Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Flushing out Ganga defaecations

Ganga is one of the largest river systems of the world. This river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and flows for 2525 Km to south and east through the Gangetic Plain of North India into Bangladesh, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is the longest river of India and is the second greatest river in the world by water discharge.

The Ganga basin is world's most heavily populated river basin with more than 400 Million inhabitants. The population density in this basin is a staggering number of 390 inhabitants per square Kilometers.

Hindu mythology considers the river Ganga as a divine mother and is worshipped as a Goddess that purifies the soul and brings new hope to the worshipper. Hindus would put few drops of Ganga water in the mouth of a dying person to absolve him of all the sins. Yet the same river, considered as ultimate form of purity, is almost dead and is now struggling to survive and breathe freely as unimaginable quantities of garbage and filth flow into it.

The main factors responsible for polluting the river are, industrial effluents, run-off from chemical fertilisers and pesticides used in agriculture, huge quantities of solid wastes released in the river, drainage from cities and towns discharged in the water, a large number of animal carcasses and hundreds of human corpses thrown into the river everyday and finally the faecal matter or human waste, that gets thrown in the river. Most of the people living in the Ganga river basin, have no sanitary facilities. They are forced to use the river for their ablution because there is no other way. This keeps fouling the river water and turning it into a source for spreading diseases. 2011 census has found out that there are about 131 million households in India that have no toilets on their premises, with eight million using public facilities and 123 million just defecating in the open. These numbers indicate the gravity of the situation.

Surprisingly, a solution to this problem has been found from research done by India's defense scientists. Siachin glacier in Ladakh is located at the northern tip of India at a height of a 6,300 Meters. (20800 feet) The temperatures can go down here to minus 50 degree Celsius in winter.(minus 58 degree Fahrenheit) Indian combat troupes are deployed here round the year. Since there are no sewer line here, army asked for eco-friendly toilets, that would be 100 per cent maintenance-free and economically viable. To fulfill this need, defense scientists came up with a new design of eco-friendly toilet, or E-toilet, that can be set up anywhere. These toilets, also known as ‘Bio-digester’ toilets, work by mixing self-multiplying bacteria with human waste in specially-made tanks.

Bio-digester technology helps turn human waste into biogas and odourless compost. The process involves tapping bacteria which feed on the faecal matter inside the bio-digester tank and degrade it for its release as methane gas. Bio-digesters combust this methane, ensuring it is not released into the atmosphere. Instead, it becomes useful as gas for cooking, lighting, heating and crop fertilisation.

India's rural development ministry wants to use this safe and hygienic on-site human waste disposal technology to build mobile bio-digester toilets, or Green Toilets in the Ganga river basin. They have signed a MOU with Defence Ministry for installing these toilets in over one hundred thousand villages in next few years. Out of these, around 5,000 zero-wastes, ‘bio-digester’ toilets would be installed in villages along the 2,500-km stretch of the Ganga basin in an ambitious programme, If this happens, there is a ray of hope for mother Ganga to get free from her burden of trash, garbage and filth.

In addition to these village toilets, Government plans to set up these green toilets at most of the religious places in Himalayas like Hardwar, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath and at the greatest congregation of people at “kumbh Mela.”

At few places in India, manual scavenging is still prevalent in about 1.5 Million insanitary latrines. These new green toilets would also help curbing these. This new, safe and hygienic on-site human waste disposal technology has the potential to turn toilets in rural areas into an urban drainage system, that require no handling of human waste.

A silent sanitation revolution is being undertaken on the banks of river Ganga, to make her pure and free again.

11 December 2012

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