Are toilets enough to end India’s sanitation crisis?
It has been more than two years now where I have been persistently studying sanitation. It commenced with an idea in my college canteen and has never rested my brain to work. I realized soon that it is a subject that demands relentless focus from each one of us. Sadly, no one is conscious of the fact that India’s sanitation is penurious and is in crisis.
While many would state that we have had toilets established for free to evade open defecation in recent years, the truth is — it is not sufficient.
Let me commence with a basic idea of what sanitation is actually — the term is associated with public health conditions relating to the provision of clean drinking water and adequate disposal of sewage.
Inadequate sanitation channels the transmission of diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, hepatitis A, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. Also, it leads to a decline in human well-being and socio-economic development. Several statistics reveal malnutrition as a result of poor sanitation. Around 4 million deaths occur annually from diarrhea. (WHO)
Coming back to my point — we all apprehend about the Clean India Mission, where more than 100 million toilets were established to make India open defecation free (ODF). And as per the claims stated by our government, India is ODF and sanitation is in a more upright position.
But, many dismiss this. People have still witnessed people defecating in open, and people are not using these toilets. Even if people are using these toilets, the fact which is known to a few people (apart from industrialists or activists) — most of these toilets are not connected to the sewer grid.
Now, it is very critical to recognize that western culture has more reliable sanitation because of the way they treat sewage disposal. They have conventional sewer lines connected to a centralized disposal plant, which is way too costly. Also, this system is water-intensive for a country like India (too populated).
So, what do people in India do? I mean, let’s take an illustration of an urban area first and think!
In India, most of the cities are currently having tanker operators who collect the waste/sludge and dump into water space or other open spaces. Why? — Solely because they do not have access to government-run sewage plants.
India’s surface water is highly contaminated with human waste.
In urban areas, it is critical to understand that there are complex design challenges and hence, lacks a coherent service chain. The focus should be on how the waste is contained, removed, transported, treated, and disposed.
In rural areas, however, pit latrines are a government advised technology. It needs to be emptied when full. But, usually, this doesn’t occur. The pits are usually filled up and never discharged. Hence, the toilets become unusable. What happens next? — Open defecation.
Tankers that can carry the waste are too expensive for rural areas. Manual scavenging has been outlawed due to the perils associated with handling human waste (which is valid). Therefore, the promotion of toilet ownership and use is an imperative necessity.
Hence, the enigma not only prevails in providing access to toilets. The bigger problem is for everyone to think of developing sewerage systems (not just the central government or some NGOs, but the local governments and individuals too).
Developing a sewerage system is not easy and is expensive too. Unfeigned policy action is obliged because of the problem of strenuous costs and dispersed benefits.
Contrarily, our focus shall not be on what the costs and hurdles towards building a sewerage system are — but we should concentrate on coming up with better and cost-effective solutions towards succeeding India’s sanitation crisis.
The effort and focus of the government are not right. This has been pretty evident in what I have written so far, and what many have been voicing over recent years. The focal point lies in treating human waste. The conventional treatment of human waste can be considerably resourceful — repurposing and peddling it to businesses and consumers as fertilizers or biogas or paper.
In a series on Netflix about Bill Gates, he discussed treating sanitation as intricacy from both climate and health concerns for people in Africa. Furthermore, not just the politicians should worry about the sanitation crisis in India alone. Industries and corporates should chip in to improve sanitation too.
I was amenable to write about the issue for months, and one of the recent news related to sanitation workers in the COVID times made me do it (finally). In the upcoming days/weeks, I would like to exercise this issue as a series of blogs and confer some insightful knowledge to all my readers.
Till then, I would leave you all to ponder on the fact that whether toilets are sufficient to end India’s sanitation crisis or not.
Let me know your thoughts in the response section. Please stay connected and be patient on the forthcoming ones.