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Home > India > News > Report

Pushing the causes of health and sanitation in India

A correspondent in New York | April 09, 2008 20:14 IST

How to improve sanitation in India was the subject of a 'Vision of Change' symposium organised by the Southern California chapter of the American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin recently at Anaheim, California, in connection with the United Nations declaration of 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation.

The presenters and participants discussed the sanitation situation in India which, it was noted, still remains a momentous challenge despite significant advancements in recent years in meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

The organisers said the objective of this symposium was to bring together participants to gather and exchange information on the issues of sanitation in India; create a grassroots demand, involvement, and acceptance -- for example, technology, education, money; and provide a forum to debate ideas for implementing sustainable sanitation in India.

More than half of India's 1.2 billion people still do not have access to adequate toilet facilities, it was noted.

Each year, diarrhoea kills over 500,000 people in India. Polio is making a comeback in some parts of the country, with rampant cholera, typhoid and hepatitis, all of which can be traced to the same source: poor water/sanitation.

The symposium provided a forum to review state-of-the-art ideas and lessons learned from implementing existing technologies, the organisers said.

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder, Sulabh International, and Bharat Bhargava, chairman, Bankworld Inc and chairman, Indian-American Chamber of Commerce, were the keynote speakers at the event, which was attended by some 80 professionals and enthusiasts.

Dr Pathak dwelt on sustainable technologies to improve sanitation and environment while Bhargava spoke about Indian infrastructure and entrepreneurship.

Other presenters included Joe Mediath, executive director, Gram Vikas, (topic: 'Building Dignity, Not Toilets'); J Geetha, executive director, Gramalaya, ('Gramalaya's Water and Sanitation Initiatives in India'); Suresh Chandnani, vice president, SRC Services International, Inc ('Practical Approaches to Improve Sanitation and Hygiene in India and Other Developing Countries'); Dr R Unnikrishnan, dean of engineering and computer science at CSUF ('Solid Waste Disposal in Kerala [Images]: Experience of TechnoGroup'); Paul Sikand and Jay Patel, Technical Fellows, Boeing, ('ASEI Sanitation Project'); Azad Oommen, director of communications, American India Foundation ('Safai Mitras: Ensuring Secure Livelihoods for Urban Waste Collectors'); Paul Sathianathan, executive director, Guardian ('Gramalaya Urban And Rural Development Initiatives And Network,' Dr Rajiv Doshi, consultant, and Suresh Chandnani, vice president, SRC ('Business Opportunities').

Soumen Bagchi, consul for economic and political affairs at the Indian consulate in San Francisco, made the opening remarks. Symposium organiser Ravi Kahandal welcomed the gathering and presented the agenda while Harish Bhutani, symposium chair, provided an overview of the ASEI's efforts to improve sanitation.

Shreekant Agrawal, president, ASEI SoCal chapter, described ASEI while Darsh Aggarwal, ASEI national board member, recognised the guests.

While major Indian cities like Delhi have solid waste management systems, these systems do not include processes for waste water treatment, reuse or recycling, the symposium heard.

Compounding this is the fact that the majority of India's outlying communities still do not have any waste management system in place, contributing to significant outbreaks of disease and death.

Many organisations are involved in implementing sanitation projects spanning the areas of solid waste management treatment, reuse and recycling.

However, significant work remains in obtaining adequate funding, socially acceptable and cost-effective technologies, and educating people, it was pointed out.