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Sustainable sanitation – Agenda for India

September 13, 2014

The U.N. set the Millennium Development Goals or the MDG between 2000 and  2015. Goals 4 and  7 was to halve the number of people without access to improved water or sanitation. The goal for water is likely to be reached by the deadline but sadly not for sanitation. Unfortunately in the quest to provide access to facilities for people the sustainability component was missed. This miss will hopefully be rectified when the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) come into place as the next phase of the MDGs. As estimated by UNICEF and WHO, the burden of bad sanitation for India is the death of over 386,600 children due to water borne disease particularly diarrhea, a crippling physical and mental stunting called enteropathy which disables children from absorbing nutrition and finally the loss to the economy amounting to 6.50% of the GDP in 2012 as per an estimate of the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank.

What is sustainable water supply and sanitation? A global network of individuals and institutions which have come together under the banner of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (www.susana.org) try to answer this in the following manner. Sustainable sanitation is defined as that which is universally accessible, is used by all, that which lasts and that where the waste products are safely disposed if not productively used.

In the rural context sustainable sanitation would mean not only the construction of toilets but their continued and correct usage. After the pits are full an adequate and safe mechanism for their emptying and potentially the reuse of the waste material as fertilizer after it has been safely sanitized. It should also be remembered that a whole community approach is needed to make the environment entirely Open Defecation free, with not a single violator; else the benefits of sanitation will not accrue.

Good positive examples for sustainable rural sanitation have come from the states of Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim in particular and in the case of Sikkim the entire state has been declared as Open defecation Free. This is an example to emulate for other states particularly when more than 600 million people in India do not use a toilet.

In the urban context it would mean not only the construction of sewage lines and sewage treatment plans but their ability to convey all sewage without leaking to the STP which would then treat it to meet standards as prescribed. Ideally in a sustainable sanitation paradigm, there would be recovery of energy through bio-gas, recovery of nutrients in the waste-water stream such as Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium and finally the recovery and reuse of the water component from waste-water. The landscape of urban India is littered with leaking sewage lines, uncollected waste-water and dysfunctional sewage treatment plants and is nowhere near the sustainability desired. On plot sanitation systems too would be important in many urban areas and may be relevant for a long time given the high investmen needs for underground lines.

Chennai leads the way with four of their Sewage Treatment Plants generating enough energy through bio-gas and electricity so as to provide for about 80 % of the plants running requirement for energy.

Unfortunately both the rural and urban examples are few and far between registering as a mere blip on the requirement radar.

India will do well to invite SuSanA to set up an Indian chapter which will provide the ideas , examples, experience , knowledge and particular a platform to bring together the community of people and institutions working on sanitation to understand, discuss and implement sustainable sanitation in India at a scale and reach necessary for the problem.

The Prime Minister of India has called for a clean India and a clean Ganga. Both can be achieved only when there is sustainable sanitation for all in India.

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The eThekwini story on urban water and sanitation services

September 6, 2014

The eThekwini story on urban water and sanitation services

The World Water Week, a global gathering of people in the water sector, is currently on in Stockholm, Sweden. This is the Mecca for water practitioners where cutting edge yet practical ideas and experiences in managing the water sector is shared and discussed. At the water week various awards are given out and this year the winner for the World Water Prize is Dr John Briscoe. In the urban water sector the winner for the 2014 Stockholm Industry Water Award is the eThekwini Municipality and more specifically the eThekwini Water and Sanitation Utility (EWS) which is in charge of providing water and sanitation facilities to the greater Durban Municipal area.  Here there are many lessons for Indian water utilities and municipalities.

The eThekwini utility is responsible for serving a population of 3.6 million people spread over a vast area of 2297 square kilometers. It supplies 900 million litres per day to both formal and informal housing settlements where the informal settlements are actually 54 %. In South Africa the constitution recognizes water and sanitation as a human right and therefore a certain amount of water – 900 litres per month- is provided free to households as well as access to free sanitation in the form of a Ventilated Pit toilet at the minimum. In the greater Durban area 37 % of the families receive these free basic services as it is the Ethekwini Municipality which is designated as the agency responsible for the delivery of these rights.

What then differentiates this utility and makes it the most progressive and innovative water utility in Africa? At the heart seems to be the institutional team with a creative leadership with a vision. Neil Macleod, the outgoing head is recognized a s a great team leader with a vision. He sets out his vision as following the 5 key management issues – human resource skills, customer management, revenue management, asset management and new services delivery. Clearly lessons for Indian utility managers. With this leadership it has also been possible to generate the required political will towards innovative and progressive water and sanitation services delivery.

