Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A revolution in the world of sanitation, period!

Menstruation and hygiene have been issues that women have been concerned about for ages. While the market is filled with disposable sanitary napkins (gel-based pads), environmental activists claim that a single disposable pad can take 500-800 years to decompose. If you’re one of those people who wants to create a sustainable environment, but haven’t been able to think of an alternative, here’s your blessing – cloth pads by Eco Femme!

Eco Femme is a women-led social enterprise founded by Kathy Walkling in 2010. It has been creating a social change through revitalising menstrual practices by producing and selling washable cloth pads and also providing education in menstrual health.

“The first two years of the venture was spent in product R&D on the menstrual practices of rural women and girls. Insights from these studies revealed the cultural taboo, poor education and understanding of menstrual cycle,” says Kathy.

In 2012, Eco Femme launched the product commercially (in India and abroad). It also flagged off the ‘Pad for Pad’ programme linking international sales with sponsoring pads for adolescent girls (which are distributed as part of a menstrual education workshop offered in schools). 

“In the last few years, our business and sales have been growing. We’ve expanded the programme by increasing our partnerships (for implementation) across India and figuring out a strategy to make cloth pads affordable and accessible for economically disadvantaged women,” explains Kathy.

Addressing the stigma around menstruation and the lack of awareness among rural women, Kathy found that most women were relieved to talk about it. “Women have questions, fears, concerns and are happy when someone is addressing these doubts. But they’re comfortable talking about it when men aren’t around,” she shares.

So, how can men be a part of breaking the menstruation taboo? “There are backlashes all over the world now about period shaming. Men certainly have a role to play – to be informed and understand that this is a process in creating gender equality. And women have a role to play in speaking about it with men instead of keeping them in the dark. This lack of awareness breeds misinformation and taboo,” she says.

With the concept of cloth pads receiving mixed response, Kathy reveals that early users of cloth pads were aware of the chemicals in disposable ones. “There are many women and girls who are aware of the adverse reactions of using these plastics and chemicals; these are the same people who are also concerned about pollution. So when presented with factual information about sanitary waste from disposables, they’re motivated to try cloth pads,” she explains.

Without this information, most women however are happy with the convenience of disposable pads — find them liberating even — and they think the idea of cloth pads is a taking a step backwards. “The shift is gradual; it takes time to educate women about the limitations of disposable pads…as in getting rid of them after use,” rues Kathy.

Kathy opines that educational institutions must have open dialogues on menstruation, so that it becomes more mainstream. “It should become a part of school curriculum — for both girls and boys.  It’s important to look at our own negative biases against menstruation.

Many of us are conditioned to feel disgust and aversion towards menstruation/menstrual blood and while this remains unexamined, the same messages will get transmitted to children (either offspring or in a classroom). That’s why menstruation is seen as something dirty, secretive and shameful,” she avers.

Apart from products such as reusable baby diapers and breast pads for lactating mothers (which will be launched within the next six months), Eco Femme is working towards expanding partnerships for its’ non-profit, educational work.

“We are still figuring out effective ways to streamline distribution for the subsidised pads (Pads for Sisters programme) via NGO’s and other channels. We will also be developing more adult education programmes – to help educators, activists and ambassadors feel more confident, so that we can bring this conversation into the community at different levels,” she adds.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sulabh International founder to be new face of Railways

Toilet man Bindeshwar Pathak would be the new face of spick and span Indian trains with the ministry of railways roping him in as brand ambassador for its cleanliness mission.

The decision to make Mr Pathak brand ambassador was made after a high-level meeting, which decided on sprucing up the cleanliness mission in railway stations and trains, a senior Railways official said.

Mr Pathak’s organisation Sulabh International has already offered to adopt five major Railway stations in the country to build toilets and make them open defecation free. One such station is the capital’s Old Delhi railway station.

Sulabh International is an India-based social service organisation that works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education. Mr Pathak’s work is considered pioneering in the field of sanitation and hygiene. He received various national and international awards for his work with this organisation, including Padma Bhushan in 2003. His name was added to the Global 500 Roll of Honour.

He also received the Energy Globe Award and the Stockholm Water Prize. In June, 2013, he got the Legend of Planet award from the French senate in Paris.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What numbers tell us about Open Defecation in India

As per the most recent Swachhta Status Report in 2015, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country still defecates in open.

Eliminating Open Defecation in India by 2nd October 2019 – the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi – is one of the key aims of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan movement launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi two years ago on Gandhi Jayanti.

As per the most recent Swachhta Status Report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), in 2015, more than half of the rural population (52.1 per cent) of the country still defecates in open —a major public health and sanitation problem.

How does India compare with other countries?

India fares poorly. According to data compiled by r.i.c.e, Sub-Saharan Africa, which had 65 per cent of the GDP per capita of India, had only about half of the rural open defecation compared to India.
In Bangladesh, only 5 per cent of rural people defecate in the open, significantly lower than that in India.

Access to toilets

The Swachhta Status Report finds that 45.3 per cent households in rural areas reported having access to a sanitary toilet whereas, in urban areas, 88.8 per cent households reported having sanitary toilets. Sanitary toilet is one which ensures safe confinement and disposal of faeces and does not require the need for human handling.

Comparable data from various rounds of NSSO show that access to latrines has improved both in rural and urban India. In 1993, 85.8 per cent of rural households didn’t have access to a latrine. By 2012, the number was reduced to 59.4 per cent.

Does access to toilet ensure usage?

This is one of the key policy questions regarding Open Defecation and also the one which is the most debated. Should the government focus on building more toilets—increase access, or on encouraging people to use toilets—behaviour change?

