Getting habituated to a habit...
There is a competition to live a life that takes you farther from your roots. Our roots are inevitably ecological. Having gained the wonderful experience of knowing ecology from close corners over the last two decades, I behave like an objective chronicler of it. This blog is meant to be a contemporary chronology of ecology, economics and we the being. The blog will have text and visuals. Ranjan Panda
Sunday, November 17, 2013
My Article for World Toilet Day 2013: Sanitation Is Not About Toilets Alone
BLOG : Sanitation Is Not
About Toilets Alone
By RANJAN PANDA *
World Toilet Day is approaching and
we already see a lot of action, starting from the local to the global level,
asking people to build and use toilets. It is commonly believed that the more
the number of persons with toilets, the more the sanitised a habitation is.
This is not only a very narrow
approach to sanitation but also leaves a lot of scope for the organisations
responsible to ensure sanitation to shirk their other important duties that
include management of various forms of wastes, including septage and garbage.
Urban areas, which supposedly have more toilets than the rural areas, need to
seriously ponder around ‘integrated sanitation’ rather than just toilets.
India should be ashamed of the
sanitation situation prevailing in the country. The Census 2011 figures pointed
out that half the households in the country do not have toilets as yet. Other
independent estimates put the figure at as high as two thirds. Urban slums, in
particular, have very limited or no access to sanitation services.
One in six urban Indians is a slum
dweller and most of them do not have any sanitation facilities. What is
important to note is that urban India is simply not capable of managing the
wastes it generates. Conservative estimates suggest that over eighty per cent
of municipal solid waste across five thousand plus towns (approximately 42 million
tonnes per annum) is currently disposed of in a haphazard manner without
following the rules of the land.
floating on wastes
Odisha is no different. Though the
share of urban dwellers in the state’s population is still only about 16.68 per
cent, the wastes these habitations generate are becoming a huge problem for
rivers, water bodies, farm fields and the ecology at large. It’s not merely
because we don’t have toilets, but also because we have failed miserably in
managing sanitation. While the poor don’t have toilets, others are in need of
proper drainage, garbage and sewerage management systems
A little more than 35% of urban
households in the state do not have toilets, Census 2011 reveals. This is the
second highest in the nation. It is estimated that at least one third of the
urban people in the state defecates in the open. This, however, does not mean
that the rest are sanitised households. Toilets connected to sewer lines would
not constitute even 10 per cent of the total number of toilets in urban Odisha.
Forty five per cent of households apparently have septic tanks.
However, field visits to cities
suggest that not even half of these are proper septic tanks. None of the
municipalities and NACs in the state is sufficiently equipped to clean septic
tanks. As such, the sludge cleaned is disposed of at just about any place that
the vehicles find convenient. It could be the side of a road, surface water
bodies, rivers, farm fields and so on. Urban waste has also started encroaching
into the nearby rural areas.
Our policy planners and the educated
urban population believe that ‘open defecation’ is a shame and mars the
aesthetics of the city. However, they never question where the sludge from
their toilets goes. Each city of the state still has manual scavengers.
Surprisingly, that is still not considered a shame.
means clean rivers and water bodies
Besides open defecation on river
banks and surface water bodies, drain and sewer water also pollutes our rivers
and water bodies. In turn, they create unhygienic conditions for city dwellers
and the local environment. This is a silent killer.
Consider the capital city, which does
not have an adequate drainage system. Closed drains cover a 103 sq. km area
running through a little over 37 km. The majority of the system consists of
open and natural drains. All natural streams and waterways have been converted
into drains. The city has no proper sewerage treatment plant. The collected
sewage is treated in three oxidation ponds and three aerated lagoons at
different locations. However, these systems are in a shambles and are mostly
non-functional. They merely function as flow through systems. Even if they were
functional, they could treat less than half the total sewage generated in the
Bhubaneswar at present generates more
than 200 MLD of sewage per day and almost all of it finds its way into the
Gangua Nullah, Daya River and Mahanadi.
Cuttack, the other major city, is
infamous as the city of drains. The city generates about 172 MLD of sewage,
most of which goes to pollute Mahanadi and Kathajodi rivers.
We conducted a citizen’s survey in
Sambalpur city and found that untreated polluted water gets drained into
Mahanadi through at least 14 points between Hirakud and Sambalpur which is
about a 15 kilometre stretch. These drains bring in about 40 Million litres of
sewage into the river, besides about 100 tonnes of solid waste that find their
way to Mahanadi in different ways.
While about 40 per cent of the Sambalpur
city population defecates in the open, at least 10 thousand people defecate on
the bank of the river itself. This is a daily health disaster as about 30
thousand people take bath in the 50 odd ghats from Hirakud to Sambalpur. The
situation is the same in almost all the cities of the state.
The time has come to look into
sanitation beyond just toilets. Toilets are necessary; but more than that, we
need responsible and accountable municipalities and governments that plan
integrated sanitation systems.
* The author, popularly known as Water Man of Odisha, is a leading water expert
of the nation. He convenes a network called ‘Water Initiatives Odisha’ and can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org