cities. Urban planning and infrastructure tools are developed by researchers for practioners to get better solutions. Tools exist of various types namely data collection tools, diagnostic tools like Key Performance Indicators, Sanitab, Shit Flow Diagram , decision support tools like Sani Plan, FSSM toolbox, Sani Plan tool (for Performance assessment and financial improvement planning). Data collection tools are extremely essential as they help in understanding how the city will grow.

The Shit Flow Diagram by Susanna:

In 2012, the World Bank prepared Shit Flow Diagram’s initiatives for 12 cities of world which involved many partners. Shit Flow Diagram (SFD) is an effective communication and advocacy tool which was prepared to engage stakeholders like political leaders, sanitation experts and civil society organizations in a coordinated dialogue about fecal management. SFD is a tool designed for engineers, planners and decision makers to inform urban sanitation programming. It is absolutely based on contributing populations and not volumes and hence gives an indication of where the excreta goes. This gives a good indicator and a representation of public health hazards and also an overview of which part of the sanitation value chain to priorities. There is also a graphic tool which reduces the complexity of understanding and a report is attached to it for understanding details. The arrows basically turn red into green and hence an SFD shows the progress of sanitation situation of a city. The arrows turning red to green is dependent on whether the system is contained or not. If system is contained- green, if it is restricted- red. This question is asked at every stage. If 50% is contained, 50% of arrow will turn green.

Image 2: SFD Graphic | Source:

If with time, the SFD diagram will also change. One can also extrapolate, how SFD changes when a certain intervention is done. Thus, it helps in prioritizing interventions that a city should undertake.

SFDs can be applied to all the cities and it helps in advocacy at all levels- city, state and national level. In India, it has been institutionalized through advisory by MOHUA and Onsite and Offsite Sewege Management Practices. Many cities have tested methodology of data collection. Since SFD impacts population and not volumes, it eases the bureaucratic understanding. In Uttar Pradesh, India, CSE helped in advocating sanitation practices in around 66 large cities with highest population (more than 60% of the total state). It was easier for the decision makers to understand this language due to impact on 60% population and hence they pushed the government to consider the state level Faecal Sludge Septage Management (FSSM) policy along with interest of investment. The state provided incentives to the cities and motivated them to convert the reds to the greens. In a way, the tool advocated motivation and implementation for sanitation practices in the state. The only limitation of SFD tool is that is not an engineering tool parse, but an advocacy tool.

Image 3 : SFD Global Footprint | Source:

It is available on:

The FSSM Tool Box:

The FSM Toolbox offers a suite of tools to assess the overall FSM ecosystem in the city and plan for infrastructure improvements. It has various FSSM tools which are designed to help users undertake a 360-degree assessment of the FSM ecosystem and identify gaps across financial, infrastructure, institutional and regulatory aspects of FSM in a given region. It covers the city service delivery assessment from stakeholder engagement to resource and infrastructure planning and possible business models. The tools and resources have been used globally across in many cities.

Image 4: Global Footprint of FSSM ToolBox in Action | Source:

Other Tools and Approaches:

Image 5 : WASH Diagnostic and Decision Making Tools and approaches | Source: Bhitush Luthra’s presentation at Practical Cities Master Class 11

Tools are living documents which help in developing approaches and plans and it is important to know which tool has to be used when and where. Since, the government administration have multiple activities, they can seek help from urban development professionals and consultants to reduce time constraint and ease of understanding.

Also, one cannot blindly use a global tool at a local level, scales do matter!


For more information, watch the Master Class 09 “Reimagining the rivers” on the link:

Important Resource Links:

1. Shit Flow Diagram – Global and Indian Experience , Bhitush Luthra content/uploads/mdocs/Shit%20Flow%20Diagram%20Global%20and%20Indian%20Experience.pdf

2. The FSSM ToolBox

3. Susanna website:

Key Words: tools, approaches, water and sanitation, WASH tools, Shit flow diagram, Sustainable Development Goals, urban professionals


About the speaker:

Bhitush Luthra, an environment engineer and an IIM graduate worked with the Centre for Science and Environment. He was involved in research and capacity building on subjects related to citywide sanitation planning, shit flow diagrams, decentralized wastewater treatment, faecal sludge and septage management etc. He headed two technical support units in small towns of Uttar Pradesh for mainstreaming faecal sludge and septage management to achieve citywide sanitation. Apart from this he was supporting the National Mission for Clean Ganga for mainstreaming FSSM in the basin. Bhitush is a cricket enthusiast and likes solving sanitation problems to contribute in making the world a better place to live in.


Blog by Saubiya Sareshwala

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