Sanitation & Hygiene in India

Even in an underdeveloped country like India, where filth and overflowing drains are almost omnipresent, much of urban rich and the middle class would find it difficult to imagine life without safe, abundant and easily accessible water. And the same goes for life without private, relatively clean places in which to go to the toilet. But most of us tend to forget or overlook the fact that these are the very basic necessities of which a vast majority in our country remains bereft.

The slums proliferating in all Indian cities are in themselves huge garbage dumps, with people packed together in unhygienic and claustrophobically small spaces. When the space does not allow the construction of latrines for individual households, or even sufficient number of communal ones, the slum dwellers are forced to use the outdoors – the roadsides or railway tracks – as their bathroom. Fecal matter lying around and overflowing drains crisscrossing the slums become happy breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases. On many occasions the drains leak into the water supply resulting in outbreak of epidemics.

If the condition of city slums is bad, in villages it is even worse. Most villages being bereft of piped water, people have to depend on river and ponds, or springs and wells open to the air and subject to contamination. It is a fact proven from countless contemporary studies that open water increases the incidence of typhoid fever. And if quality of water matters than so does the quantity of water. Water-borne infections, such as diarrhea, are mostly transmitted by the fecal contamination of food, dishes and hands. Many areas reeling under chronic water shortage can hardly afford a hygienic lifestyle.

Lack of funds and also the lack of education about sanitation issues make the villagers use the outdoors as toilet leading to contamination of the environment. It is also a trend among the villagers to defecate in their agricultural fields as a result of which the food grain supply gets contaminated. It is not as if the problem is insurmountable, sanitation is the most easily achievable target if there is dedicated action on part of the government and also from the people.

In fact, the hygienic disposal or recycling of waste materials, particularly human excrement, is a science that has had a long history in India. Many of us would find it difficult to believe, that the earliest covered sewers uncovered by archeologists are in the regularly planned cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. In the year 2500 BC, the people of Harappa in India had water borne toilets in each house that were linked with drains covered with burnt clay bricks.

Sanitation is an important public health measure, which is essential for the prevention of disease. The ancient inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization understood this, but somehow the denizens of the modern India don’t. Along with covered sewers it is imperative that people have access to flush toilets, and also latrines that are used by only one household, and are ventilated and designed to isolate waste from the surrounding environment.

Having proper toilet facilities and keeping the sewers properly sealed- that is the only way by which the scourge of diseases such as cholera can be controlled. Cholera rarely spreads directly from person to person. The contamination usually occurs when untreated sewage is released into waterways, affecting the water supply, any foods washed in the water, and shellfish living in the affected waterway. The resulting diarrhea allows the bacterium to spread to other people under unsanitary conditions.

Although cholera can be life threatening, it is easily prevented and treated. In western countries because of advanced water and sanitation systems, cholera is not a major threat. Simple sanitation procedures if followed are usually sufficient to stop an epidemic. There are several points along the transmission path at which the spread may be halted:
�·Sickbed: Proper disposal and treatment of waste produced by cholera victims.
�·Sewage: Thorough neutralization of sewage before it enters the waterways.
�·Sources: Warnings about cholera contamination posted around contaminated water sources.
�·Sterilization: Boiling, filtering, and chlorination of water before use.

Simple remedies like filtration and boiling are by far the most effective means of halting the transmission of the disease. In general, education and sanitation are the limiting factors in prevention of most epidemics.

In many slums, a cesspit is used for refuse or sewage. As it is sealed, the tank must be emptied frequently – as often as weekly or monthly, depending on the size of the cesspit and the volume or refuse released into it. Because of the need for frequent emptying, the cost of maintenance of a cesspit can be fairly high. It is too often the case that in order to avoid the rigmarole of emptying the cesspit the builder or installer may breach the floor of the pit so as to allow liquid from the tank to escape into the ground. Such incidents can give rise to acute pollution locally and may contaminate the drinking water supplies of others. It is imperative that the making of cesspits be properly regulated in the country.

Public health may also depend on how the sewage water is disposed. If the sewage flows directly into the rivers or ponds, then severe pollution is going to be the result. The brackish foul smelling muck that stagnates in the Yamuna is a testimony of how great a havoc untreated swage can wreck on the river eco-systems.

The usual sewage treatment process that is followed by most countries including India typically involves the following three stages:
Ã?·Primary Treatment – to settle out solids
Ã?·Secondary treatment – to remove the dissolved and emulsified components
Ã?·Tertiary treatment – to make the effluent fit to be received in the environment.

Indian cities have limited infrastructure to neutralize sewage, but the infrastructure is not enough for the magnitude of the effluents that gets discharged. So much of the effluents flow directly into the river, resulting in environmental disasters such as the Yamuna.

But the aspect of public health where the individual can contribute most is that of his own personal hygiene.
Here are some personal hygiene measures that anyone can easily incorporate in his life:
�·Washing of the body and hair on daily basis
�·More frequent washing of hands and/or face
�·Cleaning the living area with disinfectant
�·General avoidance of bodily fluids
�·When sneezing or coughing keep a handkerchief in front of the mouth
�·Suppress habits such as spitting or nose-picking
�·Use of condoms in sexual relations
�·Washing hands before eating
�·Suppression of the habit to lick fingers before picking up sheets of paper
�·Sterilization of instruments used by hairdressers
�·Sterilization of instruments used in body piercing
�·Burial or cremation of the dead
�·Use of sewage systems to remove human, industrial and agricultural liquid and suspended solid waste
�·Garbage removal

The word hygiene is derived from the name of the Greek goddess of health known as Hygieia. She was the daughter of Asclepius and sister to Panacea. While her father and sister were connected with the treatment of existing diseases, Hygieia was regarded as being concerned with the preservation of good health and the prevention of disease. Well, it is time we Indians took goddess Hygieia more seriously than we tend to.

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