Based on findings from NSSO’s Swachhta Status Report, one can conclude that access implies usage. The survey found that among the households having a sanitary toilet, 95.6 percent people were using it. “It may be seen that for the rural households having a sanitary toilet, the usage percentage was very high across all categories [age, gender],” the report says.

As per another NSSO survey, in 2012, just 1.7 percent of the households in rural areas and 0.2 percent of the households in urban areas had access to latrine but not using them.

But the SQUAT survey conducted by r.i.c.e found that 40 per cent of households that have a working latrine have at least one person who regularly defecates in the open. Further, less than half of people who own a government latrine use it regularly. “47 per cent of those that defecate in the open say they do so because it is pleasant, comfortable, or convenient.”

Can access to toilet change personal preferences? The question remains unanswered due to lack of official data. Diane Coffey from r.i.c.e argues that the NSSO survey is not designed to tell us what will happen if the government builds latrines for people who don't have them.

“The vast majority of latrines in rural India cost at least 20,000 rupees and has large pits that are mechanically emptied, or never emptied. The government provides latrines that have soak pits that need to be emptied manually. Villagers think that only Dalits can do this work,” Ms Coffey told The Hindu.

Note that under Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin), the support for building an individual toilet is Rs. 12,000.

Toilet construction

The pace of toilet construction increased in 2015-16, government data says.But the toilet construction numbers are not always reliable, as was found by an audit report by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India that was released in December 2015. 

The CAG found that during the UPA-II regime, governments of at least 16 states exaggerated the data on individual household toilets by over 190 per cent of the actual constructions.

Dysfunctional toilets

Further, the CAG report said that of the constructed toilets, around 30 per cent were found to be dysfunctional. A Niti Aayog report of Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan states that “the visible improvement in toilet coverage across Indian states is deeply undermined by the poor quality of operation and maintenance of these facilities.”

As per the All India Baseline survey conducted by Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2012-13, 1.39 crore of the total 7.41 crore household toilets in India were defunct or dysfunctional.
“Financial assistance provided under the previous Government programmes was inadequate and led to the improper construction of toilets, which slowly became dysfunctional,” the NITI Aayog report states.

Budgetary allocation

According to Accountability Initiative, allocations for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Gramin) increased over threefold from Rs. 2,850 crore in FY 2014-15 to Rs. 9,000 crore in FY 2016-17. Part of this jump is due to the introduction of the SBM (Swachh Bharat Mission) cess in November 2015.

Behavior Change

Behaviour change is a key priority of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as sanitation is a behavioural issue, central government says. “It involves a change of mindset among people to stop open defecation and to adopt safe sanitation practices.”

But numbers tell a different story. Lesser funds are now being spent on Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities.

According to Accountability Initiative, construction of Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) accounted for 97 per cent of the total expenditure between April 2015 and February 2016. IEC accounted for only 1 per cent of total expenditure. This is a 3 percentage point drop from FY 2014-15.

Expenditure on IEC reduced from Rs. 175 crore in 2013-14 to Rs. 109 crore in 2015-16, government conveyed in response to a parliament question.

Water in toilets

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation says that adequate availability of water for toilets is also a concern. In rural India, 42.5 per cent of households were found to have access to water for use in the toilet compared to 88 per cent in urban India, Swachhta Status report found.
How many districts and villages have eliminated Open Defecation?

As of August 2016, only 17 of the 650 districts have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) by the government. Of the six lakh plus villages in India, 54,732 were declared ODF as of 31st March 2016. These figures are sourced from responses to parliament questions.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Women, girls spend 200 million hours collecting water: UNICEF

Women and girls across the world collectively spend about 200 million hours daily collecting water which is a "colossal waste" of their valuable time, the UN children's agency has said of the activity which is a daily routine for millions of girls in India.

As World Water week kicked off earlier this week, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) highlighted the opportunity cost from a lack of access to water disproportionately falls on women and girls who collectively spend as much as 200 million hours - or more than 22,800 years - every day collecting this vital resource.

"Just imagine: 200 million hours is 8.3 million days, or over 22,800 years," UNICEF's global head of water, sanitation and hygiene Sanjay Wijesekera said.

"It would be as if a woman started with her empty bucket in the Stone Age and didn't arrive home with water until 2016. Think how much the world has advanced in that time. Think how much women could have achieved in that time," he said.

"When water is not on premises and needs to be collected, it's our women and girls who are mostly paying with their time and lost opportunities," he added.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030.

UNICEF said in this regard, the first step is providing everyone with a basic service within a 30-minute round trip, and the long term goal is to ensure everyone has safe water available at home.

However, UN estimates are that in sub-Saharan Africa for 29 per cent of the population, improved drinking water sources are 30 minutes or more away.

In Asia, the numbers are 21 minutes in rural areas and 19 minutes in urban areas.

UNICEF added that when water is not piped to the home, the burden of fetching it falls disproportionately on women and children, especially girls.

A study of 24 sub-Saharan countries found that when the collection time is more than 30 minutes, an estimated 3.36 million children and 13.54 million adult females were responsible for water collection.

In Malawi, the UN estimates that women who collected water spent 54 minutes on average, while men spent only 6 minutes.

The UN agency noted that for women, the opportunity costs of collecting water are high, with far reaching effects.

"It considerably shortens the time they have available to spend with their families, on child care, other household tasks, or even in leisure activities. For both boys and girls, water collection can take time away from their education and sometimes even prevent their attending school altogether," UNICEF said.

When water is not available at home, even if it is collected from a safe source, the fact that it has to be transported and stored increases the risk that it is faecally contaminated by the time it is drunk, it said.

