What a waste: Reviving India’s sanitation systems

News: India often confuse toilets with sanitation; but they are mere repositories to receive waste.  

Poor sanitation and water-related issues resulted in 1.04 million under-five child deaths in India. Also, poor sanitation costs India 5.2 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) annually. In this regard, in the last decade, a massive push for sanitation, provided millions of the population with access to toilets. 

However, much focus through big campaigns such as the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission (SBM) has been given to ‘before the flush’ levels in the process of sanitation.  

The stage from emptying of toilets, safe reuse and disposal has not been given a proper attention. But toilets are mere repositories to receive waste; when we flush, the waste flows into a piped drain, which could be either connected or not, to a sewage treatment plant (STP). 

Furthermore, sanitation systems of the country have been framed with the assumption that the human labour would be always available for the service.  

What are the issues associated with sanitation program of India? 

Issues linked to type of toilets  

SBM claims that a majority of toilets in rural India are “twin pit leach pit” type, which are self-contained treatment plants. They do not require any additional grey water or faecal sludge management.  

However, the report ‘From ODF to ODF Plus Rural Sanitation Strategy 2019-2029′ reveals that the country still has thousands of toilets with single-pits or septic tanks that require desludging from time to time. 

Improper Sewage treatment facilities  

78 per cent of sewage generated in India remains untreated and is unsafely disposed of in rivers, groundwater or lakes, contaminating 90 percent of all surface water. 

Issues facing sanitation workers 

At various steps across our sanitation value chain — from toilets to treatment plants — workers have to interact with faecal matter in extremely unsafe ways.  

They are inadequately provided with safety equipment and are not socially accepted. Even during covid-19 pandemic, workers have been working unprotected, unappreciated and ignored.  

What are solutions to the sanitation issue? 

First, Faecal sludge and plastic waste require proper management.  

Second, Interventions such as the use of mini-sewer jetting machines, manual robots to access tapered lanes and clear clogged sewer pipes will enable upskilling and rehabilitating of manual scavengers.  

Source: This post has been created based on the article “What a waste: Reviving India’s sanitation systems” published in Down to Earth on 11th Jan 2022. 

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