- India has passed the initial stage in terms of sanitation, says the expert
- However, now and the most crucial aspect is to sustain the ODF tag: Expert
- Experts recommend India to focus on solid waste and liquid waste management
New Delhi: According to World Economic Forum, India’s urban areas produce 120,000 tonnes of faecal sludge on a daily basis. It further states that an estimated two-thirds of the country’s households with toilets aren’t connected to the sewer system in the country. As per the Centre for Science and Environment, 60 per cent of this human waste in India is dumped in open water and on open land – contaminating drinking water and harming other food sources.
As India gears up to mark World Toilet Day on November 19, which this year has is with the theme ‘Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change’, the aim is to raise awareness about faecal sludge management, wastewater management and promote sustainable sanitation practices, NDTV speaks with industry experts to know the current status of India’s sanitation and the road ahead.
Arumugam Kalimuthu, Program Director – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Institute (WASH Institute) said,
India has passed the initial stage in terms of sanitation, which was getting an open defecation free (ODF) tag. However, now it is very crucial for the country to sustain that tag and move towards other sanitation-related goals such as faecal sludge management or managing human waste effectively by treating it and wastewater management.
Highlighting the road ahead for India, Mr Kalimuthu added,
Currently in India, half of the houses are not connected to proper sewer lines, as a result, even if everyone has a toilet and considering the fact that open defecation is not being practiced, we still have an issue as all the sewer waste is either contaminating our soil, ground resources or river and water beds because the waste is being dumped there and not getting treated. What we need are facilities and investment to help manage all the human waste effectively and it is very crucial. Another important thing is that just like we had separate budget for toilets, we need separate budget or funding for faecal sludge and grey-water management. We are hoping in the next phase of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Swachh Bharat 2.0, India will have its focus on these two areas.
Sandhya Haribal, Sustainability Consultant from CDD (Consortium For DEWATS Dissemination Society), a not-for-profit organization that innovates, demonstrates and disseminates decentralized nature-based solutions for the conservation, collection, treatment and reuse of water resources and management of sanitation facilities, said that a lot of action has already taken place in terms of sanitation in our country but there is a lot of ground that is still needs to be covered. She added,
One thing we need to realise is that sanitation is a continuous process, we cannot achieve few targets and stop talking about it later. Though on paper, India has achieved 100 per cent open defecation, but there are still cases of open defecation. We will need to continue with everything we were doing before and move ahead in our sanitation game. Because of past few years, India has started a conversation on sanitation and now it needs to move ahead with more comprehensive plans and implement safe sanitation across country.
Sandhya Haribal also shared a successful example of a small town Devanahalli in Karnataka which after becoming 100 per cent open defecation free went on to attain the ODF Plus status which means sustaining its ODF title and along with ensuring 100 per cent faecal sludge management. She added,
This is a very small town with population approximately 30,000 and 6,400 households, its claim to fame is that Tipu Sultan was born here and that is why it is considered as a heritage site. In 2017, it became one of the areas where India’s first faecal sludge plant was built. Basically, here the faecal sludge or the human waste is collected via Desludging vehicles and is brought into this treatment plant where it is converted into biogas and co-composting waste which in turn can be mixed with municipal waste and get used for gardening purposes or act as a soil manure for farmers in the city. Today the town is tagged as super clean and has gained titles of ODF and ODF+.
Stressing on the point that other cities and areas should follow for better human waste management, Ms Haribal said,
Setting a faecal sludge management plant in today’s day and age is not difficult nor is it costly. I think most municipalities can afford such a plant. The operating cost of the plant is also low as most of the work is done via machines and only few people are needed to manage the day to day activities, furthermore, one can earn money and meet the cost of the set up by selling the manure generated from the waste treatment in the market. All the cities and municipal corporation should look forward to maintaining faecal sludge plants and doing its BIT bid to save the planet.
Highlighting that India needs to continue its focus on sanitation and more efforts are needed in waste management, Meghna Malhotra from Urban Management Centre Asia added,
We have built toilets, we have done the infrastructural bit, however, behavioural change and sustaining the efforts of being ODF is a continuous task that we need to follow. It is a challenge for a country like India as there are lots of people, till the time, each and every individual is not covered, we will not be able to meet the sanitation targets. Secondly, is the fact that we need to move towards solid waste management and liquid waste management. We need to bring up focus to these areas and uplift the status of our sanitation workers. The COVID-19 scenario which we are facing today have at least brought the main warriors – our sanitation workers in to the limelight. We need to think of ways of protecting them, we need to make their work more dignified. For example, today sanitation workers don’t have separate washrooms or changing areas in their job location, they in fact are dealing with the most hazardous things in terms of waste. Most of the times, the sanitation workers don’t even have proper protective gears on – now is the time to think, how do we protect our sanitation workers. Lastly, when cities and areas will have solid waste management plants working properly then instances of manual scavenging will also decrease, as a result it will automatically safeguard the interest of these workers. India needs a 360 degree plan in terms of sanitation, one law or activity will not fix the problem.
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.