Sanitation is a broad term that includes disposal of human excreta, wastewater, solid wastes, domestic, personal hygiene, etc. Human excreta is the cause of many enteric diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, hookworm etc. Studies reveal that over 50 kinds of infections can be transmitted from diseased persons to healthy ones by various direct/indirect routes from human excreta that cause nearly 80% of the diseases in developing countries.

In India out of a total population of 1210.2 million, according to 2011 census, 814 million people lack basic sanitation facilities resulting in high mortality and morbidity. Low sanitation coverage in India is primarily due to insufficient motivation/awareness of people and lack of affordable sanitation technology. People (mostly from lower economic strata) are generally not aware of environment benefits of sanitation and it is still not a “felt need” for them, resulting in absence of people’s participation in sanitation programmes. Non-availability of a choice of toilet designs, area specific technologies, inadequate supporting delivery systems and absence of trained masons, skilled workers and technical manpower are also reasons for low coverage. By tradition, the Indian society and culture values personal hygiene, but gives little importance to clean and healthy community environment. Human excreta is regarded as the most hated object and anything connected with the latrine is considered so defiling that one is supposed to take a bath immediately after coming out of the toilet and before going into the kitchen– due to psychological and religious taboos. Sanitation is, therefore, regarded as a matter of individual initiative and not a collective obligation of the community. In this socio-cultural background, the environmental sanitation has sadly been given the lowest priority.

Sanitation Technologies

In the developed countries, the standard practice for the sanitary disposal of human waste is sewerage. Due to financial constraints and exorbitant maintenance and operational costs, sewerage is not the answer at present to solve the problem of human waste management in India. Sewerage was first introduced in London in 1850, followed by New York in 1860. Calcutta in India was the next city in the world to have this privilege in 1870, yet out of over 7,933 towns/cities in India only 929 have the sewerage system and that too partially. There are only 160 towns having sewerage treatment plant but there is no such facility in the remaining 769 towns. In the developing countries neither the government nor the local authorities, or the beneficiaries can bear the total capital expenditure and operation& maintenance costs of sewerage system. Moreover, it requires skilled persons and good management for operation and maintenance. It requires over 2 gallons of water to clean human excreta. Do we build huge dams and irrigation systems to bring in water only to flush it down into an expensive sewage system, all ending up polluting our rivers and ponds? Most of the rivers are heavily polluted due to untreated domestic sewage load from the cities. This has lead to deterioration of groundwater aquifers and community health.

The septic tank system is also expensive and requires 12-14 litre of water for flushing. There is shortage of drinking water in almost all urban areas; hence water has to be conserved. Septic tank has other problems like periodic cleaning and disposal of sludge. Inadequate effluent disposal is a source of foul smell, mosquito breeding and health hazards.