India must focus on wastewater management

India must focus on wastewater management

According to a 2019 NITI Aayog report, India ranks 120 out of 122 countries in the water quality index

Representative Image. Credit: DH Photo

As per the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Covid-19 pandemic has wiped out six years of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) globally.

Speaking of SDG 6, "ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all," it’s quite astonishing to see that, in this world of technology and progress, billions of people worldwide do not have access to clean water. Despite government and relief organisations’ efforts to support people living in water-stressed areas, the issue is expected to be further aggravated due to global warming and population growth.

Read | Wastewater surveillance programmes for India: A call for action

It is imperative to recognise that SDG 6 is not only about drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene but also the quality and sustainability of water resources, which are vital to the survival of humanity and our planet. The United Nations 2030 Agenda recognises the central importance of water for sustainable development and the important role that improved drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene play in areas such as health, education, and poverty reduction. Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) is key at this point, as there is a strong possibility for human waste to contaminate drinking water resources and increase epidemics.

Today, we witness nations working hard to achieve their SDGs, and the way forward is the Digital Public Good Infrastructure (DPI). Digital Public Goods (DPGs), if built and implemented suitably, can create scalable, sustainable, and generational leaps in social development. We have seen the use of DPGs to combat the Covid-19 pandemic by building platforms that support verifiable credentials, providing tamper-proof certification, dismantling barriers to travel and trade, and creating common standards and principles to enable secure payments and data exchanges. Therefore, using DPI to achieve SDG 6 is the way to go.

According to a 2019 NITI Aayog report, India ranks 120 out of 122 countries in the water quality index, with approximately 70 per cent of water being contaminated. Several reasons for India being one of the most water-stressed countries include overpopulation, pollution, and groundwater exploitation. As a result of these factors, wastewater management has become a major concern. Through the pandemic, India has demonstrated strong technological advancement, and it is widely accepted that the use of digital interventions and open-source digital public goods will solve faecal sludge management problems, resulting in zero untreated waste.

The use of open-source Digital Public Goods to achieve SDG-6 in sanitation in India is of utmost importance. In order to improve the lives of citizens, it is necessary to work with an ecosystem of stakeholders, such as governments, administrators, businesses, academia, research institutions, and civil society organisations. Such collaborative efforts can ensure the DPGs drive positive outcomes and play a pivotal role in building a resilient society.

Several FSM digitisation initiatives undertaken by Indian urban local bodies (ULBs) using DPGs in recent years have resulted in the recycling and reuse of wastewater gradually gaining traction. The use of treated wastewater has, in fact, been encouraged for non-potable purposes such as industrial use, car washing, gardening, construction, and more.

At the core of all systemic challenges, there are a few problems that hinder a systemic change, limit someone from bringing about a change, or cause the system to collapse. Transformations based on Digital Public Goods serve to enhance e-governance and are the light at the end of the tunnel, especially in sanitation.

In Odisha, the Digital Infrastructure for Sustainable and Healthy Habitats (DISHHA), an open digital platform, aims to strengthen operational efficiency and performance monitoring of faecal sludge management, improve capacity planning and usage of physical infrastructure, enable easy compliance, and advance equity and access for marginalised communities.

The UN target of improving water quality by 2030 by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimising the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, can be propelled by catalysing open digital ecosystems to unlock immense value. DPGs are the way of the future, and the same is true of SDG 6 in India.

(The writer is programme manager - Sanitation mission, eGovernments Foundation) 

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