This drive could well go down the drain

With­out en­sur­ing ad­e­quacy of wa­ter and its safety from pol­lu­tion the Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan will be in­com­plete

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - COMMENT - Nitya Ja­cob Nitya Ja­cob is head of pol­icy, Wa­ter Aid In­dia The views ex­pressed by the au­thor are per­sonal

The pen­du­lum has swung to­wards the san­i­ta­tion ex­treme un­der the Swachh Bharat Ab­hiyan. Wa­ter is the for­got­ten piece of the san­i­ta­tion puz­zle, one with­out which the great In­dian leap into the toi­let can pos­si­bly come un­done. In­di­ans wash up after defe­cat­ing and most also wash their hands with ash, mud or soap. At a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate open defe­ca­tion needs about a litre of wa­ter for ablu­tions. Toi­let defe­ca­tion raises that to at least three litres.

Defe­cat­ing in the open may not en­tail an ad­di­tional bur­den on wa­ter providers, ie, women, us­ing toi­lets will. They have to fetch wa­ter from the near­est source. In ru­ral In­dia, with the ex­cep­tion of the priv­i­leged 14% who get wa­ter in their houses, the rest have to fetch it from dis­tances vary­ing from 25m to 250m. Th­ese 86% are of­fi­cially con­sid­ered to have ac­cess to wa­ter have the avail­abil­ity, at 40 litres per capita per day, within a dis­tance of 100m.

The ac­cess, yield and qual­ity of a source de­cline rapidly after in­stal­la­tion, cre­at­ing a cat­e­gory of habi­ta­tions called partly cov­ered (33.9% of the to­tal). Ac­cord­ing to a World Bank study in­di­cated for hand­pumps, the dif­fer­ence be­tween de­sign and out­put of wa­ter from hand­pumps was about 10%. In the case of piped wa­ter schemes 30% house­holds do not get wa­ter daily. Piped wa­ter schemes are most prone to break­downs on ac­count of high run­ning costs, a lack of trained peo­ple to run them, a lack of a rev­enue model, lack of elec­tric­ity, dry­ing up of sources and poor plan­ning.

To use a toi­let daily, a fam­ily of five will need an ad­di­tional 15 litres of wa­ter daily. In ad­di­tion to mode of sup­ply, wa­ter sources are un­der pres­sure. About 80% of wa­ter for hu­man use comes from un­der­ground. Over the past three decades, ground­wa­ter has be­come in­creas­ingly scarce with the rapid ex­pan­sion of ground­wa­ter-fed agri­cul­ture. Dug wells and hand­pumps that use shal­low aquifers are the first to go, fol- lowed by tube­wells for drink­ing wa­ter. Of the 7,928 blocks in the coun­try, the Cen­tral Ground­wa­ter Board has clas­si­fied about 14% as over-ex­ploited or dark zones. Added to the scarcity is the qual­ity as­pect. Nat­u­ral and an­thro­pogenic pol­lu­tants af­fect a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of ground­wa­ter. Add to this the prob­lem of un­reg­u­lated toi­let con­struc­tion. Norms re­quire a min­i­mum dis­tance of 10m be­tween a toi­let and wa­ter source but this is never fol­lowed.

One is to build toi­lets that do not need wa­ter for flush­ing but safely sep­a­rate exc­reta from hu­man be­ings. Th­ese also sep­a­rate the solids from the liq­uids and con­verts them into ma­nure. Th­ese toi­lets can now be made for around ` 12,000, the amount of sub­sidy the gov­ern­ment pro­vides un­der the new san­i­ta­tion cam­paign. The sec­ond is to en­sure fae­cal con­tain­ment that is the bare min­i­mum that can be done to re­move open defe­ca­tion.

To suc­ceed, the san­i­ta­tion cam­paign has to be ex­e­cuted as part of a larger wa­ter cy­cle. The pur­pose is to im­prove health but with­out en­sur­ing ad­e­quacy of wa­ter for ablu­tions, and safety of wa­ter from pol­lu­tion, the cy­cle will not be com­plete. The toi­lets may well be con­structed but Swachh Bharat will be­come another failed mis­sion.


A toi­let in a gov­ern­ment-run school, In­dore

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