TANZANIA can borrow a leaf from the onsite excreta waste systems commonly used in India and other parts of the continent as part of its hygiene management.
The advice was given by Ms Sunita Narain, the Director General of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a research and advocacy body in India.
Ms Nurain explained that there is a need to recognise the various sanitation systems that are used across the world, but not take them as they are, but rather learn, generate or incorporate their ideas in the already existing systems that are in their countries.
Addressing journalists from various parts of Africa on a sanitation tour in India, she said, “We need to understand that our governments do not have the money to overhaul our entire systems and provide the underground sewerage. We are developing countries, organisation is happening at a large scale; We might never have the resources to connect everybody with an underground sewerage.”
In 2011, 40 percent of urban India was connected to what is called an onsite system, “it would have been a septic tank in the past but what we are finding out now is that it is just a tank that collects excreta wastes.”
Most of the toilets are not connected to an underground drainage, but to an open drain and others are collected by the informal sector…which is a growing business that has no system for proper waste treatment and disposal.
Such systems are not bad, “as the current focus of our government has been on building toilets and pollution control strategy is to build sewage treatment plants; what is needed is the connection of the two,” she said, adding: “The urban ministry in India has accepted this and most of the planning is now made in understanding the need to provide onsite treatment systems rather than moving everyone to offsite.
“It brings the opportunity to completely reinvent sewage treatment, and create what works for us.”
She mentioned the second success to be in having regulations for construction, collection and disposal of the excreta waste.
“It is relatively easier to do as it will be cost effective due to building on something that is already there, rather than getting rid of everything by trying to modernize a city already built.”
Another benefit is that people will be their own managers; they will maintain and take care of the septic tanks.
“At the end of the day if your septic tank is smelling then you will take care of it.”
The biggest opportunity in an environment perspective is that we could actually think of re-doing water based sanitation system and move it to a land based system that will return important nutrients to the land, she remarked.
“Find a system to treat our sewage and put back the waste on the land. That is the way traditional Africa and India had done its manure management.”
She further insisted that it is important to join the excreta dots as currently the sanitation circle is very weak.
The government should not only look at households building toilets but other matters such as toilet designs, the ability of the toilet to treat its waste, water availability, sewage systems that is how the waste is treated and disposed, adding: “It is important to get the people to understand why it is important to use the toilet; Change their mind set and show the importance of health.”
Challenges of sanitation experienced in cities in India are similar to what I have seen in some cities in Africa, she stressed.
The Additional Secretary, Government of India Ministry Jal Shakti Department of Drinking Water and sanitation explained that through the Swach Bharat Mission (SBM) that was launched in 2014 focuses on open defecation free across India and was achieved in 2019 “This was a major behavioral change program, and had to create a lot of communication strategies that linked the mission with beliefs or integrity of a person, especially women, children and elderly.”
It was a program that faced a lot of challenges initially.
“There was a lot of skepticism even within the government itself, but now it is the most successful program in the country as we have achieved 80 percent of the goal,” he stated.
The Managing Editor of ‘Down to Earth’, Mr Richard Mahapatra, commented that at least 15 out of the 17 sustainable development goals are directly linked to sanitation.
“This means if one of the 15 goals is not met, then you are not going to meet the 15 goals,” he said.