Innovating for Clean India

We have entered the final year for meeting targets under Swachh Bharat Mission. The next birth anniversary of the Mahatma, October 2, 2019 represents the target date for the mission. Among the targets is to make the country completely Open Defecation Free (ODF) by this date. Over 4 crore toilets have been built under the mission and several lakhs are under construction. While the major task of building crores of toilets is progressing well, the challenge to ensure usage of these will have to be addressed as we go along, more gradually. The reasons for non-use or under-use could be many, but they are mainly behavioural and non-availability of running water. With the large number of new toilets, there will be an immense need for water if we are to get rid of the scourge
of open defecation. A toilet without running tap water will not be used. In water scarce India, finding so much additional water is a big task. The obvious way is to look for technology solutions which can result in water-less or less-water toilets. Tech czar and among the richest men in the world, Bill Gates is looking to promote and support work in this area through his ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’. In India several young engineers and enthusiasts are working in their own small ways to find solutions. It will be some time before these reach scale and enable conversion into viable solutions. In the meanwhile, we can expect more interest, innovations and interventions in this area. Alongside will be challenges of septage management. For example, the cities along the Ganga discharge some 3000 MLD of sewage into the river every day while the treatment capacity is just 1500 MLD. The discharge of such huge amounts of untreated waste into a major river system has enormous implications for health of humans, livestock and marine life, and the environment in general. While this waste (including human waste) is looked upon as a stubborn challenge, there could be an opportunity too. Estimates suggest the total amount of human and animal dung (waste) at 6000 million tonnes a year based on the total population of humans, cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry and other animals. This amount of waste represents about 240000 million cu metres of biogas (@ 40 cu mts per tonne of waste). This is equivalent to about 200000 million litres of diesel, or 180 million tonnes. This is twice India’s annual consumption of diesel (80 million tonnes). While the numbers are broad estimates, they still indicate the huge opportunity available in human and animal waste. On the environment side, methane in biogas is combusted for energy with carbon dioxide as a by-product which has 20 to 30 times lower GHG load than methane. So rather than just let methane escape in the air, it is so much safer to combust it. The GOBAR-DHAN Policy of the government is a crucial component of ODF and SBM to support our villages. Of course, the entire task of collecting, transporting, processing the waste and extracting biogas presents logistical challenges. But these need to be overcome and solutions found because the rewards are enormous – economic benefits and environment protection. And therein lies the need for innovation and new thinking.
This issue of Urban Update looks at the subject of sanitation – challenges, opportunities and innovative approaches. We trust the issue will be of interest to all urban practitioners.
I also take this opportunity to wish our readers a joyous festive season ahead.

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