When we think of India two characteristics come to mind, low sanitation standards and poverty. There is much more to the country but often India is associated with these negative connotations that still affect many parts of the country. Dr. Lucas Dengel is trying to create a sustainable alternative to the issue of the hygienic management of human bio waste or in simple terms: pooping. Sanitation is one of the biggest public health issues on the globe, causing diarrhea and other major health problems. In India alone there are over 1,600 deaths per day related to sanitation.
In his presentation Lucas points out the flush method is highly Western. He asked the question, “why do you use a toilet?” He pointed out that much of this is due to comfort. Being able to sit and have privacy for as long as needed, but that is not that only toilet or the only method that should be considered. The toilet was invented in the late 1500s. This invention was first used by for Queen Elizabeth made by Sir John Harington. This new device was a two foot deep bowl that required water to flush, a system that is still used today in most washrooms around the world.
Of course this method is very sanitary but also extremely wasteful in the amount of water that is used for a flush system. This use of sanitation also neglects the use of bio-waste as a resource, wasting plant nutrients. This is when Lucas pointed our an alternative to sanitation that is much more ecological while fitting into the cultural norms of India and other nation-states. This is referred to as the Ecosan which is a system of sanitation that saves water, reuses plant nutrients and is hygienic. The model is a flat toilet with an opening for urine with the other for fecal waste. This is placed above a compost (better known as a drying chamber), where there is moisture cause the fecal matter to dry up. What often spreads diseases is through the moisture. Urine will be cleansed and drained separately.
EcoPro has already yielded a few of these toilets with positive results, which include improving the purity-pollution gradient. The fecal matter takes up to a year to completely dry and is no longer a sanitation issue to the local population.
Sanitation is not just an issue of sustainability but also of social class. Often, the issue of sanitation relates directly to the caste system in India. Those called untouchable or ‘Dalit’ are at the bottom of society and often have to make a living as scavengers in the sewer system.
This involves cleaning septic tanks and sewers without any protection. This is start contrast to countries like the United States or France where extensive protective gear is used when going into the sewer system. In tackling the issue of sanitation in India is is important to know who is taking the direct hit in society and how to improve societal norms for all.