New Delhi: According to the World Economic Forum, India’s urban areas produce around 1,20,000 tonnes of faecal sludge on a daily basis, and about two-thirds of the country’s households with toilets aren’t connected to the sewer system. As per the Centre for Science and Environment, 60 per cent of this human waste is dumped in open water and on open land, which contaminates drinking water and harms food sources.
Discussing the challenge of managing human waste and why it should be the next big focus for our country, at the recently held India Sanitation Annual Conclave, Naina Lal Kidwai, Chair, India Sanitation Coalition said,
The statistics are compelling. Though we now have access to toilets more in both rural and urban areas, the issue is how readily are people using them. Often the reasons are toilets being broken down or maintenance and cleanliness of the toilet. I think the success of toilets can happen if faecal sludge or human waste is managed properly. But the issue is that the faecal sludge management has not happened at a large scale yet.
She further said that the treatment and management of human waste is an important area and said,
If we cannot deal with how to handle faecal sludge in a way it is safe for our health and the environment, then we will not be able to meet out sanitation goals ever. However, the good part is that the government recognises it. We just need more momentum and maybe a full fledged campaign around it like we had in the past for building toilets.
Stressing on the point that along with the government, we need private sector or businesses involvement in managing the WASH challenges, Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General, FICCI said,
We need to look at the business models that will help make the treatment part possible. Currently, the problem with the management of waste is that no industry wants to invest in it as there are no returns, nor there is a proper code of conduct or an action plan. The need of the hour is to make this sector more viable and profitable so that industries can look into it.
Highlighting how COVID-19 pandemic has given some valuable lessons on how coordinated efforts or action-plans can bring positive results, he added,
Never before in the history of mankind, we have seen such a coordinated effort been made by different cities, blocks and other authorities – we are seeing for the first time that all members – from Prime Minister, chief ministers, block officers and all have come together and made some action-plan. I think the same approach is needed to be put in our hygiene and sanitation sector. This is not the problem of one area, it is a problem of the entire country.
Mr Chenoy also said that India is a land of many successful pilot projects and added,
But the pilot projects have never taken a big scale and that is the challenge. We need to leave a better world for our children, grandchildren and for the generations to come and that is why we need investment, successful case studies by businesses that show investment in treatment or management of waste can be beneficial. Obviously, the government should act as a catalyst and should invest more in these sectors and private sectors can contribute their bit to meet the overall goals. If we somehow manage to ensure that no drop of faecal sludge goes into the environment, we can save lives of billions of people.
Reiterating the same thing that now the focus should shift towards the treatment of human waste, Madhu Krishna, Deputy Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation India added,
The first agenda of sanitation was being open defecation free, which India has already achieved, but the end goal in the sanitation chain is safely managing and treating all of the human waste. I feel, smaller cities or areas are at a receiving point especially when it comes to faecal sludge management. If we can somehow bring equity in the sanitation chain along with the treatment of human waste possible at all levels, we will be able to achieve whole sanitation.
On the other hand, Dr. Meera Mehta, Professor Emeritus, CEPT (Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology) University, Ahmedabad, India said that our country still needs 6 or 7 millions of toilets to be really called as an open defecation free country. She added,
I think, a 360 degree approach is needed in our hygiene and sanitation sectors. We need to continue to build infrastructure available to our people. Secondly, we need to continue to make them aware of the usage and ensure that we sustain the ODF tag. Thirdly, we cannot ignore the waste that comes out of our toilets. We need the Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) service throughout – but how do we do it, that’s the big question. There is two part of faecal sludge management – one at looking at the desludging services and second is how do we treat the waste. Not many of us know what desludging really is, nor it is being practiced throughout. So, we need to certainly lay a foundation of human waste treatment and secondly ensure it is being done across. We need some guidelines to be laid.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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