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Beyond Broad Development, and into WASH

I attended the WASH Summer School at TERI University (New Delhi) couple of weeks ago and came across some WASH specific viewpoints that go beyond the overarching effort of development. One of the key components of any country’s development agenda includes Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH). Improvement of WASH conditions in a country form an integral part of improving public health, as it impacts numerous other issues such as disease prevention, gender equality (enabling women to migrate to cities or enroll in schools), as well as other aspects of human development. UN has deemed water and sanitation an important SDG in the post-2015 agenda and UNICEF considers sustainable development impossible without WASH.

Relationship with other components

Poverty alleviation is a chief component of development, and the nexus between poverty and WASH is quite strong as well; one is required to support the progress of the other. Urbanization is a critical means for development, but it also increases the usage of water significantly and widens the income gap (at least in cities). Therefore, planned urbanization should be strongly supported, but only with due consideration for various resources and related issues (such as WASH). These can be considered over longer term horizons by governments to ensure adequate supply of water, efficient management of existing resources, treatment of waste water etc., but in the short-term, people must take ownership of using water appropriately (read on below).

Water Use & Conservation

In order to ensure that consumers value and conserve water, some are off the opinion that water has to be further commercialized so that consumers feel the ‘pinch’. Electricity is a good example of a utility that is priced such that people use it appropriately. But in regards to water, the cost is not as high (in the urban Indian context) and hence there is scope for using pricing as a mechanism to inculcate a mindset for water conservation. Dr. Suresh Kumar Rohilla from the Center on Science and Environment (CSE) put it very well; “We should not make business out of water, but make water everybody’s business”. Therefore, as with any market that allows private participation, governments will need to ensure any pitfalls of commercialization are minimized. Along with using the pricing mechanism, another solution includes Participatory Management (PM) at the ground level, which includes educating consumers about appropriate water use and conservation. I live in New Delhi (the bustling metro capital of India) and I was not aware of the not-so-obvious WASH related issues in my community. Given the complexity of developing economies (like India), local/regional interventions must be designed keeping local communities in mind.

Waste Water Treatment

Moving on to the other side of water cycle, let’s consider waste water treatment. Certain major cities in India do not treat sewage water, instead the planning is done such that it is transported further away from the city (the farther the better). For instance, Mumbai and Delhi (two of India’s most populous cities) hold only 40% treatment capacity. This means that waste water is sent ‘downstream’ to some other town or city, which has to bear the burden of treating the waste water. Since revamping a city’s waste water treatment system can take time, immediate ownership can be taken up by environmentally conscious companies and business centers. Such commercial citizens can install water treatment facilities (septic tanks etc.) to treat waste water – just like they consciously recycle paper or install solar roof panels. For instance, the CSE campus in Delhi is a zero-discharge facility, i.e. they treat all sewage water and replenish it for future use. The mere ability to build septic tanks and work with construction companies to install them in new buildings can serve as a viable business model.

It makes sense to say that sustainable development is a great idea, but a difficult practice; which also means that we do not need to necessarily invent new technologies, but instead scale up existing successful ones.

Sahil Patni

Business Development Consultant

Peace & Collaborative Development Network

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