This in turn increases the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which is the fourth leading cause of death among children under five and a leading cause of chronic malnutrition, or stunting, which affects 159 million children worldwide.

More than 300,000 children under 5 die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water - over 800 per day.

"No matter where you look, access to clean drinking water makes a difference in the lives of people," said Wijesekera.

"The needs are clear; the goals are clear.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Poor sanitation huge barrier to a better future for Africa

Africa is a continent of astonishing potential. But if it is to build the future its citizens deserve, we have to see increased effort to remove the barriers holding it back. None is greater than poor sanitation - a shadow hanging over the lives and prospects of hundreds of millions of people on the continent and across the world.

Nearly one billion people globally are forced to defecate in the open. As many have to live with inadequate sanitation. Both situations lead to the contamination of water and food and the spread of disease. The costs – human and economic – are huge which is why it is so disappointing that the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation was the one furthest from being achieved.

The impact on health of this failure is enormous. Diarrheal diseases, caused overwhelmingly by poor sanitation and unsafe water, remains one of the top ten causes of death worldwide according to the WHO, killing 1.5 million people in 2012.

The damage from a lack of sanitation goes far beyond health. The lack of toilets puts the personal safety of girls and women at risk. It’s one of the major reasons why so many girls drop out of school, robbing them of an education and their communities of their talents.

It’s not just a human tragedy but a huge economic burden on already hard-pressed countries. New research prepared by LIXIL and Oxford Economics has put the annual cost of poor sanitation for low and middle income countries at $222.9 billion. These cumulative costs include those from early loss of life, providing health care and the impact on productivity of sickness.

It is the largest countries like India, the research shows, which shoulder the highest national cost burden. But if you look at these costs nation-by nation as a share of GDP to work out their impact on a society, then countries from sub-Saharan Africa make up half the top ten. In Niger, poor sanitation costs 2.7 per cent of GDP and the figure is nearly one per cent across the continent as a whole. Africa simply can’t afford this loss. 

Even more worrying is that the research shows these annual costs for Africa have risen by 24.5 per cent in the last five years and now stand at over $19 billion. It also underlines the terrible toll poor sanitation is taking across the continent by revealing that premature deaths account for 75 per cent of these total costs in Africa compared to just 55 per cent globally.

This is why sanitation and hygiene must again figure high on the agenda [this week] as Japanese and African heads of state gather in Nairobi for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development and in Stockholm as businesses, political leaders and others gather for World Water Week.
This complex challenge is made more difficult because sanitation solutions used in developed world cannot be transplanted to the slums or rural areas of Africa. The infrastructure is too costly to build and maintain and too wasteful of resources. Water across many parts of the continent, for example, is already scarce and becoming scarcer because of climate change.

It is not all bleak news. Not long ago Bill Gates rightly said not many of the smartest people were involved in finding sanitation solutions for those in low income countries. That’s no longer the case, thanks in part to the role he has played in pushing it up the global agenda.

I am proud that LIXIL is bringing all its experience as a world-leader in water technology to help find solutions. With a wide variety of partners, we are developing affordable and effective solutions which will meet the needs of poorest communities.

We introduced, for example, the cost effective and hygienic Safe Toilet (SaTo) products in 2013 and over one million have now been installed in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean for as little as $2 dollars a unit. They are helping transform sanitation and such is the demand and need, we aim to have installed 20 million by 2020.

Co-inventor Jim McHale (right) field tests a new model of the SaTo
Considerable progress has been made in recent years across the industry in recognising the challenge. But there is no time to waste. Every year the cost in human misery and lost prosperity keeps rising. Overcoming this challenge requires even greater effort and co-operation from governments, businesses, and civil society.

Governments must commit to national sanitation strategy with stretching but achievable targets backed by increased funding – public, private and a mix of both. National efforts must also include a new emphasis on education so the citizen understands the need to use and look after sanitation facilities when they are provided.

Innovation and partnership are absolutely critical. We need more innovation in technology and delivery so we find new, affordable and sustainable ways of bringing sanitation to those at the bottom of the pyramid. This will be encouraged by more collaboration and public-private partnerships so knowledge and experience is shared.

There are exciting developments going on in Africa and round the world to provide sanitation to the communities who need it most. By stepping up our collective efforts, we will remove a huge barrier to a better future for this continent.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Adding hygiene to school curriculum

As part of its nationwide hygiene and sanitation campaign Dettol Banega Swachh India, RB India and State Government of Telangana have joined hands to launch Hygiene Curriculum in 200 schools across four districts in Telangana.

At a launch event in Hyderabad, Health Minister of Telangana, C. Laxma Reddy launched the Hygiene Curriculum in the state and also unveiled its e-version.

Developed by RB India in partnership with XSEED and Butterfly Edufield, the Hygiene Curriculum has been developed in four languages – Hindi, English, Tamil and Telugu - and comprises student workbooks, teachers’ manual and innovative teaching aids.

The curriculum consists of 45 lessons which will be delivered over a period of 3 years and covers 5 modules like Personal Hygiene, Hygiene at Home, and Hygiene at School, Hygiene in the Neighbourhood and Hygiene during Illness.

The curriculum will be used in 10,000 schools across the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu and aims to educate 2.5 million children.

In Telangana alone, more than 400 teachers across 200 schools have been trained to conduct Behaviour Change Communication sessions for school children from Class I to V.

