- Based on environmental conditions, toilet technology should be selected
- Floods, droughts can destroy toilets: Mr Jacob, Water & Sanitation Adviser
- Drought and water scarcity can affect the usability of toilets: Mr Jacob
New Delhi: “Floods, cyclones, and other natural disasters can cause damage to toilets and disruptions in faecal sludge management systems, and can result in faecal contamination of water- thereby leading to risks to public health and environment”, said Kanika Singh, Lead for Sanitation Policy initiatives at WaterAid India, while explaining the link between climate change and access to toilets and sanitation safety. World Toilet Day 2020 which is being celebrated on November 19 with the theme of ‘Sustainable sanitation and climate change’ aims to bring attention to the impact of climate change on safe and sustainable sanitation. It calls to make sanitation systems resilient and sustainable as climate change gets worse. NDTV spoke to industry experts to understand different toilet technologies that can help achieve the theme.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.2 seeks to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. To achieve SDG 6, it is equally important to consider the plausible impacts of climate change on safe sanitation and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) practices. Explaining the same, Nicolas Osbert, Chief of WASH, UNICEF said,
Taking one step back, it is important to understand the link between water and climate change. Water-related climate risks arise from too much water, too little water or polluted water. For example, the occurrence of floods and droughts is expected to increase with a changing climate, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicting water-related disasters to increase in both frequency and severity, as the global water cycle is affected by climate change and global warming. In fact, in many places, these changes are already taking place and the world is scrambling to respond to these risks. In turn, this may cause loss and damage, which affect the supply and delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene. This is where toilets and environmental sanitation comes in. Toilets, sanitation systems and water supply systems are assets for the supply and delivery of safe sanitation, directly affected by water-related climate risks.
Further adding to this, Nitya Jacob, water and sanitation adviser, said climate change impacts both infrastructure and its usability but it is hard to quantify this. He said,
The strongest is the effect of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts on sanitation infrastructure – floods and cyclones destroy toilets and necessitate the construction of new ones. The other slower impact is of water scarcity also caused by irregular rain on the usability of toilets.
Abhishek Sharma, Senior Research Manager at Sambodhi Research & Communications noted that poor sanitation technologies add to the health burden and said,
Climate change induces extreme weather conditions and disasters such as floods, storms, and drought. Fecal contamination due to flooding of sewage systems and limited or no access to handwashing facilities near toilets in drought prone or struck geographies further add to the health burden due to poor sanitation facilities. One of the most common diseases spread due to poor access and availability of clean water is diarrhoea, which claims over 800 lives of children under five every day. Around 60 million children located in geographies vulnerable to climate change effects already have very low levels of access to water and sanitation. Thus, equitable access to improved sanitation facilities especially in the vulnerable geographies is a necessity for survival.
Toilet Technologies That Can Withstand Climate Change
According to the experts, toilet technology is considered safe when it doesn’t lead to direct or indirect human contact with faecal matter, and doesn’t cause faecal contamination of water. To choose the right toilet technology, one needs to look at technical specifications and assess the environmental conditions. Ms Singh from WaterAid India said,
Ideally, the selection of toilet substructure technologies should also take into consideration hydrological and terrain-related factors including the water table, permeability of soil or rocks, porosity of rocks, and slope.
For example, a twin pit toilet that offers onsite management of fecal waste and converts human waste into manure cannot be constructed in flood prone and high water table areas. In flood prone regions, twin leach pits can contaminate surrounding water and soil and even flood water can enter the two pits thereby affecting the decomposition of solid contents. Therefore, other toilet technologies such as bio toilets, ecosan toilets or septic tanks are needed. Similarly, a drought-prone area may need toilets that require less or no water for flushing purposes.
Further explaining this, Mr Osbert said,
It is key that the technology is environmentally safe and sustainable, SDG compliant and correctly constructed. For example, the pits of a twin-pit toilet are to be constructed at a minimum distance of 30 metres from water sources to limit exposing the water source to microbial contamination. It is also important to ensure that toilets and other structures are provided maintenance support from time to time to ensure long-term durability and sustained use of them. This also avoids having to use more natural resources to build new toilets if an existing one can be ‘retrofitted’ or ‘fixed’.
Maharashtra’s Konkan receives 3,000 to 4,000 mm of rainfall every year. In Konkan, twin pit cannot be constructed under the ground as the rain water will seep into the pits that are normally constructed 3 feets into the ground and will result in an overflow of pits. Therefore, in Konkan pits are constructed with modification like constructing them at a particular height, ensuring distance between pits and water table, informed Kumar Khadekar, Information, Education and Communication Consultant, Swachh Bharat Mission – Gramin, Maharashtra.
Similarly, in Sonpur village of Kanker district in Chhattisgarh, the groundwater table is very high that makes the soil moist. Again, constructing a twin pit toilet would lead to groundwater contamination. To overcome this problem, NGO WaterAid India promoted the construction of ecosan or ecological sanitation toilet that is constructed above the ground.
A regular ecosan toilet has two chambers, each having three sections – one each for urine, faeces and water used for anal cleaning. The two chambers are used alternatively for a period of one year. While urine and water used for cleaning are collected in two separate containers, human waste is stored in a pit. The collected urine is stored for a month, diluted with water and then used as fertilizer and water used for cleaning is sent to the ground. Human waste is left for six months to degrade into manure.
India’s Contribution To Achieving Sustainable Sanitation And SDG 6
Before the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014, according to the Government’s Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), over 550 million people in India were defecating in the open in rural India that is 60 per cent of all the people defecating in the world were in India. Since then, under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), over 10 crore toilets have been constructed and rural India was declared open defecation free on October 2, 2019, on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Mr Jacob believes that India has built crores of toilets for the eligible beneficiaries identified under the 2012 baseline.
However, even this is tempered by the fact the baseline was badly flawed and, being dated to 2012, does not include several tens of millions of new families. Personally, I feel we have built a few crore toilets, not necessarily for the deserving, but have failed to ensure usage and therefore, we have a long way to go before we can claim everybody has and uses a toilet, he added.
Raman VR, Head of Policy Division, WaterAid India also believes that SBM has definitely improved the sanitation situation across the country, while there are more concerted efforts needed to achieve sanitation for all, in an equitable and inclusive manner. He said,
Overall, there is a need to focus on the accessible sanitation for persons with disabilities and other marginalised sections, gender-friendliness of toilets, retrofitting toilets to ensure that they are terrain appropriate, ensuring access to water in those areas where it is missing and to ensure that all health care, educational and child care institutional facilities have adequate access to sanitation facilities. This is in addition to ensuring that all rural settings will have adequate arrangements to meet their faecal sludge management needs, as required. Child faeces management is another area that we will have to attend.
Mr Sharma believes that twin pit toilets constructed under SBM – Gramin can ensure usability even during floods and storms, thereby achieving SDG 6 target of clean water and sanitation and addressing climate change related challenges given that it is constructed well; minimum distance between pit and water table is maintained.
Elaborating on how India can further achieve SDG 6, Raman VR said,
What is required at this point is to look back, learning critical lessons from the past experiences of running large scale programs within tighter timeframes, and improving upon shortcomings at the level of implementation, by way of strengthening various institutional arrangements and processes. To ensure no one is left behind, the district and state administrations will have to devise societal centric initiatives. We have to adopt inclusive and empathetic approach for the most marginalised populations. Realising that infrastructure focus and targets can drive large scale campaigns and can affect the quality of interventions is the first step towards building such focus, which should be followed by conscious reviews to include the missing links.
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.