The sanitation system in India has undergone significant changes and improvements. The government, through various initiatives and campaigns, has been working towards enhancing sanitation infrastructure, promoting hygiene practices, and addressing challenges related to open defecation and waste management. Read here to learn more.
Sanitation systems play a pivotal role in safeguarding public health and the environment by managing used water; these systems encompass various types, from on-site solutions like twin pits and septic tanks to centralized sewer networks leading to treatment facilities.
India has made rapid progress in ending open defecation across the country, which significantly impacts improving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
Chemical contamination of water, mainly through fluoride and arsenic, is present in 1.96 million dwellings. Meanwhile, less than 50 percent of the population has access to safely managed drinking water (located on-premises, available when needed, and free of contamination).
History of sanitation system
The sanitation systems in India have evolved over millennia, reflecting changes in societal structures, technological advancements, and cultural practices. Sanitation has always been an essential aspect of public health and well-being.
Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1300 BCE):
- The cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in the Indus Valley Civilization had sophisticated drainage systems with well-planned streets and a network of sewers.
- Houses had private bathrooms and toilets connected to the city’s drainage system.
- The Great Bath in Mohenjo-daro is an iconic structure believed to have been used for ritualistic bathing.
- Islamic rulers in India continued to emphasize the importance of cleanliness and sanitation.
- Persian-influenced gardens (charbagh) often included water channels for irrigation and aesthetics.
- Mughal gardens, and forts, incorporated water features, drainage, and sewage system.
- Public baths (hammams) were established in various cities.
British Colonial Rule (17th to 20th centuries):
- British colonial towns often faced sanitation challenges with inadequate drainage systems, leading to poor public health conditions.
- Efforts were made to address sanitation issues, but progress was slow.
The history of modern sanitation is marked by significant advancements in public health practices, urban planning, and engineering, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries. The recognition of the link between poor sanitation and the spread of diseases prompted concerted efforts to improve hygiene and waste management.
- Cholera Epidemics: The 19th century witnessed devastating cholera epidemics, prompting a growing awareness of the role of contaminated water and inadequate sanitation in the spread of diseases.
- John Snow’s Work: In 1854, John Snow, a British physician, mapped cholera cases in London and identified a contaminated public water pump as the source, providing early evidence of the connection between water quality and disease.
- Edwin Chadwick: In the mid-19th century, public health reformers like Edwin Chadwick advocated for improvements in sanitation and hygiene. Chadwick’s report on the sanitary conditions of the laboring population highlighted the need for proper waste disposal and clean water supply.
- The Great Stink (1858): The unbearable smell from the River Thames in London, known as “The Great Stink,” led to the construction of the London sewer system under the direction of civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette.
- Urban Planning: The spread of sanitation systems became an integral part of urban planning in Europe and North America.
- Typhoid Fever Outbreaks: The link between typhoid fever and contaminated water became apparent, leading to increased efforts to provide clean water supplies and improve sewage disposal.
Types of sanitation systems
Sanitation systems play a crucial role in maintaining public health by managing human waste, and wastewater, and promoting hygiene. Various types of sanitation systems exist, and the choice of system depends on factors such as local conditions, population density, infrastructure, and available resources. Here are some common types of sanitation systems:
Flush Toilets with Sewer Systems:
Connected to a sewer system, flush toilets use water to transport human waste through pipes to centralized treatment plants.
- Advantages: Effective in urban areas with access to water and sewer infrastructure.
- Challenges: High water consumption, and dependence on centralized infrastructure.
Simple, shallow pits dug in the ground for the collection of human waste. Can be lined or unlined.
- Advantages: Low-cost, suitable for rural areas, and requires minimal water.
- Challenges: Requires periodic emptying, the potential for groundwater contamination.
Similar to flush toilets but use a small amount of water for flushing. Waste is collected in a pit or septic tank.
- Advantages: More water-efficient than traditional flush toilets.
- Challenges: Still requires access to water, and proper waste management is essential.
On-site systems where waste is collected in a tank and the liquid effluent is discharged into a drain field for natural filtration.
- Advantages: Suitable for areas without sewer infrastructure, effective treatment of household wastewater.
- Challenges: Regular maintenance and periodic desludging are necessary.
Combines sanitation with biogas generation. Human waste is treated anaerobically in a biodigester to produce biogas.
- Advantages: Generates renewable energy, and reduces pathogen load in waste.
- Challenges: Requires technical expertise and maintenance.
Human waste is collected and treated with organic materials to facilitate aerobic decomposition.
- Advantages: Produces compost for use in agriculture, no water required.
- Challenges: Requires proper management to ensure effective composting.
Community Sanitation Blocks:
Shared sanitation facilities with multiple toilets and a common treatment system.
- Advantages: Suitable for densely populated urban areas without individual household facilities.
- Challenges: Maintenance and hygiene promotion are crucial for community acceptance.
Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation):
A holistic approach that considers the entire sanitation cycle, focusing on resource recovery and reuse. Involves the separation of urine and feces.
- Advantages: Nutrient recovery, reduction in water use, and potential for safe reuse of by-products.
- Challenges: Requires user acceptance and a shift in cultural practices.
Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems (DEWATS):
Localized treatment systems for wastewater, often incorporate biological treatment processes.
- Advantages: Suitable for decentralized settings, energy-efficient, and treats wastewater on-site.
- Challenges: Design complexity and maintenance requirements.
Toilet systems that operate without water, typically use additives or storage for waste treatment.
- Advantages: Water conservation, suitable for areas with water scarcity.
- Challenges: Odor management and proper waste handling are critical.
Sanitation system in India
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign):
- Launch: Launched in 2014 by the Prime Minister, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a nationwide cleanliness campaign.
- Objectives: The campaign aims to achieve Open Defecation Free (ODF) India, promote proper waste management, and improve sanitation facilities.
- Components: It includes constructing toilets, promoting behavioral change, ensuring proper waste disposal, and creating a clean and hygienic environment.
Open Defecation Free (ODF) Initiative:
- Rural Areas: The Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) focused on making rural areas open defecation-free by promoting toilet construction and encouraging proper sanitation practices.
- Urban Areas: A similar focus has been extended to urban areas through the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban).
- The government has undertaken massive efforts to build toilets in both rural and urban areas to eliminate open defecation.
- Financial incentives and subsidies are provided to households for constructing individual and community toilets.
- Solid Waste Management: The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan emphasizes proper solid waste management practices. Local bodies are encouraged to implement effective waste collection, segregation, and disposal methods.
- Waste-to-Energy Projects: Some cities have implemented waste-to-energy projects to generate energy from municipal solid waste.
Sanitation systems play a crucial role in maintaining public health by managing human waste, and wastewater, and promoting hygiene. Various types of sanitation systems exist, and the choice of system depends on factors such as local conditions, population density, infrastructure, and available resources.
Despite significant progress, challenges remain, including the need for sustained behavioral change, effective waste management, and addressing issues in urban sanitation.
The government continues to focus on sustaining the gains made and addressing emerging challenges in sanitation.
India’s efforts in sanitation have received international recognition, and the country has made progress in achieving ODF status in many regions.
-Article by Swathi Satish