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‘Sludge management the next step in India’s ODF success’

“It makes you look at the problem differently. You don’t just think about building toilets and be done with it but you think about what the whole system should look like,” says Rodger Voorhies of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

india Updated: Sep 26, 2018 21:33 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India,Sanitation,Open defecation free
Rodger Voorhies of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation talks about how technology overcome sanitation challenges.(HT File Photo)

Low-cost technology solutions for human sludge management are already happening in many parts and can be quickly expanded across India, says Rodger Voorhies, executive director of agricultural development, financial services, gender equality, and water, sanitation and hygiene at the Global Growth and Opportunities Division, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He spoke to Sanchita Sharma. Excerpts:

How can technology overcome sanitation challenges?

At the (Gates) Foundation, we have cut up three approaches. One of them is around ‘Reinvent the Toilet’, on using new technology in toilets so they don’t require sewage sanitation. The second is an ‘omniprocessor’ for faecal sludge management, rather than have it going through huge treatment systems or having it just dispersed into the ground. And the last one is, dealing with open defecation.

Has Swachh Bharat made a difference?

With Swachh Bharat, it was tremendous that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it a real priority and the partners on the ground have made a meaningful difference. Now there is a switch from building toilets to start thinking about sludge management.

It makes you look at the problem differently. You don’t just think about building toilets and be done with it but you think about what the whole system should look like. Could it be done in a way that leverages some of the entrepreneurial spirit in India?

Are off­-grid sludge­-management examples from India?

Just outside Bengaluru in Devanahalli, they use low-cost eco-sludge treatment. Sludge processing in the Devanahalli area has gone from zero processing a few years ago to up to 40%. For something really low cost -- way less than building a standard sanitation plant -- there is a real chance that you could replicate that throughout India.

The ‘Reinvent the Toilet’ part is the hardest problem. It has made a lot of progress in the last few years and... some of these technologies will soon be ready for commercialisation. We think it will start with commercialisation in schools and other multi-use facilities. The hardest problem is the household facility and that will probably come later, but we are close and there are things being tested now.

How can off­line sanitation technologies be scaled up?

The right policies and infrastructure have to be in place. The progress that India is making on this would not have happened without a policy environment that said this was important. The first step is always to have the right policy. The second is, what is the infrastructure that works in those communities .

And the third is behavioural change. A lot of people say, this is a cultural norm problem, I think that once you get the right policies and the right infrastructure, then it is more of an awareness problem that a norm issue.

What’s the next step?

What we need now is business model experimentation and a way to treat people sludge. The policy needs to be strengthened for enforcing that treatment, but we’ll get there.

First Published: Sep 26, 2018 08:03 IST