“Water is life and sanitation is dignity. It is time to incorporate ‘open defecation’ in the political language and in the diplomatic discourse”, said the Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson at the Annual World Water Week event recently held in Stockholm, Sweden. Sanitation in terms of access to, and use of, excreta and waste water facilities and services had already been officially recognized as a human right by the UN General Assembly in 2010.
That this promising vision is still far from implementing reveals the UN 2012 Millennium Development Goals Report, according to which 35% of the world population, mostly in rural areas, do not have proper sanitation. 1.1 billion, or 15% of the world population, still practice open defecation, largely as a result of poverty, “a widespread health hazard and a global scandal” according to the UN.
Around 60% of those practicing open defecation worldwide live in India, where 638 million people don’t have access to closed toilets. (Source »)
In addition, the few public toilets that exist in the metro cities are usually in a bad condition. For example, a study conducted by non-governmental organisation Transparent Chennai in 2011 concluded that “Most toilets did not have water. Doors and other accessories were broken because of which not a single person was seen entering them.” (Source: Times of India, TNN Jan 24, 2012)
People exposed to open defecation are at constant risk of preventable diseases such as diarrhea and cholera, as well as dysentery, pneumonia, intestinal worms. (Source: Sanitation Drive to 2015: Planner’s Guide – Fact Sheet 4 Page 66-68, 2012.)
Ending the practice of open defecation could lead to a 36% of reduction in diarrhea, which besides being responsible for 800 000 deaths each year, strains nutrients from the body, affecting brain development and stopping children in their growth. Indeed, recent studies suggest a strong link between open defecation and undernutrition in India, where 48% of under five year old children are stunted. According to the UN poor sanitation, costs India 53.8 billion dollars a year. (Source: The Guardian, Mark Tran 2 September 2013)
Last but not least it is also a meanwhile well known fact that access to clean and safe closed toilets also enhances the personal safety of women and girls. For example in Bihar, It is estimated that 400 rape cases could have been prevented last year if the affected women had toilets in their homes. Bihar has India’s poorest sanitation indicators with 85% rural households having no access to toilets. (Source »)
Even though it is known that every dollar spent on water and sanitation can bring fivefold return, mainly through diminished health costs and increased health productivity, the share of development aid for sanitation and drinking water has markedly decreased over the past decade, compared with health and education. (Source »)
Nevertheless, effective innovative, low cost technologies which prevent contamination of water bodies do exist and are being implemented at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s Amritapuri Campus, where so called biotoilets are being installed in two new hostels. After flushing, in this type of W.C, the water goes to a biodigestor instead of a septic tank. This biodigestor has initially been populated with a consortium of anaerobic bacteria which consume human waste, purifying the water.
“The effluent water coming out of the biodigestor goes through a natural reed bed for further purification, which consists of layers of gravels of different sizes, sand and pebbles along with weed plants on the top. It helps in removing the smell, suspended particulates, pathogenic microorganisms, etc.”, explains Karuna Prasad Sahoo, Project Officer, Amrita IRL Lab.
The system significantly contributes to water saving, by changing the plumbing in each bathroom fixing two inlet pipes, one bringing the recycled water back to flush. In addition, energy and costs will be saved since the effluent water from the biodigestor doesn’t need to be treated by waste water treatment plants before either getting reused for flushing or getting released in to the environment.
Most important of all the new technology prevents contamination of water bodies and ground water. Over 80% of the waste water generated from Indian homes is discharged into water bodies without any treatment.
This low cost technology requiring minimal investments in infrastructure, energy, can also be an answer to the sanitation problem, due to open defecation in villages mostly due to lack of supply of water and energy. Accordingly, studies are being conducted to implement it in the Village Program launched at Chancellor Amma’s 60th birthday celebration where 101 villages will be adopted throughout India with the aim of helping them become self-reliant and thriving.
October 12, 2013