In line with WASH delivery model, each school will also be provided consumable such as soaps; liquid had wash, towels, buckets etc. To facilitate an effective implementation of this program, Academy of Gandhian Studies - Tirupati, Modern Architects for Rural India (MARI) - Hyderabad, Mandal Education Officer and District Education Officers have been actively involved in the Project with support from members of the local Gram Panchayats.

Furthermore, to assess the impact of the hygiene curriculum programme, stringent hygiene indicators have been devised as part of the initiative.

On this occasion Nitish Kapoor, Regional Director – RB South Asia said, “We understand the importance of driving behavior change for a cleaner and healthier India and also the role children can play in this journey.

They are the future of the country and it is important to inculcate good habits in them from the beginning. Today we are proud to partner with State Government of Telangana to formally launch the Hygiene Curriculum as a part of “Dettol Banega Swachh India” initiative.

We are quite positive about the long term impact this will have on school children across the state in driving the nation towards Swachh Bharat.” The national hygiene curriculum programme has so far covered over 5,000 schools across 6 states.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Open defecators caught with pants down given civic lessons

As the deadline for making villages `open defecation free’ is fast approaching , officials in Faridabad have adopted a novel method to ensure it is not missed.

They wake up in the dead of night, rush to remote villages and catch red-handed people defecating under bushes and open farmlands. They then take help of the village elders to teach them civic lessons.

There are 116 panchayats in Faridabad district alone, out of which 47 have woman sarpanchs.
The district administration of Faridabad set the deadline of August 15 for making these 47 villages free from open defecation. A detailed presentation was made by senior state government officers before all 116 sarpanchs in Faridabad recently.

After being educated on how open defecation causes health hazard and how cleanliness improves the quality of life, the sarpanches took oath to make their villages free from open defecation.

Two dates were finalised . For 47 villages headed by women sarpanches, August 15, 2016 is the deadline. For the remaining villages headed by male sarpanches, November 1, 2016 is the deadline for making the villages free from open defecation.

“We educate people in our village to use toilets and do not go for open for defecation”, said Kamlesh, Sarpanch of Samaipur village. “Some people living on rent in our village mostly defecate in the open. But we have told them that by August 15 our village has to be free from open defecation”, she said.

But with the deadline approaching, officials cannot take a chance. They started visiting the villages open defecation is prevalent.

Government officers hold meetings at the spot where people defecate in the open. “It becomes difficult for villagers to meet due to the bad smell. We make them realize the bad effects of open defecation on their health”, said a senior state government officer.

“I visit such villages early in the morning, especially areas where people defecate in the open. Yes, I do see some people with bottles of water, defecating in the open”, said Upendra Singh, district consultant, Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).

“I and some elders in the village advise such people,” Upendra said.

A civic lesson in progress
An old lady Ramvati, 70, a resident of Samaipur village, remains deployed with a lathi in her hands at a particular point in the village where people defecate. “When people come for defecation, my mother questions them and sends them back home,” said her son Harish. “ She advises them to use the toilet and the people follow,” he added.

“ We are confident that even some panchayats headed by male sarpanches will be made free from open defecation by August 15 though their deadline is November 1”, a senior officer said. “The poor who do not have toilets are getting financial assistance for constructing toilets,” the officials said.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Graphene-based sheets make dirty water drinkable simply and cheaply

A new system of bi-layered biofoam may provide the means to purify vast bodies of water simply by overlaying them with sheets of this new material
Engineers at the Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) have developed graphene-based biofoam sheets that can be laid on dirty or salty dams and ponds to produce clean drinking water, using the power of the sun. 

This new technique could be a cheap and simple way to help provide fresh water in countries where large areas of water are contaminated with suspended particles of dirt and other floating matter.

The biofilm is created as a two-layered structure consisting of two nanocellulose layers produced by bacteria. The lower layer contains pristine cellulose, while the top layer also contains graphene oxide, which absorbs sunlight and produces heat.

The system works by drawing up water from underneath like a sponge where it then evaporates in the topmost layer, leaving behind any suspended particulates or salts. Fresh water then condenses on the top, where it can be drawn off and used.

"The process is extremely simple," said Srikanth Singamaneni, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials at WUSTL. "The beauty is that the nanoscale cellulose fiber network produced by bacteria has excellent ability to move the water from the bulk to the evaporative surface while minimizing the heat coming down and the entire thing is produced in one shot."

Whilst this is a novel use of graphene, the researchers claim that the process used to make their bi-layered biofoam is actually the most innovative part of the whole experiment. Analogous to the process an oyster uses to create a pearl, where a small kernel of material is continually overlaid with layers of a fluid coating that eventually hardens, the bacteria used in the new material produces layers of nanocellulose fibers peppered with particles of graphene oxide flakes.

"While we are culturing the bacteria for the cellulose, we added the graphene oxide flakes into the medium itself," said Qisheng Jiang, a graduate student at WUSTL. "The graphene oxide becomes embedded as the bacteria produce the cellulose.

“At a certain point along the process, we stop, remove the medium with the graphene oxide and reintroduce fresh medium. That produces the next layer of our foam. The interface is very strong; mechanically, it is quite robust."

The researchers also claim that the material is exceptionally light, cheap to make, and can easily be produced in vast quantities. And, unlike even exceptionally simple systems designed to do similar things, the graphene biofoam material is simply laid over a body of water and does not require systems of pipes or energy to run the water through for decontamination.

"Cellulose can be produced on a massive scale," said Singamaneni. "And graphene oxide is extremely cheap — people can produce tons, truly tons, of it. Both materials going into this are highly scalable. So one can imagine making huge sheets of the biofoam."

The production system used to create the biofoam also has the ability to include other nanostructure materials that destroy bacteria and clean the water more thoroughly, allowing it to produce safe drinking water from almost any source.

