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Swachh Bharat: Urban India faces severe sewage crisis

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By Chaitanya Mallapur

There are four years left for the government target of ensuring all Indians use toilets, but in urban India alone, no more than 30 percent of sewage generated by 377 million people flows through treatment plants.

The rest is randomly dumped in rivers, seas, lakes and wells, polluting three-fourths of the country’s water bodies, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of various data sources.

An estimated 62,000 million liters per day (MLD) of sewage is generated in urban areas, while the treatment capacity across India is only 23,277 MLD, or 37 percent of sewage generated, according to data released by the government in December 2015.

Further parsing of this data reveals that of 816 municipal sewage treatment plants (STPs) listed across India, 522 work. So, of 62,000 MLD, the listed capacity is 23,277 MLD but no more than 18,883 MLD of sewage is actually treated.

That means 70 percent of sewage generated in urban India is not treated.

While 79 STPs don’t work, 145 are under construction and 70 are proposed, according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s Inventorization Of Sewage Treatment Plants report.

No improvement over the years; towns, cities pollutes their own water

India’s towns and cities contaminate their own water, with no improvement over the years.

Sewage generation in India from class-I cities (with a population more than 100,000) and class-II towns (population 50,000-100,000) is estimated at 38,255 MLD, of which only 11,787 MLD (30 percent) is treated, according to the Fecal Sludge Management (FSM) report by Water Aid, a safe-water and sanitation advocacy, quoting a 2009 CPCB report.

The untreated sewage is dumped directly into water bodies, polluting three-fourth of India’s surface water resources, the FSM report said. Up to 80 percent of water bodies could be polluted, the report said.

Operation and maintenance of existing treatment capacity are below par, with 39 percent plants not conforming to environmental rules for discharge into streams, the CPCB report said.

An estimated 75 percent to 80 percent of water pollution is from domestic sewage, discharged untreated into local water bodies.

A general, growing shortage of (working) sewage-treatment plants

Of the 522 working STPs across India, the maximum are in the northern state of Punjab, which has 86. But no more than 38 work.

Uttar Pradesh has the most working STPs (62) followed by Maharashtra (60) and Karnataka (44).

About 85 million in urban India lack adequate sanitation – more than Germany’s population

About 17 million urban households lack adequate sanitation facilities in India, with 14.7 million households without toilets, the FSM report said.

If you consider five people per family, that means about 85 million people – or more than the population of Germany – are without adequate sanitation in urban India.

In terms of rural households, only 48.4 percent (87.9 million) have toilet facilities as on December 7, 2015, according to a reply in the Lok Sabha.

Around five million (7.1%) urban households having pit latrines that have no slabs or are open pits, and about 900,000 toilets dispose off faeces directly into drains.

Only 32.7 percent of urban households that have sanitation facilities use toilets connected to an underground sewage network.

As many as 30 million urban households (38.2 percent), of the 79 million households with septic tanks, have no clear method for sewage disposal.

Open defecation remains a major challenge

About 12.6 percent of urban households defecate in the open. This number is higher for slums, with 18.9 percent of households defecating in the open.

Around 1.7 percent of households across India defecate in the open despite having toilets, the government informed the Lok Sabha in a reply last month, based on a 2012 National Sample Survey report.

In Madhya Pradesh, around 22.5 percent urban households defecate in open spaces, followed by Tamil Nadu (16.2 percent), Uttar Pradesh (14.8 percent), Gujarat (8.7 percent), Maharashtra (7.7 percent) and Delhi (3 percent).

A staggering 55 percent of rural households defecate in the open, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2015. Odisha tops list, with 86.6 percent of rural households defecating in the open. In Kerala, no more than 3.9 percent of households defecate in the open.

The global story: Open defecation has fallen by half over 25 years

The proportion of people practicing open defecation globally has fallen almost by half, from 24 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2015.

About 68 percent of the world’s population had access to improved sanitation facilities, including flush toilets and covered latrines, in 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, nearly 2.4 billion people across the world lack basic sanitation facilities, such as toilets or latrines. Of these, 946 million defecate in the open, according to the WHO.

Will building toilets address the issue? The jury is out

The Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission, launched by the National Democratic Alliance government on October 2, 2014, aims to make India open-defecation-free by October 2, 2019.

The government plans to construct 2.5 million individual household toilets in urban areas by 2015-16, of which 882,905 were constructed upto December, 2015, according to latest data available.

As many as 32,014 out of 100,000 community and public toilets have been built under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The rural sanitation program, in its first year, saw the construction of 8.8 million toilets, against the target of 6 million. (IANS/IndiaSpend.org)

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Indian Government Spent Nearly Rs 4Kcr on Swachh Bharat Info, Education

“The Swachh Bharat mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest."

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swachhata abhiyan
The government's much publicised Swachh Bharat Mission -- which aims to enhance the level of sanitation in India and make the country open defecation free (ODF). Flickr

To make the Swachh Bharat Mission a success, India mobilised huge resources for information, education and communication (IEC) activities, with a new report estimating that the cash expenditure by the government, private sector, and the development community to be between Rs 3,500-4,000 crore in five years since the programme’s launch.

Of this cash spend, around 20 per cent was spent by the erstwhile Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, around 35 per cent by the state sanitation departments, around 25 per cent by other government ministries, and around 20 per cent by the private sector and the development sector collectively, said the report by consultancy firm Dalberg Advisors.

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the government has shown remarkable ability to leverage resources across the public sector, private sector, media, and civil society, to make sanitation a mass movement in India.

In fact, the study estimates that the Swachh Bharat Mission mobilised a spend equivalent worth Rs 22,000-Rs 26,000 crore in monetary and non-monetary information, education and communication activities.

The researchers reached this figure by identifying the key activities and costs by different actors, modelling the number of “exposures” created, and estimating the investment required if the government were to “buy” these exposures in an efficient market.

An average person living in rural India was exposed to between 2,500-3,300 SBM related messages over the last five years, according to the study titled “An assessment of the reach and value of IEC activities under Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen)”.

Young Indians
Young Indians want to strengthen the ‘Swachh Bharat’ initiative. Wikimedia Commons

A large majority of these messages were routed via newly constructed toilets, mass media, and the

Swachh Bharat logo. Other significant contributors included ambient media such as wall murals and hoardings, and other conventional channels such as inter-personal communication (IPC), digital media, and cinema.

Since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014, over 10 crore households toilets have been built in the country, leading to a significant improvement in sanitation coverage and reduction in open defecation.

Since 2014, engagement from the top political and government leadership, especially the Prime Minister, induced catalytic participation across segments, giving the cause of sanitation consistent attention and focus.

This translated into a mission mode approach where a range of government ministries, private sector organisations, the philanthropic ecosystem, civil society, and the media and entertainment sector participated to bring sanitation messaging and awareness to citizens at significant scale.

Also Read: Motorola Launches its First Smart TV in India

When Modi visits the US later this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will honour the success of Swachh Bharat that has transformed lives around the country.

“Globally, sanitation-related diseases kill nearly 500,000 children under the age of five every year. Yet despite its importance, sanitation has not received significant attention. A lot of governments are not willing to talk about it, in part because there are not easy solutions.

Before the Swachh Bharat mission, over 500 million people in India did not have access to safe sanitation, and now, the majority do. There is still a long way to go, but the impacts of access to sanitation in India are already being realised,” the Gates Foundation said in a statement.

“The Swachh Bharat mission can serve as a model for other countries around the world that urgently need to improve access to sanitation for the world’s poorest.” (IANS)