The second seems to be a relentless focus on customer first as well as clear service level standards. Every customer in the municipality is clear about what she can expect under the customer charter so developed as well as a clear articulation of the Service Level Standards set out by EWS.

Some of the innovative ideas tried out include the provision of more than 80000 Urine Diverting Dry Toilets (UDDT); Investigation is now on to see how both urine and faecal sludge can be used as a nutrient for agriculture. Also there is a project to pelletize the faecal sludge and then use it as a fertilizer. Rainwater harvesting is being encouraged for households to supplement their water requirements. Wastewater recycling for industrial use, street theatre for customer literacy and the correct use of sanitation facilities, a robust community engagement mechanism including customer service agents is some of the innovative ideas being tried out.

Durban is famous for its beaches and it is the clear water and surf which brings tourists in hordes and helps the local economy. It is critical therefore that the waters be kept free from sewage pollution. That the EWS focus is both basic service to people as a human right and managing waters to benefit the economy and the environment is a tribute to its efforts recognized by the Award.

It is time that water utilities in India learn from the eThekwini example and a visit to Durban is therefore a must. That would be water and sanitation wisdom.

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On sanitation in India

August 31, 2014

The sanitation question

With the Prime Minister emphasizing the need for India to gear up on sanitation and announcing a clean India campaign from October 2nd 2014  sanitation is now firmly on the front burner of every city and village. The challenge is of course enormous and though global each solution will be hyper-local. For a city with reasonably good infrastructure and with a reasonably good economic prosperity it should be easier than say for a poorer city with a high slum population. Yet answers will have to be found and quickly for the toll bad sanitation takes on the health of people and the economy is very high.

The imagination for toilets and waste-water will for example have to be comprehensive and will need to take account from source to sink. While private toilets will come up on individual sites, care will need to be taken that underground sewage lines are laid and connection to them is easy and affordable. Else this will lead to toilet waste being led into storm drains and polluting entire water systems including lakes , which can then become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and flies, dangerous vectors for diseases. Well functioning public and community toilets will be a challenge, for it is not in the construction but the continuous maintenance and cleanliness which will be the challenge here. As Bangalore saw with the beautifully designed Infosys Foundation supported toilets, it takes a specialized institution and focus to keep the toilets running in good condition.

  Sewage will have to be picked up in underground lines and treated fully preferably enabling recovery of water and nutrients. It can no longer be allowed to flow in storm-water drains, rivers and lakes.

At the individual and community level some uncomfortable questions will need answers. During the construction of the building did we insist on the contractor to make toilet provision for the workers? Does our apartment and layout have enough clean public toilets for the service staff and visitors to use? Do our offices, schools and colleges have clean, functional toilets with running water? This  is as much a responsibility as any for the management.

Storm water drains and garbage seem to go hand in hand. We as a citizenry seem to believe drains are meant to dump garbage. This cannot be allowed to continue. Segregated garbage will need to be handed over by a responsible citizenry and then collected, composted or recycled by a responsible local government. A specialized institution like the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation achieved wonders for years. It is time such institutions are strengthened and asked to go on with the job.  It is a crying shame that we have allowed landfills to proliferate and devastate the lives of villagers surrounding our cities. Storm-water drains will then have to be regularly maintained from weeds so as to stop vector breeding. Dengue, Chikungunya and Malaria are all prevalent and this is a fall out of an unclean and unhygienic city.

A lot will depend on individual and community action and building the right competent institutions for solid waste, for community toilets and sewage management and for storm-water drains. Cleaning up the neighbourhood and the ward with the help of the local Corporator will be key for this is primarily the responsibility of the local government. Now that there is backing from the very topmost political leadership this is the time to become water and waste wise.

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Memory and forgetfulness – of the well and water.