"We hope that for countries where there is ample sunlight, such as India, you'll be able to take some dirty water, evaporate it using our material, and collect fresh water," said Singamaneni.


No medals for sanitation at Rio Olympics

 The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons.

The opportunity to give a decisive push to the cleanup of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara Bay and its lagoons has been lost. The drive against waterborne pollution was part of the proposal which won the city the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This failure may hardly register in the awareness of residents and visitors, given the higher visibility of the urban transport projects and the revitalisation of Rio’s central district.

What happened confirms the national tradition of giving sanitation low priority on the government agenda. So far only half the Brazilian population has access to piped water, and only a small proportion of transported water is treated.

“The environment pays no taxes and neither does it vote, therefore it does not command the attention of our political leaders nor of society as a whole,” complained biologist Mario Moscatelli, a well-known water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Park, which is at the heart of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, was built on the west side of the city on the shores of Jacarepaguá lagoon, yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated. Filthy water from rivers and streams continues to flow into it all the time, Moscatelli told IPS.

Most of the foreign Olympic athletes and spectators from abroad will arrive in Rio at Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport, also known as Galeão. Planes touch down here on the edge of one of the most polluted parts of Guanabara bay, although visitors may not realise it.

The airport , on the western tip of Ilha do Governador (Governador Island), which was home to 212,754 people in 2010 according to the official census, is close to canals  taking untreated effluent and rubbish from millions of people living on the mainland, brought by rivers that are little more than open sewers.

Fundão canal can be glimpsed from the southbound highway towards the city centre. It is full of raw sewage and bad smells in spite of recent dredging, because it is still connected to the polluted Cunha canal.
Five rivers converge in the Cunha canal after crossing densely populated areas including several “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial zones.

North of Galeao airport, the fishing village of Tubiacanga illustrates the ecological disaster in Guanabara Bay, which has a surface area of 412 square kilometres and stretches from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu (Niterói) in the east.

At the narrowest point in the channel between Ilha do Governador and the adjacent mainland city of Duque de Caxias, “there used to be a depth of seven or eight metres; but now at low tide you can walk along with the water only chest-high,” 66-year-old Souza, who has lived in Tubiacanga for two-thirds of his life, told IPS.

Landfills, silting by rivers and rubbish tipping have all reduced the depth of the bay, he said.

“Tubiacanga is at a meeting point of dirty water from tides rising at the bay entrance, from several canals including Fundão, and from rivers. Sediments and rubbish pile up in front of our village,” where the white sandy beach has become a quagmire and rubbish dump over the past few decades, Souza complained.

Guanabara Bay
Guanabara bay receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and 18,000 litres per second of untreated waste water, mainly via the 55 rivers and canals that flow into it, according to Sergio Ricardo de Lima, an ecologist and founder of the Bahia Viva (Living Bay) movement.

Rio’s Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80 percent of the effluents reaching the bay. The actual proportion achieved was 55 percent, Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said at a press conference with foreign journalists on July 7.

“I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers,” said Moscatelli, voicing the scepticism of environmentalists.

The 80 percent target was not realistic; completely decontaminating the bay would require 25 to 30 years and sanitation investments equivalent to six billion dollars, André Correa, environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, admitted on July 20 at the inauguration of an “eco barrier” on the river Merití, one of the polluting waterways.

The barriers are floating interconnected booms that are an emergency measure to ensure that aquatic Olympic sports can take place in some parts in the bay. Trash scooping vessels or “eco boats” collect the floating debris that accumulates against them and send it for recycling.

Seventeen eco barriers have been promised, but these will be woefully inadequate, and in any case they should be anchored where floating garbage is most concentrated, like Tubiacanga, not close to the Guanabara Bay entrance where water sports will be held, Lima complained.

The barrier in the Merití River is suitably placed, in Lima’s view, but it is “palliative action only.” The real solution is to promote selective garbage collection at source, that is, in households, shops and industries, and recycle as much solid waste as possible, as stipulated by a 2010 law.

“At present only one percent of the garbage produced in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region (which has a population of 12 million) is recycled,” Lima said.

Workers remove garbage collected by floating waste barriers at the Meriti polluted river that flows into the Guanabara bay, in Rio de Janeiro
Cleaning up Guanabara Bay is a longstanding ambition. It was the goal of a project begun in 1995 that has already cost the equivalent of three billion dollars at the current exchange rate, but that has not prevented environmental deterioration of local beaches and water resources.

Eight wastewater treatment stations were built or expanded to improve water quality. However, they have always operated well below capacity, because the main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the treatment stations have never been built, according to Lima.

Pollution of the bay is exacerbated by oil spills. There is a refinery and petrochemical hub on the banks of the lagoon in Duque de Caxias; in addition, all along the Tubiacanga waterfront the bay is increasingly crisscrossed by pipes carrying crude oil, refinery sub products and natural gas.

The effects of a large oil spill in January 2000 are still felt today. It had a direct impact on Tubiacanga and on the fish catch.

“We fisher folk are the ones who suffer most from the consequences of pollution, and who best know the bay; but we are not listened to, we are penned in and threatened with extinction,” said Souza dos Santos, who is encouraging his four sons to take up trades other than fishing.


Nigeria: The need to revive compulsory sanitation exercise

Sanitary conditions in most urban cities and rural areas have deteriorated due to unsustainable hygienic measures. It is for this reason that experts have tasked local government authorities, institutions, agencies and stakeholders to pay more attention to the issue of sanitation in their surroundings.

