This is the only four-letter word that Neeraj Jain, CEO - Water Aid India, allows his children to use at home.
Let’s face it; we are ready to conquer the world after those few minutes of solace in the loo. But do we ever ponder over the question: where does this waste go? Does it vanish in thin air?
The well-informed would say that our shit goes to a sewage/waste treatment plant where the water mixed with it is processed and separated. This water would come back in water bodies as clean with the solid particles completely separated. To break your bubble, the reality will make your cringe.
How is the shit managed?
According to Jain and studies conducted by Water Aid India, our sewage is taken and dumped in the first water body found. An estimated 40,000 million litres of sewage is dumped in our rivers every year. Just to paint a picture, imagine an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of shit mixed with water. Now, multiply that with 16,000 such Olympic-sized swimming pools and dump that in our water bodies.
“If you take sewage and dump it in water, it mixes with water and becomes invisible, no one can see it and it’s lost. Actually, we are polluting our water bodies and drowning in our own shit,” said Jain.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has conducted extensive research on this and inferred that if water is properly treated in the sewerage treatment plants, it is absolutely safe to drink.
India’s current capacity of sewage treatment is at 20 percent of what it should be. Out of this 20 percent, only 40 percent capacity exists in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. This has left a gap resulting in wide spread inequality in the rest of India.
Threatening human rights:
Lakeshwar Kumar Paswan lives in East Delhi across the river Yamuna. His home is right next to the sewage dumping area. He has dreams and aspirations. While he goes about making his living, he also has to face the stench and the indignation of living near sewerage.
At this rate, India loses 1,40,000 children to diarrhoea every year. “And by the time I am done talking, India would have lost a 100 children and this is because we don’t take care of our shit,” he said.
Water Aid India also conducted a research on surface water and found that 70 percent of all the surface water in India is polluted. Unfortunately, while most of the upper class can afford to drink water through Reverse Osmosis (RO), this polluted water is what our poor are using to drink, wash and cook.
We need smart cities:
Today, big cities are saturated not just with people but also overflowing with shit. In future, people are going to migrate to smaller tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Evidently, if big cities lack the mechanism to treat sewage emanating from our homes, 91 of these cities do not have a sewerage treatment plant.
About 80 percent of the water consumed in our homes comes back into the ecosystem. This water is also used to flush our shit. "When you flush, you mix clean water with waste and push it back to the ecosystem," said Jain adding, "Let's make our government answerable. But at the local level, let's engage with our resident welfare association to ask can we manage our shit?"
While 54 percent of our population is water deprived, shouldn't we spare a thought about where our shit is going every time we flush?