Water and sanitation are the cornerstones of public health and are considered a basic human right. Yet globally 4.2 billion people still lack access to safely managed sanitation services and 2.0 billion people lack basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or toilets. latrines.
Existing sanitation systems around the world are vulnerable to threats from climate change. Fecal contamination from flooding of sewage systems and limited or no access to handwashing facilities near toilets in drought prone / stricken geographic areas add to the health burden. With climate change worsening every year, we are running out of time to create a sanitation solution capable of collecting human waste in a safe, accessible and dignified environment.
India ranks fifth in the 2020 Climate Risk Index published by Germanwatch, an environmental think tank. Heavy rains followed by heavy flooding and landslides added to India’s vulnerability. Although the Swachh Bharat (SBM) mission may have improved access and use of improved sanitation facilities, we do not yet know how resilient these toilets would be in the face of flooding or extreme weather.
The double pit latrines promoted under SBM are scalable, applicable and cost effective solutions. The process of changing pits and extracting pit manure is safe and can be used for agricultural purposes. It has become a promising and environmentally friendly technology. Making certain adjustments to the location and design of the toilet can also go a long way in alleviating the challenges of extreme weather conditions. For example, toilets located in flood-prone and low-lying areas should be relocated to elevated land. Building latrines and ensuring a minimum distance between the pit and the water table can help prevent contamination of groundwater. Bringing water sources and handwashing facilities closer to toilets could save time. This could allow women to engage in tasks unrelated to illness, devote more time to childcare, and time for socialization and education activities.
Several initiatives have been taken around the world to develop innovative and sustainable toilet models that respect the environment and evolve. Some of the initiatives such as The Toilet Board Coalition’s Accelerator and Re-invent the Toilet Challenge were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop improved sanitation systems that are sustainable, scalable and capable of recovering valuable organic resources.
The container-based toilets built by Sanivation in Kenya turn feces into a clean-burning alternative to charcoal with longer burn time and less smoke. The VUNA project in Switzerland uses an affordable dry sanitation system that produces fertilizers for all types of plants from human urine called Aurin. In India, Ekam Eco Solutions, incubated at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, developed Zeroder – a green toilet, which is a waterless, odorless urinal that can be installed in existing urinals and can save between 50,000 and 150,000 liters of water each year. Toilet hackathons have been organized by the Indian government to support and promote the development of climate resilient and sustainable solutions.
With large-scale sanitation campaigns implemented around the world by a number of stakeholders such as governments, donors, national and international NGOs, etc., the need of the hour is to generate data on the effectiveness, accessibility and scalability of innovative solutions and climate-resilient sanitation technologies. This information will allow implementers to make informed decisions on how to take advantage of these technologies according to local contexts.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to ensure that everyone has equitable access to sustainable sanitation, clean water and hand washing facilities. In the face of increasing risks to communities and their environments, sustainable sanitation solutions will play a key role in strengthening energy and water systems and ensuring that communities can survive and recover from shocks faster.
(The author is Senior Manager – Research at Sambodhi Research & Communications, a multidisciplinary research organization providing data-driven insights to national and global social development organizations.)
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