Chadwick movement in UK and Sulabh movement in India


Social Aspect

chadwick-movementConsidering the role played by soil in the spread of infectious diseases, proper sanitary practices need to be evolved to protect it from pollution. There is an urgent need for sanitation facilities in our cities and towns in view of rapid urbanization and increasing population. Sanitation, drainage and maintenance of these services are important functions of municipal bodies. In villages where people defecate in fields, the natural biological degradation processes take place. But here too, the soil can get overloaded with faecal microbes.

Contaminated top soil can be rich in different pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella and Shigella) known to cause typhoid, dysentery and several other infectious diseases. People are also known to use the top soil to clean their hands and utensils. These practices need to be discouraged.

Sanitation should not be dismissed in a casual manner by any community. Disposal of excreta and household wastes, combined with aspects of personal hygiene, especially washing of hands, are directly related to an individual’s health status.

The Sulabh Movement launched in the country by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak in recent years needs special mention. A rough analogy can be drawn between it and the Great Sanitation Movement in the 1860s in the West. History reveals that standards of public hygiene deteriorated considerably in the early nineteenth century, especially in England. This was the time when the Industrial Revolution was at its peak and increasing numbers of people were daily crowding into towns and cities for jobs. Entrances of houses and any odd corners were used as lavatories, garbage was found all around, and people rarely bathed. Diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, and typhoid took many lives.

By the 1840s, the scene started to change as several public-spirited men which included writers, lawyers and other professionals, examined the living conditions of the poor. Edwin Chadwick, a lawyer, studied this situation in a systematic manner, and ingeniously grasped the strong correlation between a dirty environment and the spread of infectious diseases. (This correlation was apparently known to Indians also and perhaps can account for many of our strict norms of personal hygiene). Chadwick became convinced that cities and towns needed to be cleaned up and in 1842 submitted a Report, ‘Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring People of Great Britain’ to the Council of London. Among other recommendations, he urged the public construction of simple family houses with a garden and a toilet block away from residential quarters. Public parks were also a prominent feature of his city-plans. But his most radical recommendation was his emphasis on an underground sewage system which would collect liquid household wastes and discharge it far from residential quarters onto an open municipal ground. This report ushered in the Great Sanitation Revolution in the western world. The Public Health Acts of 1845 and 1875 and The Royal Commission of 1989 initiated civic action in sewage collection and treatment.

Unwittingly, Chadwick’s report led to the elimination or cleaning up of the many places – reservoirs – where disease-causing agents used to breed and thrive, which among other included mosquitoes, rats flies, animals and, of course, a whole world of microorganisms. Today we have come a long way from Chadwick’s time in the treatment of sewage and other wastes, with these processes becoming highly automated and specialized.

The situation is quite dismal on the sanitation front in India. Flush-toilets and underground sewerage systems are taken for granted by many in urban areas. In cities too, sanitation and waste water disposal are often the last facilities to be laid out in the process of city planning. Even today, several suburbs of the city of Bombay do not have an underground sewerage system! Sewage treatment is often a tardy and incomplete process. In villages and small towns, the situation is worse. Recent attempts of the government to introduce ‘shauchalaya‘ in different districts is making rather slow progress where sanitation is viewed as a convenience, and not as a measure which promotes good health.

According to the UNICEF, ‘sanitation should not be treated just as an annex to water supply, nor should it be considered only in relation to water supply programmes…the disposal of excreta and household wastes and aspects of personal hygiene such as hand washing, are even more directly related to health status than is water supply’.

Sulabh Movement – Towards a Social Revolution

In 1970, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak founded the Sulabh Shauchalaya Sansthan, later named Sulabh International. The primary objective of this organization is to prevent environmental pollution by promoting low-cost sanitation facilities. Equally important, this movement has freed lakhs of people from the humiliating scavenging job imposed on them by a cruel societal order. Sulabh is a complete movement, radical in its approach. While trying to solve the problem of sanitation in the country, it also seeks to rehabilitate scavengers and their family members into the mainstream. This is done by providing them with education and training for several types of jobs. Dr. Pathak has given a fresh impetus to the work initiated by Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Provision of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities are important for any society in India these are available to a very small fraction of our population (p.30). Absence of sanitary facilities forces people to defecate and urinate in the open and thus pollute the soil and air with harmful microorganisms. However, to provide water-borne sewerage or even septic tanks, as is done in some cities, is an expensive and a difficult proposition. The untreated or partially treated sewage is often dumped in the seas and rivers making them highly polluted.

