New Delhi: November 19 is marked as World Toilet Day across the globe. In 2013, the United Nations adopted the day to educate the billions who are affected due to the bad sanitation practices like open defecation. Every year, the day is celebrated with a unique theme and this year the theme is in reference of climate change as it is getting worse over the years – Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change. The day aims to raise awareness about sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change and keep communities healthy and functioning.
As India gears up to mark the World Toilet Day, we speak to Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla, Programme Director – Water Programme, Centre for Science and Environment to know about current sanitation scenario in India and the road ahead.
NDTV: Internal target of Open Defecation Free target has been achieved BY for India, what’s the next thing in sanitation our country should focus on?
Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla: We have achieved the targets set by the ministry and government in terms of numbers of toilet and facilities in the phase one of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, however, now is the real challenge that starts. The challenge in front of us now is that how do we sustain the efforts that have been done in phase one of the campaign. How do we make sure that the assets and infrastructure which we call toilets will be used by people across the country at all point of time. We need to look at the additional facilities such as water supply, piped sewer lines and more. Water and toilets go hand-in-hand, if the water supply in areas or cities is not there then how will we make sure that the toilets are being used. If it is not there, then people will go out in the open and contaminate the soil or water resources such as rivers, secondly, water is not just essential for using toilets, it is essential for cleaning purposes as well. So, the overall question now is only on sustaining the efforts of phase one of the campaign.
Toilet is only one small part of sanitation, which ensures that the person doesn’t have to go and defecate in the open and has more private and safer place. This is where sanitation starts from but there are other streams to it as well – such as what happens to the liquid and solid waste inside the toilet, how do we manage that and ensure that it doesn’t go out and pollute our environment. Until all the parts of sanitation are met, we cannot say we have achieved total sanitation.
NDTV: What do we mean by solid and liquid waste management and why it should be the next big focus for the country?
Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla: There are two things which happens in our country in terms of toilet and sanitation, one approach is a twin-pit toilet where nothing comes out in terms of waste as the pit is attached to the toilet, which helps treat the waste and convert it into manure. This is the toilet approach which is used in areas where there is less water supply, so there is nothing called environment degradation in those toilets. However, second and the most used approach in our country is the septic tank toilets which are your flush-based toilets, WHICH where uses on average 10-12 litres of water and as high as 20-litres of water for flushing the waste. In such systems, there are two streams where the primary treatment happens for the waste – one is where the human waste gets accumulated and then gets decomposed and the other is where the black water or the excess water goes, the overflow of that water flows into the small nallis which are there in every areas, if it is not connected to the proper sewer system.
However in many of our smaller cities, villages and areas there is nothing called a sewer system, as a result all this flows into open big nallas which we see adjacent to the roads many a times. The water which comes out from the toilets is very contaminated and therefore it needs to be treated then and there but in most of the Indian cities the sewer lines are not well connected and as a result it gets accumulated in the small drains of the area or cities, thereby causing harm to human health at large. The word septic in layman terms comes from medical sciences, if there is some injury and we say it is septic, meaning it is so lethal that it can only be fixed with some sort of surgery or ammunition. Same is with our sewage system – the waste coming out of our toilets is contaminated so badly that it needs to be fixed or treated then and there, if we don’t do so, it harms environment and overall human health.
Right now, we need to look at these areas and come out with sustainable solutions which can be adopted across the country.
NDTV: What are the current challenges in India when it comes to solid and liquid waste management?
Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla: Currently, one of the biggest problem that is hampering our way forward towards solid and liquid management is the fact the way toilets are constructed in our country. Here not all toilets are constructed as per the standard guidelines or by the protocols and are majorly constructed as per the availability of land or owners need. Even the septic tanks are not constructed as per the Code – which basically involves technical guidelines. The second issue is that our masons or technicians are not that well trained – they don’t know the basic protocols they need to keep in mind while making the inside or the backside of toilets.
NDTV: What are the immediate steps India should look at in bid to solve the human waste crisis?
Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla: On an urgent basis, authorities need Feacal Sludge Management plan of action. This waste will continue to come out of the houses at all point of time, so we need innovations and solutions to treat it as well. Secondly, we need to manage the liquid waste which is called the black water along with the solid waste. Post the independence, we have not been able to get proper sewer lines in more than 300-400 odd cities and we have around 8,000 urban cities. So, ideally, we need on priority a fix for this, we need some plan of action and targets in place so that the basics of waste management, which we know will come out oF houses every now and then sorted. Thirdly, we should be looking at sustainable and eco-friendly solutions for septic tanks and all things related to human waste management. Just like we had innovations and solutions for toilets, now our country needS it for facilities behind the toilet that will manage the waste from toilets. Fourth is we need one basic guideline for building toilets and its septic tanks as this will ensure that the human excreta is getting managed well and is well connected with the areas sewer lines.
Currently, there are also small programmes being run that caters to different aspects of sanitation such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, AMRUT or Smart Cities Programmes, now is the need for all these programmes to converge, we need one programme that specifically caters to all the areas of sanitation – toilets, water supply, sewer networks, manual scavenging, Solid and Liquid management plants or FSPs.
NDTV: How can India protect its sanitation workers?
Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla: Mostly, sanitation workers, even in the big cities doesn’t get proper protective gear, so we can imagine what happens to the workers in the villages or smaller areas. What India needs is a system like construction sector in place, just like no worker working in the construction industry, for example the Delhi Metro Corporation only, they hire a lot of private constructors for the metro activities, but no worker we see ever is without the protective gear, because that sector has a very different and set guidelines in place for the workers. We need something like that in the sanitation industry, anybody engage in any stage of sanitation activities – maybe mason, plumber or a person in-charge of desludging activities or doing operations in sewer treatment or FSPs, authorities need to make sure, all workers have access to all kind of protective gears and they should simultaneously ensure that the workers use the gears as well.
Secondly, all the workers engage in sanitation sectors should have access to regular health check-ups and basic knowledge and information on how they can safeguard themselves from the possible diseases from the kind of work they do.
NDTV: World Toilet Day theme this year is ‘Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change’, we want to know the relationship and how does toilet help fight climate change?
Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla: There is no direct relationship between toilets and climate change, however, there is an indirection and more important relationship between the two. Sanitation and water is a local subject, the more you use toilets, more water will be extract through electro-mechanical systems and for that you will need energy and these energy emissions will lead to carbon emissions, which will have an impact on the environment. Secondly, if there is a disaster in place due to climate change for example floods then there will be a huge hygiene crisis as well. Floods have now become a common problem of our country, we are seeing it in many big cities for example in Hyderabad, Patna and Chennai. So, the question comes what happens to the sewer systems, toilets of the cities – are the resilient enough to handle the flood, are the made in such a way that it can handle the disaster and finally a question comes what happens to the sewer lines waste which are contaminated with human excreta and waste. If the flood starts to carry the waste across then it will become a big hygiene issue, so now we need to start thinking in those direction and equip our facilities to fight climate change.
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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