Monday, December 04, 2017

A dry solution

I had been in the hills a few weeks ago, wandering around with a notebook. One afternoon, I went to a little restaurant on a highway and drank coffee milky enough to sate a calf. Honestly, I would have referred a bench on a roadside dhaba. The only reason I had come to the restaurant was because it was attached to a hotel and was therefore likely to have a bathroom.

A lot of our decisions are governed by the question of functional bathroom access, especially for women. The 'functional' aspect is the tricky part. One of the biggest challenges to Swachh Bharat is the lack of water. People are being chased off roads and beaches, fined, and publicly shamed, and one man has been killed for protesting against such shaming. But no humane government can possibly expect people to use toilets without a reliable and affordable water supply.

This is a big ask. We have desert landscapes in India and water supply is a perenniel problem even in major metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Yet, the government has not seen it fit to look for ecologically sound solutions, even when the solution is right under its nose and waving frantically.

In that restaurant in the hills, I noticed a local gentleman talking in Japanese. The gent sensed that my curiosity was piqued and struck up a conversation. Turned out, there was a Japanese delegation in India, trying to build business ties with various state departments. The fabled Bullet train is the result of similar business collaborations. However, it is a very expensive deal and one we don't urgently need. What we need very badly, and the Japanese can offer, are creative toilet solutions.

The gentleman said that one of the things his group has been trying to do is persuade our governments to adopt dry toilet blocks, especially in water scarce districts. I asked him how they worked and he jumped up to offer me a demo. He had the basic toilet out of its cardboard carton and set up in less than ten minutes. All it needed was a patch of land with a deep pit dug below. One would still need water to wash oneself but for flushing, dry materials like sawdust or sand would do.

I knew of dry toilets and have even used it once, in Australia. Instead of sawdust, mud and dry leaves were used. It felt weird, I'll admit, because of my cultural conditioning. Water feels critical, even for flushing. But think of it; those who live in hot or cold deserts must have alternatives. In fact, report suggest that nearly 40 percent of the world will be facing water shortages by 2050.

The Japanese-speaking gent sounded disappointed. Hundreds of millions of Indians do not have access to plentiful water. Thousands of crores are being spent on building toilets and promoting the idea of an open defecation-free India. But people can't use these toilets if there's not enough water. Bureaucrats and ministers, he said, have been approached. They say they're open to the idea of a pilot project with dry toilets, but refuse to pay for it, regardless of how urgent the need, regardless of how much cheaper or how eco-friendly the alternatives might be.

It is indeed disappointing that we can pay through our noses for a faster train in the name of progress, but can't be bothered to invest tiny sums of money in something as basic as a functional toilet.

1 comment:

Winsant surat said...

A good logical point of view.

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