Human survival depends on access to water. When drought strikes, the consequences for largely agrarian economies are disastrous. Agricultural production decreases, food supply becomes scarce, prices rise, farmers lose their livelihood. In more severe cases, drought can lead to famine and death. Even where water is available, it may not be hygienic and that can lead to major health issues. Access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation should therefore be the right of all people. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Millions of people still suffer and die from waterborne diseases because of lack of sanitation and poor hygiene.
While we harp upon access to toilets, there is insufficient focus on overall sanitation management, including the key issue of toilet waste disposal. Untreated waste from these on-site systems often goes into undesignated areas like open drains, water bodies and vacant land, leading to hazards such as groundwater pollution and faecal contamination of water supply. According to the National Policy on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management, Faecal Sludge Treatment (FST) involves four stages of treatment for safe disposal or reuse — the key to preventing further pollution of water bodies and the spread of diseases from contaminated water. During treatment, the solid and liquid waste are separated, and the liquid undergoes natural filtration using plant beds and gravel, after which it moves to a maturation pond. Once the water is treated, it is safe for disposal or reuse for irrigation. The solid waste undergoes separate treatment, creating a form of manure free of foul odour and toxins, which can be used as a fertiliser.
Karunguzhi is the first town in Tamil Nadu and perhaps one of the first in India to build an FST facility. Karunguzhi thereby becomes one of the first towns in India to move towards the ‘full cycle of sanitation’, ie, access to toilets, safe containment, conveyance (through the sewer network or trucks), and finally, treatment and disposal of toilet waste. The local administration and the people of this town deserve our approbation.
Recently two Hindi films, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Padman, highlighted the problems of sanitation and menstrual hygiene, creating greater awareness among people. Movies and the media are powerful mass communication tools. Today Rotary needs to tell the community what is ‘Full cycle of sanitation’ and proper use of water and its conservation. By doing so, we also help to enhance the public image of Rotary.
After the introduction of Rotary’s WinS programme and the Indian government’s efforts, major improvements have been made to safeguard the well-being of children in schools in our country. Millions of schoolchildren now have access to purified drinking water, sanitation facilities and basic hygiene.
Now is the right time for Rotary to create awareness among urban and rural masses by organising campaigns and seminars on measures to increase availability of water, reducing wastage, identifying the wasteful uses and increasing efficient uses and also expanding use of grey water, as has been done extensively in Singapore and Israel.
Rotary’s activities must always be an inspiration to the communities it serves.
Director, Rotary International