Urban Sanitation A Distant Dream

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“Providing improved and more widespread sanitation facilities in urban India has become a major challenge for policymakers and implementers. As the urban population expands massively, the task gets more difficult”
It is expected that nearly half of the Indian population will be residing in urban India by 2030. This pace of urbanisation in the form of rapid increase in population is already causing problems by putting enormous strain on urban resources and infrastructure. Cities are increasingly unable to ensure steady supply of water and energy to the inhabitants. This is compounded by a crumbling municipal and sewage waste disposal system. Urban areas are struggling to cope with the stress as green lungs in the form of urban forests are dwindling and air and water pollution levels are breaching new levels of severity.
As the urban environment deteriorates under population pressure, poor sanitary conditions are adding to the problem. According to a WHO-Unicef report, India constitutes only 11 per cent of the world’s urban population but contributes 52 per cent to open defecation in the world’s urban spaces. These conditions exist because nearly 60 million people in urban areas lack access to improved sanitation arrangements, as 7.87 per cent of the urban households do not have access to latrines and the inhabitants defecate in the open. To make matters worse, only 56 per cent of the urban wards have sewer network; this results in the untreated sewage being let out into the environment, thereby polluting land and water bodies.
Given these trying circumstances, the Swachch Bharat mission was launched in 2014, with the aim, among other things, to ensure a toilet for every household by 2019 and to educate people about the long-term health and economic benefits of using a proper sanitation system.
But, according to National Sample Survey Organisation data, of the 9.5 million toilets constructed during the first year of the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, only 46 per cent are being used and approximately 630 million Indians continue to defecate in the open. Quite clearly, since the building of toilets has not ensured usage, a refreshed urban sanitation action plan is needed that can effectively address the full cycle of sanitation, starting from universal access to toilets, safe collection, and conveyance, and ending with the efficient treatment of sewage.
In order to ensure a comprehensive urban sanitation solution, policymakers and practitioners in India can take a cue from Brazil while framing sanitation policies and implementing them on the ground. Brazil has experimented with several models of financing and service provisioning in the sanitation sector, both in terms of levels of centralisation and decentralisation, besides public and private provisioning. India has launched many schemes such as Ganga Action Plan, Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, National Urban Sanitation Policy and the recent Swachch Bharat Mission, in order to establish a successful and robust urban sanitation system. Unfortunately, there is still a major lack of functionality.
The urban sanitation success of Brazil can be an ideal benchmark for India.
The basis of Brazil’s progress on the urban sanitation front is the City Statute, premised on the idea of ‘Right to City’ of citizens. This statute categorically states that the social function of land supersedes its economic function, which means that societal land use is prioritised over its commercial value.
This has enabled Brazil to allocate land and give adequate priority to social projects such as sanitation programmes. In addition to this, Brazil has been able to frame its sanitation policies that are based on evidence. This has ensured that the policies could stand the test of time and were need based. Regular public funding too has played a critical role in the success of Brazil’s urban sanitation programme.
According to estimates, 38 per cent of South Asia defecates in the open, and India is responsible for a full 30 per cent, despite the Government’s toilet-building efforts. The problem lies in non-utilisation of these toilets. India can draw inspiration from Bangladesh, which has overcome this problem and has set an impressive example in freeing the country from open defecation.The Community-Led Total Sanitation approach, pioneered by development consultant Kamal Kar in Bangladesh, advocates a 180-degree mental flip. It rejects sanitation subsidies; instead, it mobilises communities through local empowerment and emotions like shame on and aversion for open defecation. The Millennium Development Goals enjoin upon the signatory nations to extend access to improved sanitation to at least half the urban population by 2015, and 100 per cent access by 2025. India must make serious efforts to achieve these goals, and this can be done only when it has the full participation of its people backed by an unwavering commitment from the Government.

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