From MASEMBE TAMBWE in Kolkata
Sanitation engineers in the Indian subcontinent are advocating for effective public – private partners to generate demands for sanitation in the community and promotion of hygiene.
Speaking during the opening of a national seminar on community development and river pollution control in Kolkata, the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation founder, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak said that the promotion shouldn’t be left to central and local governments alone but NGOs and CBOs also had a role to play.
“A river is as clean and as healthy as the inhabitants on its bank. Installing sewerage treatment plants at the outfall will not give us the desired results for pollution control unless the cities, towns, peri-urban and rural areas are clean and free from waste dumps in its entirety,” he said.
Dr Pathak said that there was a need for an effective combination of on site sanitation and waste water disposal systems.
Sanitation engineers agreed that there was an urgent need to address issues related to pollution of water bodies not only in India but other countries as well taking into account that 1,500 cubic kilometres of waste water are produced annually globally and water as a resource is getting scarce with minimal cities being conducted to the sewerage system.
According to IWA Water Wiki website, sanitation provision in Dar es Salaam is grossly deficient, as in most cities in sub-Saharan Africa where most people do not have access to a hygienic toilet; large amounts of faecal waste are discharged to the environment without adequate treatment.
The website cites that according to 2003 World Bank statistics less than 10 percent of households have a sewerage connection; about 20 percent (mostly in upper- and middle-income groups) have septic tanks, while the remainder are dependent on pit latrines.
“The sewerage system comprises about 140 km of sewers connected to an ocean outfall or to one of nine decentralized waste water stabilization ponds. As noted, only about 10 percent of households have a sewerage connection: as at 2003, the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Authority (DAWASA) had about 22,000 sewerage customers.
Dr Pathak said that in developing countries like India, rivers and lakes were getting increasingly polluted because most water waste treatment plants were ill functioning and also due to untreated domestic sewerage loads from the urban habitats.
“The septic tank is also expensive and unaffordable for the majority of the population and they also require large volumes of water for flushing. There is a shortage of drinking water in almost all urban areas and hence water conservation is a critical issue,” he explained.
He proposed that an alternative model of management that he designed could be used which is a combination of on site excreta disposal system and decentralised flush compost toilet by using bio-gas plants and effluent treatment systems.
The West Bengal Urban Development Principal Secretary, Mr Debashis Sen said that whilst he agrees that there was a problem in the pollution of rivers in India, he advocated for a holistic approach where the interests of the communities benefiting should be taken into account.
Citing the Ganges Action Plan for the Ganges River where a programme is underway to clean it and has a target of attaining zero discharge by 2020, Mr Sen said that many people had misgivings on the programme saying that the objectives were taking too long to be met.
He said that a similar river in Singapore which was heavily polluted took 20 years to get clean and it was only possible because near dictatorship decisions were taken to resettle the people, and that such stern decisions may be difficult in India because of the level of democracy.
“The only way a solution will be found is by taking the community into confidence such that a multiple dimension is taking into finding a solution to doing away with waste water pollution,” he said.
Mr Sen said that whilst there were vast amounts of technological solutions, it was important that these solutions involved the community who are dependent on the river either through their livelihood or religious rituals.
The organising secretary of the seminar, Eng Tarun Dutta said that there were no policies that were static and rigid and couldn’t be taken for granted for life calling on decision makers to sit and make introspection on the basis of documented achievements and failures.
Eng Dutta said that seminar was aimed at creating a platform for brainstorming exercises to carry out purposeful prognosis involving professional organisations, institutes, academicians and other experts.