Sustainable waste management, a precursor to good sanitation, is still a mirage because the federal government is yet to start the conversion of Nigeria's industrial, municipal and domestic waste to wealth.

Some stakeholders have identified revival of the compulsory monthly sanitation exercise, where people are made to clean their environment on a particular day of the month, as a step towards achieving a better and cleaner environment in the markets, streets and homes.

During President Muhammadu Buhari's first stint in governance as a military head of state, he instituted the mandatory monthly environmental sanitation exercise which took place from 7.00a.m. to 10.00a.m. on every last Saturday of the month.

Environmental sanitations, according to WHO are efforts or activities aimed at maintaining a clean, safe and pleasant physical environment through water supply, excreta and sewage disposal, solid waste disposal, and ensuring the safety of the environment in all human settlements towards the promotion of social, economic and physical well-being of all sections of the population.

Some residents who spoke to Daily Trust said the exercise, which many clamour for its return, is presently being adopted in states like Lagos and Edo and that it may go a long way in ensuring a cleaner environment if adopted nationwide.

Sule Ojonugwa,an educationist, said when the exercise was in place, there were no indiscriminate refuse dumps on streets as it is now, saying people were mindful of where they dump their wastes because they are responsible for the cleaning of the environment.

He said if the federal government could adopt the exercise even if it is on two or three hours basis on a set day, the environment will look much cleaner and healthier.

A trader in Jikwoyi, Hyacinth Ogbulonu, said though the exercise is not being cherished by lots of traders because it is considered half day for them, it will be a good one in checking people's attitude towards waste disposal and cleanup.

Ogbulonu noted that he takes out time to clear the gutter around his shop, which also motivates his neighbours to do same, and at the end they all get the place cleared.

"The exercise can be revived and strict measures imposed without restriction of movement, but the truth remains that it will be more effective if movements are restricted," he said.

Another trader, who simply gave her name as Jane, said if government can bring back the exercise, it will be good because people will be on ground to help government officials clean the environment.
The Coordinant-General of Environmental Ethics & Safety Corps (ESCORP), Mr. Emenike Eme, told Daily Trust that the corps would always stand for the enforcement of compulsory sanitation exercise nationwide.

Eme noted that it is in the human nature for people not to do what is expected rather they do that which they know will be inspected.

"If we know this and we don't want to enforce monthly or regular sanitation exercise, we are not helping ourselves because if we don't bring it back, diseases and infections will continue to increase in our country," he said.

He pointed out that there is high resistant malaria caused by mosquito bite, saying "with dirty environment, we will have more than mosquitoes bite and then we will waste money attempting to cure."

All right thinking persons according to the coordinate General, no matter their status in life or what excuse they have, should consider the interest of the masses more important than any other thing.
"Let us help ourselves and bring back the monthly compulsory sanitation exercise," he said.

According to a report tagged 'Conceptual Modelling of Residents' Environmental Sanitation Behaviour in a Nigerian Metropolis' by a lecturer with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Oluwole Daramola, the major determinant of residents' environmental sanitation behaviour was the mandated environmental sanitation exercise.

Daramola said despite the positive contributions of the monthly environmental sanitation exercise, residents need to know the importance of daily environmental sanitation exercise, especially at the household and neighbourhood levels.

Despite the calls, the federal government is yet to make a statement on whether the policy will be revived or not, but there are feelers that work is in progress on the issue of sanitation.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

TANZANIA among top ten countries with greatest number of stunted children


TANZANIA now has 3,061,000 children who are stunted ranking it the 10th country with the greatest number of stunted children, according to a recent survey.

The new survey that was conducted by WaterAid entitled ‘Caught short: How a lack of toilets and clean water contributes tomalnutrition’ released yesterday cited that Tanzania has 34.7 per cent of stunted children which is a drop from 42 per cent in 2010.

The report also showed that the country now has 84 per cent of its population without access to water and 44 per cent of its population without access to a toilet.  

Countries in Africa that have outnumbered Tanzania include Nigeria which ranks second after India with 10,321,000 stunted children, Ethiopia with 5,822,000 and DRC with 5,072,000.

“Stunting not only makes children shorter for their age, but affects their emotional, social and cognitive development, meaning their lives and life chances are forever changed,” says Ms Barbara Frost, WaterAid’s Chief Executive.

Around the world, 159 million children under the age of five are stunted – a consequence of malnutrition in the first two years of their life.

While malnutrition is mainly associated with a lack of food, the new report highlights the major role a lack of access to clean water and decent toilets plays in this global crisis.

Almost 50 per cent of malnutrition cases are linked to chronic diarrhoea caused by lack of clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, including handwashing with soap.

For a child, experiencing five or more cases of diarrhoea before the age of two can lead to stunting. Beyond this age, the effects are largely irreversible.

As the first anniversary of the Sustainable Developmental Goals approaches, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to uphold the commitments they made to end hunger and malnutrition, and reach everyone everywhere with clean water and sanitation by 2030.

“Good food, the focus of most malnutrition programmes, will only get us halfway to the finishing line in addressing this crisis,” says Ms Frost.

“We need to ensure governments make clean water, decent toilets and clean hands a priority in efforts to end malnutrition.”

Other calls made include Ministries of Health, Water, Sanitation, Agriculture and Education must all coordinate their efforts to tackle the underlying causes, as well as the effects, of malnutrition as well as international institutions, researchers and civil society organisations must collaborate to strengthen the evidence-base and understanding of how WASH and nutrition are connected, and which approaches are most effective.

Is it sacrilege for upper castes to clean toilets?

