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| Last Updated:06/01/2014

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Healthy Cities

Urban News Digest, 03 January, 2014



The population in Indian cities is growing rapidly and exerting considerable pressure on urban services. Some of the basic services crucial to ensure citizens a healthy living are water supply, urban sanitation, waste water management and integrated solid-waste management form. But, the challenge for Indian cities is not solely to make these basic services available to all citizens, but also to ensure these services are of an acceptable quality.


Water supply


The simultaneous attainment of financial, environmental and social sustainability of urban services is an important requirement of development. Given the huge investments that are being made in the improvement of urban infrastructure and services in India, it is of the utmost importance that these investments are made in a manner that brings about the greatest good to the greatest number in a sustainable manner. Within urban infrastructure the supply of water has become one of the most problematic aspects of planning and management.


In the past few years there have been efforts by civic bodies in different parts of India to implement 24x 7 supply in their jurisdiction. According to the World Bank 24×7 supply is achieved when water is delivered continuously to every consumer of the service 24 hours a day, every day of the year, through a transmission and distribution system that is continuously full and under positive pressure. Recently, the successful run of Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation’s pilot project, providing 24×7 water supply to Yamunanagar area in Nigdi-Pradhikaran, gave the civic administration the confidence that the project can be planned and replicated in the entire city. A total of 2,376 households are benefitting from the project which was started on a trial basis in June, 2012.


Executive Engineer of PCMC’s water supply department Pravin Ladkat said that, for the project, Yamunanagar area was first isolated from the rest of the water supply system. Water was supplied to the area through double stage pumping – first from the water treatment plant in Sector 23 to an elevated storage reservoir (ESR) at Triveninagar and then from the ESRT to houses in Yamunanagar. In cities where water shortage is acute there is a need to explore methods of water conservation too because the civic body may not have enough water to implement 24×7 water supply. The most cost-effective method to do so is rainwater harvesting. One of the success stories in rainwater harvesting is Chennai. In 2003, rainwater harvesting was made compulsory by law, throughout Tamil Nadu, in all buildings, not only new but also existing ones.


In Chennai, the decentralized availability of drinking water saw the paradigm shift from a system wholly controlled by engineers and the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board to a level of co-management. Providing such services with people’s participation is a model for all large urban cities to consider in the planning and managing of their drinking water. Thus, Chennai serves as a precedent and model for other cities suffering from water scarcity.


Last December, the draft National Water Resources Policy, 2012, was adopted by the National Water Resources Council chaired by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. The policy lays down a few recommendations for water supply in urban areas. According to the policy urban domestic water supplies should preferably be from surface water and urban domestic water systems need to collect and publish water accounts and water audit reports indicating leakages and pilferages, which should be reduced taking into due consideration social issues. It also says that in urban and industrial areas, rainwater harvesting and de-salinisation, wherever techno-economically feasible, should be encouraged to increase availability of utilisable water.


Last month, the much-awaited second desalination plant along East Coast Road, at Nemmeli, 36 km south of Chennai, was inaugurated by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Nearly 15 lakh people of southern Chennai and the expanded areas — especially Velachery, Thiruvanmiyur, Pallipattu and areas adjoining the IT Corridor such as Karapakkam — will be supplied desalinated water from the plant that has a capacity to treat 100 million litres of sea water per day (mld). Nearly 265 million litres of sea water are drawn through a pipeline that runs up to one km into the sea. The waste water is disposed through a 740-metre-long pipe at a depth of 8 metres below sea level. The new source of water has been commissioned at an opportune moment as a water crisis looms large with the four major reservoirs that cater to the city’s drinking water needs drying up fast for want of rain.


Urban sanitation and waste water management


Sanitation and waste water management are major problems in most Indian cities. Even today, millions of Indians are subjected to grave ill health, increasing threats to safety, lower spending on education and nutrition, reduced productivity and lower income earning potential resulting in a deepening cycle of poverty – all for want of a basic sanitation facility. This is especially true for urban India. Growing slum population and lack of adequate sanitation force over 50 million men, women and children to defecate in the open every day. The poor bear the worst consequences of inadequate sanitation in the form of ailing children, uneducated girls and unproductive people, making these populations even more vulnerable and costing India 6.4% of its GDP.


Dasra, an Indian strategic philanthropy foundation, brought out a Forbes Marshall funded report on urban sanitation ecosystem. The study says that in India, urban sanitation cannot be provided by any one stakeholder. While the size of investment underscores the critical role of the Government of India, equally important is the role of the communities that will be ultimately responsible for making sanitation a sustained reality.


The fact that along with the government and communities, non profits also have a pivotal role to play in the sanitation framework has been proved by Sulabh International Social Service Organisation. Construction and maintenance of public toilets at public places and in slums on a ‘pay & use basis’ is a landmark of Sulabh in the field of sanitation. So far it has constructed and is or maintaining over 8000 such public toilets in India. For the construction, operation and maintenance of these complexes, the organization plays the role of a catalyst and a partner between the official agencies and the users of the toilet complexes. The system of operation and maintenance of community toilets evolved by Sulabh has proved a boon for the local bodies in their endeavour to keep cities clean and improve the environment.


