India’s invisible sanitation challenge of untreated sewage is a growing public health & environmental hazard
Effective technologies can be a cost-effective and sustainable solution to the sanitation problem of India
Mumbai: November 19, 2018: World Toilet Day, observed around the globe on November 19, is earmarked by the UN to create awareness on the objective of Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. This year, World Toilet Day specifically aims to emphasize the importance of creation of toilets and sanitation systems that work in harmony with our environment. While building toilets are important, the huge challenge that lies ahead of us is treatment of the human waste. Globally, even when people use a toilet, more than percent 57% of their waste is not contained, transported, or treated in a way that safely contains harmful pathogens.
Data tells us that today 70% of urban India’s sewage is left untreated, flowing into our rivers and seas posing a health risk to the population. It is further predicted that 50% of India’s population will live in cities by 2030. This shift will mean that there would be increased amount of human waste and therefore its safe treatment will be an enormous challenge.
India has made tremendous progress in terms of access to toilets as a record around eight crore toilets have been constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission since October 2014. Fortunately, the construction of toilets has led the current government to approach sanitation in a holistic manner taking into account the importance of human waste treatment. In 2017, India passed its first policy on faecal sludge and septage management that looks at safe storage, collection, transport and treatment of human waste. Subsequently, states began adopting the policy, allocating resources and issuing guidelines that would allow for treatment of waste.
“An enabling environment is important to ensure human fecal waste is safely managed in our cities. Government of India has already set us on this trajectory with the right policy impetus on fecal sludge management at the center. Several states have followed suit and committed funding to implement FSM across urban areas. Stakeholder capacity building and introduction of innovative treatment technologies will play a crucial role in ensuring quality FSM implementation and in providing inclusive and sustainable sanitation services to all” - Sakshi Gudwani, WSH Specialist, India, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A cost-effective and sustainable solution has emerged in several cities like Warangal, Sinnar and recently in Bhubaneswar. These cities have deployed Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM), a sanitation value chain for safe storage, collection, transport, treatment, and end-use or disposal of faecal sludge and septage, while the rest of urban India is catching up on the critical need for creation of FSSM systems.
Technology would be crucial as we take the next big leap. There are existing technologies and several new ones that have the potential in reducing the human waste burden that currently exists. Some of these technologies like the Faecal Sludge Treatment plants (FSTPs) and the Omni Processors System will provide a great momentum in treating waste scientifically.
“Progress has been made to set an international standard for treatment of solid and liquid fraction of faecal sludge that benchmarks technology, safety and odour, which will give governing bodies in India a standard to map themselves against and aspire for,” said Sampath Kumar, Managing Director, Tide Technocrats
Several states and cities have built FSTPs. For context, FSTPs are plants where only faecal sludge and septage is treated. Few of the operational FSTPs built by implementing partners such as Tide Technocrats are present in cities like Wai(Maharashtra), Warangal(Telangana), Narsapur( Andhra Pradesh) which aim to serve thousands towns and cities with access to safe sanitation solutions. Further, implementing partners such as CDD Society were the pioneers in building India’s first FSTP in Devanahalli(Karnataka) and another in the extreme conditions of Leh(Jammu & Kashmir) at an altitude of 11,400 feet.
Another potential technology, the Omni Processor indigenized by Ankur Scientific in India is a machine that processes waste, kill pathogens, and convert the resulting materials into products that can be sold, such as clean water, electricity, or fertilizer. Omni-processors (OP) can be used to augment existing sanitation services within a city, as part of a fecal sludge treatment plant or complementing a wastewater treatment plant, while potentially providing new revenue streams. Interestingly, once the OP technologies are more widely available, they can be fitted into the FSTPs that are being currently planned and designed.
“We have a pilot plant being set up in Vadodara, Gujarat, which will be operational by 2019; and will be critical to prove the technical, commercial viability and widespread adoptions of Omni Processors for India for improved sanitation outcomes,” said Ankur Jain, Managing Director, Ankur Scientific.
On the growing importance of technology, Bill Gates at the recent ‘Reinvent the Toilet’ expo held in China, said ‘Off-grid innovations such as mobile phones have dramatically improved economic opportunity, safety, and quality of life for billions of the world’s poorest in recent decades. But while global leaders hasten investments in smart sustainable cities, the global sanitation sector—from utilities to products and services—risks lagging far behind unless concerted action is taken.”
The government has created an environment enabling fast-track implementation of services that are able to treat human waste. Concentrated effort of states and cities to solve for treatment of human waste along with rapid-expansion of new-off grid sanitation systems and products is perhaps the answer.
It is an opportune time for us to solve for the waste crisis using technology as one of the levers for scale. An equally important aspect is mainstreaming the need for treatment, solutioning for this invisible issue. A collaborative effort is required which would need the civil-society, citizens, research agencies, academia to support the government in implementing solutions that are able to provide safe and sustainable sanitation solutions for all.
Dasra meaning ‘enlightened giving’ in Sanskrit, is a pioneering strategic philanthropic organization that aims to transform India where a billion thrive with dignity and equity. Since its inception in 1999, Dasra has accelerated social change by driving collaborative action through powerful partnerships among a trust-based network of stakeholders (corporates, foundations, families, non-profits, social businesses, government and media). Over the years, Dasra has deepened social impact in focused fields that include adolescents, urban sanitation and governance and has built social capital by leading a strategic philanthropy movement in the country. For more information, visit www.dasra.org
1 “A Review of Fecal Sludge Management In 12 Cities,” Peal, A. et al. (2015);
2 An Assessment of Faecal Sludge Management Policies and Programmes at the National and select State Levels (2016); http://wateraidindia.in/publication/faecal-sludge-management-report/
7Read the article on Leh’s FSTP here
 “A Review of Fecal Sludge Management In 12 Cities,” Peal, A. et al. (2015);
 An Assessment of Faecal Sludge Management Policies and Programmes at the National and select State Levels (2016); http://wateraidindia.in/publication/faecal-sludge-management-report/