August 7, 2014

The Indian Institute of World Culture is located in the locality known as Basavanagudi, one of the oldest layouts formed in the city in the 1890’s. The road on which the building is situated is called the B.P.Wadia Road and is named after the founder of the IIWC, which was established in 1945. There is an excellent library for adults and for children in the rather large campus with the typical old style Bangalore building. Many old timers come to listen to lectures organized in the evenings on various topics. I was there to speak on the culture and tradition of the open well in India.
Since I was early I wandered about the premise speaking to the person looking after the garden and the premises in general. Casually I asked him if there was a well in the area. To my surprise not only did he take me and show me a functioning well but also assured me that the water was crystal clear and sweet. The well , safely enclosed in a pumping room , dates at least to the 1940’s and has been supplying water unfailingly ever since. Devaiah also told me about a large stone lined and stepped open well next to the building which was also there for long. It has now been filled up and a multi-storied apartment has come in its place. The apartment has drilled a bore-well to supplement its water needs.
The Institute has done a nice thing for the well. It has taken all the rooftop rainwater from the two large building blocks on its premise and put it into two recharge wells 10 feet deep. This ensures that the entire rainwater goes into the aquifer thus enhancing groundwater levels.
In front of the Institute is the famous M.N.Krishna Rao Park. Here also is a water reservoir of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board or the BWSSB. This reservoir is filled daily from waters of the river Cauvery, a 100 kilo-metres away and 300 metres below the city. Ironically it also probably sits on a shallow aquifer with a high groundwater table that it ignores.
The area now known as Gandhi Bazaar where you get perhaps the best dosa in town at Vidyarthi Bhavan was upon a tank called Karanji Tank. This is just close by to the Institute. On the other end not far away is the Lalbagh Lake. Hyder Ali began the famous Lalbagh gardens with three wells for irrigation so says the traveler and chronicler Buchanan. It looks like Basavanagudi is lucky to have a good water table with a lot of open wells capable of providing water to its resident’s right through the year.
It only remains that we remember the well as a source of good and cheap water, that we protect and preserve the catchment so as not to pollute the resource and that we enhance it through rainwater harvesting measures. Areas such as these should be designated as groundwater sanctuaries and the groundwater legislation used to sustainably maintain that most precious of all resources for this city-water. As a famous writer once said this is a fight between memory and forgetfulness. The memory of the well must be retained and must be integrated with modern water needs but in ecological fashion. That would be water wisdom.

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Airports and water

June 3, 2014

The Airport is located quite far from the city, about 30 kilometres away. It is too far away from city lines and has to depend on groundwater. It needs 9 million litres per day eventually though for now 5 million litres per day will do.  To boot it is located in what was called a ‘dark zone’ by the Central Ground Water Board, meaning groundwater was being exploited beyond recharge potential. An Airport needs water and plenty of it. So what did it do?

For one it requested and sourced fresh water from the city paying Rs 66 a kilo-litre, a high price which gave the water utility supplying it some monies. This fresh water is limited to about 1.5 million litres daily. It then did a smarter thing, it bought tertiary treated waste-water and a full 2 million litres of it daily and it paid Rs 25 a kilo-litre for this treated waste-water. This was separately stored and used for the vast beautiful landscape springing around, a huge bio-diversity of plants and even a small wetland.

For the internal waste-water generated it set up its own sewage treatment plant using extended aeration system. This treated water is then reused for flushing the toilets in the airport premises as well as for the air cooling systems. The sludge generated from the sewage treatment plant is composted and reused as manure for the landscaped area. 

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       An internal waste-water treatment plants treats all waste-water as well as waste from aeroplanes

Runways and the area surrounding it generate large quantities of storm water when it rains. It is therefore very important that this run-off be collected and quickly disposed off and flooding avoided. With more than 310 recharge wells located in the storm water drain or immediately adjacent to it a large volume of the rain is recharged into the aquifer. Well designed storm-water drains then take away the rest of the rainwater to an adjacent lake which is capable of receiving this large flow of rain.

Two things have happened due to these good efforts. Four large open wells which were old existing constructions have been rehabilitated, cleaned up and repaired. Pumps and a filter have been attached and the water quality tested. It is found that this is very high quality, sweet potable water. Thanks to the recharge efforts the wells stay full even during summer. Up-to 800,000 litres of water can be drawn from these open wells daily and in an emergency they can replace the mains water from the city. A landscape which was once a dark zone, given a holiday for high extraction from bore-wells and with enough recharging can be revived to such an extent that open wells can have water.

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                                      Recharge of rainwater has helped aquifers rejuvenate with fresh clean water

From the airport buildings rainwater is stored in large underground sump tanks of about 1.5 million litres capacity and reused after treating. Excess water from the sump tanks is then allowed to flow into storm drains and recharge the aquifer as well as flow into the adjacent lake.

The revival of the adjacent lake also means that villages and towns adjacent to the airport, such as the town of Devanahalli, can now think of sourcing groundwater from adjacent to the lake to fulfill the towns water requirements.

 

 

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                         Sludge drying beds 

Economic activity and service activity like airports are essential for economic growth and to spur the progress of a city. Instead of seeing it as placing demand on water services through innovative design they can absorb waste-water from cities and be able to use it to meet its requirements. Through waste-water treatment and reuse and through rainwater harvesting groundwater aquifers can be revived and lakes kept full. These can then be of great help to surrounding communities. The Kempegowda International Airport at Bangalore showcases just that. This is water wisdom.