For centuries we have thrust chores we regard to be unclean and socially humiliating on people of the lowest, most oppressed castes.
In urban India some imagine that caste demarcations have become history. We need to only check the caste identity of those employed to clean the toilets in our offices and homes to recognise how wrong they are. For centuries we have thrust chores we regard to be unclean and socially humiliating on people of the lowest, most oppressed castes.

They alone carry the burdens of disposing of animal carcasses, skinning animals, and scavenging and disposing of human excreta. Today, although not written, there’s virtually 100% reservation for the lowest castes in jobs as cleaners and sweepers.

Young people born into these disadvantaged castes battle formidable barriers to enter and stay in school. Research demonstrates that they frequently endure humiliating caste discrimination in classrooms. However, even for many who persevere with their studies, and nearly all of those who cannot, their caste destiny forces them to clean toilets as the only employment available to them.

Can we imagine an India in which cleaning toilets becomes an employment open to people of all castes ? A progressive social service institute in Ahmedabad did it. It issued a job advertisement for a sanitation worker, stating that preference would be given to candidates of higher castes.

The institute knew that the notification would be controversial: They issued it to stimulate public debate and soul-searching about embedded social inequalities. What they didn’t anticipate was violence and threats, forcing its director Prasad Chacko to go into hiding.

The advertisement was issued by the Human Development and Research Centre (formerly Behavioural Science Centre), established in the seventies by a group of Jesuit priests. These St Xavier’s College teachers were moved by the caste discrimination, untouchability and violence which they encountered across Gujarat. The institute tried to organise Dalit and tribal people, and promote gender equity. In 2002, it also became a hub for activists working with survivors of the communal carnage.

Some years ago, the position of a sanitation worker fell vacant in their Ahmedabad office. It was advertised, and as invariably happens, only people from the lowest-caste, Valmiki community, applied. Mukesh, a ‘tenth-fail’ Valmiki youth was appointed, but Chacko and his colleagues felt it would be unjust for him to be trapped for a lifetime in only cleaning floors and toilets. They helped him learn computers and office errands and promoted him as an office assistant.

This spring the position of sanitation worker fell vacant again. It was certain that if they issued a job call, only Valmiki candidates would apply. The audacious idea of stating in the advertisement that preference would be given to applicants of higher castes came up.

They mentioned that Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Baniyas and Patels among Hindus; Syeds and Pathans among Muslims (priestly and warrior castes); Syrian Christians; Parsis; and Jains, would be preferred. Chacko, a Syrian Christian says that his community still claims its Brahmanical pedigree with the myth that St Thomas came to Kerala in AD 51 and converted 51 Brahmins, the ancestors of all later Syrian Christians.

Unsurprisingly, there were no high-caste applications, but one morning late in June three young men in jeans forced themselves into Chacko’s office, introducing themselves as members of organisations representing Brahmins and Rajput Kshatriyas, and challenged him: “Do you believe that Brahmins and Kshatriyas should clean toilets? Don’t you know what responsibilities are assigned to us by tradition?”

“Would you ask Christian priests or Muslim maulvis to clean toilets? It is the Kshatriyas who protect the nation, how dare you insult them by asking them to clean latrines?” they asked. Chacko said that there was no reason for priests and maulvis to not clean toilets, and that it is the army and police — comprising men and women from every caste — that defend the nation. They recorded Chacko’s views on their phones and left.

In a few hours, Chacko’s interview began circulating on the Internet, and a number of Gujarati TV channels arrived at the college campus where the institute is located. By afternoon, a crowd of around 20 angry young men gathered at the campus demanding that Chacko apologise. The police finally arrived and dispersed the men.

The next day, more men gathered, and when they could not meet Chacko, they smashed windows and flower pots outside the office. Many joined in to condemn the advertisement, including Hardik Patel’s outfit and for good measure even a Muslim organisation. The institute issued a ‘limited’ apology for unintentionally hurting sentiments, but did not retract the advertisement.

Dalit and human rights groups on the other hand rose in solidarity across Gujarat issuing statements in support of this gesture for advancing the idea of social equality. Jignesh Mewani, a Dalit activist and lawyer said, “Narendra Modi has declared that sanitation work is a spiritual exercise. Then why should the upper castes be denied this opportunity?” The matter simmered for a while, and is now dormant, but Chacko continues to be on leave.

The fury and indignation of upper caste organisations is instructive of how entrenched the idea of caste remains in India. On the other hand, simply the accident of birth into disadvantaged-caste households makes it fine for low-caste youth to be trapped in this work that the upper castes so despise.

The country is building toilets in every rural school, which is welcome, but the responsibility for cleaning these toilets frequently fall on students from these oppressed castes, who are shamed into doing work that would so offend their higher-caste classmates. This too causes no outrage.

It is evident that the value of different lives still varies infinitely in India based on the chance of where children are born. For some, the skies are within reach, and the idea of cleaning dirt is sacrilege. For others, clearing human waste is a fitting destiny, and reaching for the skies is sacrilege.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Over 10.14 million Indians at risk from excess Fluoride in drinking water

The World Health Organisation says that ingestion of excess fluoride, most commonly in drinking-water, can cause fluorosis which affects the teeth and bones
Nearly 14,000 habitations in 17 states reported to have excess fluoride in drinking water sources, affecting more than 1.14 crore (a crore being equivalent to 10 million) people, Rajya Sabha was informed today.

According to the World Health Organisation, ingestion of excess fluoride, most commonly in drinking-water, can cause fluorosis which affects the teeth and bones.

Moderate amounts lead to dental effects, but long-term ingestion of large amounts can lead to potentially severe skeletal problems, WHO say.