In 1970, Dr. Pathak came up with his simple design of Sulabh Shauchalaya (latrines-pour-flush toilet with twin leach pit). The latrine consists of a squatting plate or a pan with a steep bottom and side slopes and a gas-trap with a 20 mm water-seal. The water-seal checks the escape of foul gases and microbes into the atmosphere from the leach pits. About 1.5 to 2 litres of water are sufficient to flush the excreta into the leach pits through pipes or covered drains. One pit is used at a time and both pits are covered by air-tight covers. The gases disperse and the liquid infiltrates into the soil through holes in the pit lining. When one pit is full, excreta are directed to the second pit. In about 18 months, the contents of the filled up pit get digested into manure and are safe for handling. Now, the pit is emptied and can be used again after the second pit is full. thus the two pits are used alternatively and continuously.

The advantages of Sulabh Shauchalaya are many: they are hygienically and technologically appropriate, low cost and easy to construct with locally available materials; the design and specifications can be modified to suit the needs and the paying capacity of the users; there is no different physical, geological and hydrogeological conditions and do not pollute surface or ground water, if proper precautions are taken in construction; their maintenance is simple and does not require the services of a scavenger or large volumes of water; fertilizer is made available; there is high potential for upgradation as it can even be connected to sewers when sewerage is introduced in the area; a low-volume flushing cistern can also be attached and the whole set-up needs very little space.

Dr. Pathak has an impressive list of achievements to his credit. Some of these are: evolving a system of rehabilitating, educating and training of scavengers and their adoption by elite members of the society; entry of scavengers into temples; and setting up of public toilets and baths, and biogas plants for generating energy from human excreta. Recognizing his yeoman services, he has been awarded several national and international awards, including the Padma Bhushan, K.P. Goenka Award and the International Saint Francis Prize.

One of the many Sulabh Toilets spread across India. Aesthetically designed Sulabh structures reflect the personal philosophy of Dr. Pathak: No place or job should be shabby or looked down upon.

Ref.: Low-cost on-site sanitation: Dr. B. Pathak, presented at the Third International Conf. on Appropriate Waste Management Technologies for Developing Countries, Nagpur, 25-26, February 1995.


The Pope to the Organizing Committee of the International

St. Francis Prize for the Environment

Genuine Gospel Inspiration for Ecological Problems

English Translation of Article in L’Osservatore Romano, October 23, 1992

The members of the Organizing Committee of the International St. Eranics Prize for the Environment “Canticle of all Creatures” were welcomed by the Holy Father for an audience late Thursday morning, October 22nd in the Hall of the Popes of the Apostolic Palace. After being respects in an address by Fr. Bernard Przewozny, O.F.M.Conv., President of the Franciscan Center of Environmental Studies and President of the Organizing Committee of the Prize which is to be awarded on Saturday the 24th during a formal assembly in the Sacred Convent of Assisi, John Paul II delivered the following speech:

Reverend Fathers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased too welcome you on the occasion of the third International Prize for the Environment, promoted by the Franciscan Center of Environmental Studies.

I welcome the members of the Organizing Committee and of the Jury, along with the representatives of the Ente Nazionale per I’Energia Electrica (National Electricity Board), which is the sponsor of this commendable initiative. I would like to congratulate the “International center for Insect Physiology and Ecology” of Nairobi, Professor Herbert Bormann and Doctor Bindeshwar Pathak, who fully deserve this coveted recognition.

In the wonderful text of the “Canticle of all Creatures” which, my dear friends, is the inspiration for your Prize, the Little Poor Man of Assisi, contemplating the greatness of God in the work of the Creation, put Man at its center.