According to a Centre for Science and Environment estimate in 2011, kitchen use, shower and laundry consume more than 70% of the 920 litres of water supplied per household per day. Building systems seldom trap this wastewater for non-potable use such as toilet flushing, fire fighting and gardening. Instead, they drain it out along with sewage, burdening the system. More important, the precious water is lost. In contrast, countries such as Japan extensively recycle water and successfully tide over their water deficit. Through a combination of strategies involving small treatment plants and closed loop water supply at building level, Japan reuses more than 53 million litres of water every day.


Non-collection of wastewater and discharge of untreated wastewater into low-lying areas or various water bodies causes severe water and land pollution problems. This situation reduces the availability of usable water for water supply. The demand for reliable, efficient and low-cost wastewater treatment systems is increasing worldwide, especially in densely populated urban regions where adequate wastewater treatment systems do not exist and uncontrolled discharge of wastewater endangers environmental health and water resources. Many governments have passed new environmental regulations stipulating that dischargers of wastewater such as small and medium enterprises and housing estates will be held responsible for wastewater pollution and must therefore treat wastewater adequately on-site before it is discharged into the environment. Decentralised Wastewater Treatment Systems (DEWATS) applications are designed and dimensioned in such a way that treated water meets requirements stipulated in environmental laws and regulations. The biggest advantage of DEWATS technology is it provides treatment for domestic and industrial wastewater at low initial investment costs as no imported materials or components are needed.


Recently, the UN-Habitat commenced a new global consultation to reiterate the crucial role of wastewater management in the water cycle and explore policy options for a sustainable future. “The global population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050 with majority of growth expected in developing country urban areas with inadequate infrastructure. The pace of urbanisation is a critical issue. The management of all forms of water and especially waste water is often conveniently forgotten in the political debate while in reality it is a time bomb waiting to explode,” Dr Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-HABITAT), says.

Integrated solid-waste management


Integrated solid waste management refers to the strategic approach to sustainable management of solid wastes covering all sources and all aspects, covering generation, segregation, transfer, sorting, treatment, recovery and disposal in an integrated manner, with an emphasis on maximising resource use efficiency.


Although considerable efforts are being made by many governments and other entities in tackling waste-related problems, there are still major gaps to be filled in this area. The World Bank estimates that in developing countries, it is common for municipalities to spend 20-50% of their available budget on solid waste management, even though 30-60% of all the urban solid wastes remain uncollected and less than 50% of the population is served.


Hence, developing countries face uphill challenges to properly manage their waste with most efforts being made to reduce the final volumes and to generate sufficient funds for waste management. If most of the waste could be diverted for material and resource recovery, then a substantial reduction in final volumes of waste could be achieved and the recovered material and resources could be utilised to generate revenue to fund waste management. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) this forms the premise for Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) system based on 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) principle. The 3R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle have been considered to be a base of environmental awareness and a way of promoting ecological balance through conscious behaviour and choices.


Recently, after the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP’s) ‘Wake Up, Clean Up Bengaluru’ campaign, many commercial and residential associations have come forward with commitments to clear garbage by having their own solid waste management (SWM) and scientific disposal systems.


Industrial layouts, apartment complexes, commercial establishments and hospitals are among bulk generators who have made such commitments. As many as 134 companies, big and small, 2,500 to 3,000 industries in various layouts and about 40% of the apartments in Bengaluru have committed themselves to dispose their waste on their own over the next three months, a senior BBMP official said. The Palike expects concrete result by the end of June. “Most of the companies, including Infosys and Britannia, have expressed their intent to dispose their waste by recycling and using waste disposal mechanisms on their own campus. Even residential apartments have given us such assurances,” he said.


The Federation of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industries said that the industrial belt will have a practical waste disposal mechanism by June 2013. BBMP officials are optimistic that the burden of collecting and disposing garbage will be reduced if the commitments are honoured.


Better administration and public infrastructure are an immediate necessity in lower income countries, and public attitude needs to change as soon as possible. Unless there is a shift towards a more responsible attitude, no enduring solution is possible. Municipalities can encourage people to form groups, segregate waste and process it at their end. Repairing, donating, selling and reusing products when possible, especially in the case of e-waste, is also essential.


Government policy is also required to handle the ever- increasing mounds of waste in Indian cities. Putting the onus of re-cycling of electronic wastes (e-waste) on the producers, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) had introduced the E-Waste (Management And Handling) Rules, 2011, which recognises the producers’ liability for recycling and reducing e-waste in the country. Under these rules personal computer manufacturers, mobile handset makers and white goods makers are required to come up with e-waste collection centres or introduce ‘take back’ systems.


At the micro-level every individual in a city has a role to play when it comes to handling solid waste. The citizens of a ward in Powai, eager to make their area a zero-waste zone, have chalked out a plan for a more efficient waste disposal system which includes special attention to garbage on roads and cooperative housing societies. Citizens were educated on garbage segregation by the chief of Advanced Locality Management (ALM). ALM is local management of solid waste by citizens who organise themselves to manage their waste.