Archive for October, 2011


Bringing dead assets back to life in Government Schools

October 30, 2011

In Karnataka, India substantial investments have been made by the government in primary and middle schools such as for example in rainwater harvesting to provide supplemental water for the schools. Toilets have been built in all schools and mid-day meals are being provided.

A defunct rainwater tank- connected , repaired, painted and functional

Due to many reasons these assets are not functioning. For example in many schools the rainwater harvesting systems are broken and do not collect or store water. Without water many toilets do not function forcing the children to go outdoors. The cooks who are employed to cook the mid-day meals find it difficult to find water to cook, to wash the utensils and for hand washing.

We at Biome Environmental Trust have been trying to mobilise volunteer efforts as well as find funds from organisations to being these assets back to life.

This is done in full discussion with the school , the students and the parents.

Rooftop rainwater harvesting system rehabilitated at a Govt. school Vijaypura

The 20,000 litre underground sump tank built by another government fund and lying un-utilized  is now full and connected to the toilet through a hand pump. This will provide the much needed water for the toilet to be used effectively.

A full sump tank - filled with rainwater

A clean roof , first rain separation and a good pre-filter before the water is stored is ensured. Also a good post storage filter in case the water is used for drinking such as the TATA-SWACH

A TATA-SWACH used for filtering stored rainwater before drinking

The toilets in the schools lying unused get a chance to be used with the availability of water. Especially for girls this becomes very helpful.

Pits dug in the government school for planting fruit trees such as Sitaphal, papaya and banana

Girls toilet

A clean toilet becomes possible with water available through rainwater harvesting


The Education of Water – Spreading water literacy

October 17, 2011

The Education of water

A heavy load

The burden of mismanagement of our land, water and environment will fall on the future generation in no small measure. In our schools therefore we need to inculcate quickly an engagement and a learning by which the younger generation come to understand the situation with water and what they could do about it themselves as young citizens of the nation.

A sterling example was in a small primary school. The school has one teacher and 30 students from Class 1 to 5. On its notice board students regularly and daily write up on the weather conditions. Rainfall details are recorded as heavy, light and traces. The school has built itself a rainwater tank and uses the water in the mid-day meal programme. The water quality is checked daily by students using a H2S strip test bottle, which indicates the presence or absence of bacteria.

Once a month the teacher along-with the School Development Management Committee (SDMC) gets the water tank cleaned using bleaching powder.

The Rotary Club has donated a water filter and all children take turns in filling it up from the rainwater tank. Drinking water is sourced from the filter only.

A small hand-pump brings water to the mid-day meal scheme area where the cooking happens. Dishes are washed and cooking happens with rainwater only. All children wash their own dishes and glasses as well as their hands before and after every meal and that too with soap.

The toilet built by the government has separate facilities for boys and girls. The teacher forms a committee of students who are responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the facility with the help of a cleaning lady who comes and cleans every-day. They make sure that brush and phenyl is available and that soap is replaced if over and the hand towels are washed and kept clean every-day.

Children are encouraged to understand and participate in every activity. The teacher himself runs a garden in the school after the classes are over. For half an hour, the school children plant vegetables and flowers and take care of the garden with the teacher. Many of the vegetables for the mid-day meal are grown in the school itself.

The teacher ensures that all waste in the school is collected in 2 dustbins. The children segregate the waste and make compost with the bio-degradable waste. This is then used in the school garden.

Children are aware of personal hygiene and a clean dress and also understand the scarcity value of water in their place. They use water sparingly but efficiently.

The school curriculum dealing with the environment is a favourite with all the students. This is a government school and there is much to learn from it for many a private school.

Committed teachers and a good SDMC can make all the difference for our children and their environmental education. A bit of support from the outside community such as the Rotary donating a water filter and another group helping build a rainwater tank only makes the system and the learning better,

In the future generation and their enlightened participation lies the good management of water. Water wisdom is this and no better time to educate when it is raining.


Kandy tales – of water and management

October 16, 2011

Kandy Tales

Kandy Lake

They say travel broadens the mind. A visit to the small yet beautiful city of Kandy in Sri Lanka has been an eye opener. One has been looking at the water supply and waste-water management in the city. The beautiful river the Mahaweli Ganga flows through the town. Unlike in India the river does not become a sewer after it leaves town. The water is clean and people enjoy a dip in it at many places. Why rivers are clean in our small but beautiful neighbor but not in our places? What is it about a culture that treats its city reasonably well, where there is hardly any open defecation and you do not see people urinating in public? Why is garbage handled very well and not lying strewn about everywhere?

The water supply to the town comes 24/7 i.e. if you open the taps you get water. The water is sweet and can be drunk straight from the tap without any treatment. It speaks well of good catchment management, no pollution, good handling of waste-water and finally good treatment of the water at the source before it is supplied to households. A miracle? Not exactly this has been the way it is since the British designed the water supply system. Why is it that no town in India has the ability to supply 24/7 water to its citizens? A question for our governance system and institutions to answer.

Kandy is a hill town, with many undulations and houses located on many a hill top. A bit like Madikeri. Yet water reaches every house on an hourly basis every day. Investments in infrastructure and in leak prevention have helped.

Kandy too has an increasing block tariff and volumetric metering and the price of the water supplied is good enough to recover the operations and maintenance cost of the system. When will we rationalize our water pricing to make it financially sustainable?

Sewage: The underground sewerage system is limited and many a house has to take care of its own sewage through septic tanks. A well designed septic tank is insisted upon by the local body before building permission is given. Before the completion certificate or the building occupancy certificate is given, the sewage system is inspected by the engineers of the local body to make sure it has been designed properly and implemented as per design. The inspecting authority also makes sure that the septic tank has enough manholes and is accessible by a vacuum truck for evacuation of sludge when needed and when the system is full. One has never heard of this happening in any town in India. Why cannot we make such systems work?

The septage or sludge is removed when full and supplied to the innumerable estates of coconut plantations. These are then composted and used as fertilizer. This represents a complete reuse of nutrients and productive sanitation which is non-polluting, at its best. Which town in India can boast of such a system?

No sewage flows in any of the storm water drains or natural valleys of the town. There is no garbage lying strewn in the valleys and clogging up natural water ways.

Rainwater harvesting: To prevent soil erosion and also t ensure that there is no flooding during the heavy rains at Kandy; rainwater harvesting is insisted upon for all new buildings. They have to make a recharge pit and soak away the rooftop rainwater into the ground thus reducing the burden on the storm water systems. The beautiful rainwater gutters and down-pipes are a joy to watch. Every building has one.

A culture which is clean and functional, institutions that have definite plans and systems , a governance system geared towards the delivery of services to people all result in a quality of life which though basic is clean. Is this too much to aspire for in India? A visit to our neighbours down south is highly recommended. Not just a visit but a learning which will look to transform the way towns and cities in India is run vis-à-vis water. Kandy calls.


The Development Set – Ross Coggins

October 10, 2011

The Development Set
by Ross Coggins

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution –
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”

It pleasures us to be esoteric –
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.

Adult Education and Development” September 1976