At 6,855, the maximum cases have been reported from Rajasthan, followed by 1,087 cases from Bihar, 1,065 from Karnataka and 1,064 from West Bengal, Minister of State for Drinking Water and Sanitation Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi said in a written reply in Rajya Sabha.

Young girl with dental fluorosis in Holkunda village
“As on July 20, the problem of excess fluoride in rural drinking water sources is reported by 17 states in 13,949 habitations,” he said.

The minister said 1.14 crore people are at risk due to presence of excess fluoride in water.
Rural drinking water is a state subject. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation assists the states in providing safe drinking water in rural areas through centrally sponsored National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

As per the plan of the Ministry, 90 per cent of the rural population would be provided with safe drinking water by 2020 through surface water based piped supply schemes, he said.

In a separate reply, the minister said that during 2015-16, an amount of Rs 4,268.58 crore has been provided to the states under NRDWP. While in 2016-17, Rs 1986.66 crore has been released to the states in first installment in April-May.


Monday, July 25, 2016

SO what will it be, a toilet or safe drinking water? The stark choice facing many people in rural India

A hand pump with a cracked base in Dhenkenal, Odisha. Poorly maintained pumps are vulnerable to contamination from above ground as well as from nearby leach pits.
June in Odisha state’s Puri district, and the mercury is hitting 39C. The monsoon is still days away but, when it comes, the Mahanadi river could flood low-lying villages, as it often has done. One such village is Aaruha, a network of congested huts surrounded by vast rice fields.

Chaibi Swain, 52, lives here with her husband, a rice farmer. Her home is little different to the rest of Aaruha’s low-rise dwellings, but it has a toilet, which puts her among a small minority in rural Odisha. 

Eight out of nine people in Odisha’s villages do not use toilets, instead defecating in the open, leaving them vulnerable to diseases. The Swains, with their tiny toilet, which empties into a leach pit – a hole in the ground used to compost faeces when there is no sewage system – are the face of progress.

There is a problem, however. The leach pit is next to the household’s drinking-water source, a tube well. Water so close to a leach pit is vulnerable to contamination from faecal germs, since bacteria, viruses and protozoa can travel through soil. 

This toilet with a leach pit in Puri has been built next to a hand pump, making contamination likely
Worse, when the monsoon comes and the Mahanadi overruns its banks, the groundwater levels in Aaruha rise, making the contamination worse. The Swains’ toilet could actually be a health risk.
They aren’t the only ones whose backyard toilet is a threat to the water supply. As the Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM) – India’s ambitious campaign to stop open defecation by 2019 – gains pace, about 1.3m leach-pit toilets have been built in Odisha alone.

In districts such as Ganjam, Balasore and Puri, these pits are often built without safeguards against contamination, say the NGOs working with the government. “It is quite alarming, because if this problem is not addressed at this time, we are building sites of contamination all around,” says Devdeep Saha, a research associate at the sanitation NGO Friend in Need Trust.

The safeguards in coastal districts such as Puri, which have high groundwater tables and are prone to flooding, include keeping a 10-metre distance between water sources and leach pits, raising the top of pits above the ground so that flood water does not enter, and sealing the bottom of pits to prevent pathogens escaping. But villagers who build their own toilets in return for funds from the mission often ignore these safeguards.

The reasons are many. First, many households in congested villages do not have the space to build toilets and tube wells far apart. Harendranath Pradhan, a government sanitation engineer in Odisha’s Balasore district, says this is the main reason for guidance being ignored.

“Even though his job is to ensure toilets are properly built, Pradhan says this isn’t always possible. “We tell the beneficiary to maintain a distance from the water source. But they say they don’t have the land. So we build the toilet, because we have to meet targets,” he says.

India is not yet meeting its mission goals. Only about 19m toilets have been built across rural India, meaning another 92m are needed over the next three years to meet the 2019 target. Vivek Sabnis, who previously worked for the Bangalore-based sanitation NGO Arghyam, says: “Unfortunately, everybody is pushing for quantity over quality.”

Odisha isn’t the only state that faces a threat to its water supplies from new toilets. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand also have badly built toilets, according to Saha. This means that, as coverage grows, contamination may worsen.

A study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in April found that certain diarrhoea-causing protozoa can travel 150 metres or more in the high groundwater of Puri to contaminate even deep tube wells, which are thought safer than shallow tube wells and open ponds. The study says full latrine coverage in high water table areas would reduce contamination in open ponds, but increase it in tube wells.

Marion Jenkins, lead author of the study and an environmental health researcher at the University of California in Davis, says recommended safeguards may reduce contamination a little, but won’t eliminate it. “Drinking-water aquifers are already seriously polluted with faecal protozoal pathogens from the existing stock of latrines in rural Puri,” she says.

This means that unless the existing latrines are pulled down, and new ones built differently, pollution will remain.

Another study, published in January, found tube wells in Bihar to be contaminated by faecal pathogens about 18% of the time, when they weren’t far enough from pit toilets. This study was done in summer, and the authors predict contamination would increase during monsoon.

None of this means India should panic and abandon pit toilets, says Sandy Cairncross, an environmental health researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Improved toilet coverage is likely to benefit people much more than it hurts them, he points out, adding that it would be better to provide piped water to villages, instead of relying on tube wells and ponds.

Another solution is to train villagers to monitor the quality of their toilets, instead of relying on government officials to do so, says Sujoy Mojumdar, a former SBM director who is now with Unicef India. 

The system of a government official inspecting toilets before disbursing money doesn’t work because toilet users do not feel ownership, he argues. Village teams already exist in some states, he says, “but it is still a rare example and not widespread”.