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Community Engagement and water walks – Bringing people to water

May 24, 2014

People and water

 Around a recharge well – learning about groundwater

They are a small informal group and call themselves Friends of the Lakes. The group is a motley bunch of enthusiastic young people and wise old stalwarts who have seen it all and they have one purpose in coming together to save three lakes which are in the neighbourhood. They meet every Sunday and go around the lakes cleaning them up of rubbish and persuading morning walkers to become a part of the exercise. The area Corporators and there are two of them have joined in enthusiastically and now lead the initiative. Discussions are sharp and the moot question how can the lakes be protected from encroachment, be kept away from sewage water and be full. The energy is high and the mind positive.

At a waste-water treatment plant

 At a waste-water treatment plant

The group of youngsters are volunteering and learning about urban issues confronting the city. They have come, albeit late, to the sewage treatment plant and for the first time for most are figuring out where the water they use in their homes ends up and what is needed to clean it up. Questions fly in the air and small group discussions take place. Cameras click and the flying foam is of particular interest to capture. They then see a wetland with its rich bio-diversity and its role in polishing treated waste-water and finally relax on the granite steps at the bottom of a large well which is full of water,a water heritage structure.

 

Across towns and cities all over India groups are coming together to help revive their citys lakes and protect them. Mysore, Dindigul, Erode, Hyderabad, Chennai , Coimbatore and in many other towns one can see this movement of citizens getting together with authorities and saying let us get things moving.

It is time that authorities noticed it and stepped in perhaps with the help of NGO’s, perhaps with the help of academia and organize water walks in their towns and cities regularly to make water literate an increasingly interested population. Citizens need to see the challenges ahead in the water front and on the wastewater front and an army of volunteers and professionally engaged people are needed to address the challenge. Bangalore city for example will have 25 wastewater treatment plants one of which converts sewage into potable water. Why should these places not be open to public for guided tours albeit at certain times?

If you learn for example what NOT to put down the sewage line and the kitchen sink you will have done the authorities a big help. No used oil, no personal hygiene products into the toilets and as the famous words go nothing into the underground lines but Numbers 1 and 2 and soap and water , will be a big help to the environment at large and to waste-water treatment .

It may look simple s but people engagement is the key to water wisdom and the moment is now.

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On the likely possible development agenda of the new government

May 17, 2014

 

Development with Gujarati characteristics .

It is a comprehensive win for a model of development now likely to replicate itself in many other states all across India. What could be some of the characteristics of this development strategy ? Clearly it will be an infrastructure led model.

Electricity and the power sector: This is one sector where the Gujarat model is striking and clearly ready for a roll out. Segregating the rural agriculture sector from habitations, ensuring 24 hours supply to homes and then ensuring 8 hours of reliable and robust power to the agriculture sector will not only help farmers but also boost the growth in this area substantially. Urban power supply without any power cut is something almost every household and industry looks forward to. Alternative energy such as solar and wind energy should also get a substantial boost.

Water:  While river inter-linking may have been the rhetoric it is likely that the focus would be back on major irrigation and groundwater. While water for irrigation should get a ramping up in terms of outlay and investments, greater focus will be on increasing efficiency of delivery through canal lining, improved governance et al. Also like the massive Saurashtra model of water harvesting, using soil and water conservation measures at large scale in a partnership with communities will help the groundwater sustainability and availability. India’s dependence on groundwater cannot be overemphasized and this sector will see much attention in the coming years.

In urban areas the Surat model of water and sanitation with an overall goal of 24/7 water supply and full underground sewerage system with waste-water treatment and recycling will roll out all across Indian cities. Rural sanitation should get a solid boost with it having the personal attention of the Prime Minister.

Transport: The Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) of Ahmedabad is a model for the rest of the country. For sure mass transportation including metro rail and BRTS will to overcome the gridlock in urban India will be the direction. Atal Behari Vajpayee ‘s National Highway Grid and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana , both hugely successful initiatives, should see increased focus for finance. It is through this investment that every village in India can be touched and linked to the overall development of the nation.

Housing: This will be a tough sector to deal with and it is not clear how the path ahead lies because there is no Gujarat model to follow here. However it is clear that the private sector will play a much more important role than previously and land reforms in urban areas will take priority.

The policy imperative will demand that a National Energy Policy, a National Water Policy within which an Urban Water and Sanitation Policy and a Groundwater Policy is included and a National Transportation Policy, including roads and railways, amongst many others be articulated to indicate the direction in which the government will move in the coming years.

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