Thursday, July 28, 2016

Graphene-based sheets make dirty water drinkable simply and cheaply

A new system of bi-layered biofoam may provide the means to purify vast bodies of water simply by overlaying them with sheets of this new material
Engineers at the Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) have developed graphene-based biofoam sheets that can be laid on dirty or salty dams and ponds to produce clean drinking water, using the power of the sun. 

This new technique could be a cheap and simple way to help provide fresh water in countries where large areas of water are contaminated with suspended particles of dirt and other floating matter.

The biofilm is created as a two-layered structure consisting of two nanocellulose layers produced by bacteria. The lower layer contains pristine cellulose, while the top layer also contains graphene oxide, which absorbs sunlight and produces heat.

The system works by drawing up water from underneath like a sponge where it then evaporates in the topmost layer, leaving behind any suspended particulates or salts. Fresh water then condenses on the top, where it can be drawn off and used.

"The process is extremely simple," said Srikanth Singamaneni, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials at WUSTL. "The beauty is that the nanoscale cellulose fiber network produced by bacteria has excellent ability to move the water from the bulk to the evaporative surface while minimizing the heat coming down and the entire thing is produced in one shot."

Whilst this is a novel use of graphene, the researchers claim that the process used to make their bi-layered biofoam is actually the most innovative part of the whole experiment. Analogous to the process an oyster uses to create a pearl, where a small kernel of material is continually overlaid with layers of a fluid coating that eventually hardens, the bacteria used in the new material produces layers of nanocellulose fibers peppered with particles of graphene oxide flakes.

"While we are culturing the bacteria for the cellulose, we added the graphene oxide flakes into the medium itself," said Qisheng Jiang, a graduate student at WUSTL. "The graphene oxide becomes embedded as the bacteria produce the cellulose.

“At a certain point along the process, we stop, remove the medium with the graphene oxide and reintroduce fresh medium. That produces the next layer of our foam. The interface is very strong; mechanically, it is quite robust."

The researchers also claim that the material is exceptionally light, cheap to make, and can easily be produced in vast quantities. And, unlike even exceptionally simple systems designed to do similar things, the graphene biofoam material is simply laid over a body of water and does not require systems of pipes or energy to run the water through for decontamination.

"Cellulose can be produced on a massive scale," said Singamaneni. "And graphene oxide is extremely cheap — people can produce tons, truly tons, of it. Both materials going into this are highly scalable. So one can imagine making huge sheets of the biofoam."

The production system used to create the biofoam also has the ability to include other nanostructure materials that destroy bacteria and clean the water more thoroughly, allowing it to produce safe drinking water from almost any source.

"We hope that for countries where there is ample sunlight, such as India, you'll be able to take some dirty water, evaporate it using our material, and collect fresh water," said Singamaneni.


No medals for sanitation at Rio Olympics

 The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons.

The opportunity to give a decisive push to the cleanup of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara Bay and its lagoons has been lost. The drive against waterborne pollution was part of the proposal which won the city the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This failure may hardly register in the awareness of residents and visitors, given the higher visibility of the urban transport projects and the revitalisation of Rio’s central district.

What happened confirms the national tradition of giving sanitation low priority on the government agenda. So far only half the Brazilian population has access to piped water, and only a small proportion of transported water is treated.

“The environment pays no taxes and neither does it vote, therefore it does not command the attention of our political leaders nor of society as a whole,” complained biologist Mario Moscatelli, a well-known water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Park, which is at the heart of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, was built on the west side of the city on the shores of Jacarepaguá lagoon, yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated. Filthy water from rivers and streams continues to flow into it all the time, Moscatelli told IPS.

Most of the foreign Olympic athletes and spectators from abroad will arrive in Rio at Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport, also known as Galeão. Planes touch down here on the edge of one of the most polluted parts of Guanabara bay, although visitors may not realise it.

The airport , on the western tip of Ilha do Governador (Governador Island), which was home to 212,754 people in 2010 according to the official census, is close to canals  taking untreated effluent and rubbish from millions of people living on the mainland, brought by rivers that are little more than open sewers.

Fundão canal can be glimpsed from the southbound highway towards the city centre. It is full of raw sewage and bad smells in spite of recent dredging, because it is still connected to the polluted Cunha canal.
Five rivers converge in the Cunha canal after crossing densely populated areas including several “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial zones.

North of Galeao airport, the fishing village of Tubiacanga illustrates the ecological disaster in Guanabara Bay, which has a surface area of 412 square kilometres and stretches from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu (Niterói) in the east.

At the narrowest point in the channel between Ilha do Governador and the adjacent mainland city of Duque de Caxias, “there used to be a depth of seven or eight metres; but now at low tide you can walk along with the water only chest-high,” 66-year-old Souza, who has lived in Tubiacanga for two-thirds of his life, told IPS.

Landfills, silting by rivers and rubbish tipping have all reduced the depth of the bay, he said.

“Tubiacanga is at a meeting point of dirty water from tides rising at the bay entrance, from several canals including Fundão, and from rivers. Sediments and rubbish pile up in front of our village,” where the white sandy beach has become a quagmire and rubbish dump over the past few decades, Souza complained.

Guanabara Bay
Guanabara bay receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and 18,000 litres per second of untreated waste water, mainly via the 55 rivers and canals that flow into it, according to Sergio Ricardo de Lima, an ecologist and founder of the Bahia Viva (Living Bay) movement.

Rio’s Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80 percent of the effluents reaching the bay. The actual proportion achieved was 55 percent, Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said at a press conference with foreign journalists on July 7.

“I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers,” said Moscatelli, voicing the scepticism of environmentalists.

The 80 percent target was not realistic; completely decontaminating the bay would require 25 to 30 years and sanitation investments equivalent to six billion dollars, André Correa, environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, admitted on July 20 at the inauguration of an “eco barrier” on the river Merití, one of the polluting waterways.

The barriers are floating interconnected booms that are an emergency measure to ensure that aquatic Olympic sports can take place in some parts in the bay. Trash scooping vessels or “eco boats” collect the floating debris that accumulates against them and send it for recycling.

Seventeen eco barriers have been promised, but these will be woefully inadequate, and in any case they should be anchored where floating garbage is most concentrated, like Tubiacanga, not close to the Guanabara Bay entrance where water sports will be held, Lima complained.

The barrier in the Merití River is suitably placed, in Lima’s view, but it is “palliative action only.” The real solution is to promote selective garbage collection at source, that is, in households, shops and industries, and recycle as much solid waste as possible, as stipulated by a 2010 law.

“At present only one percent of the garbage produced in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region (which has a population of 12 million) is recycled,” Lima said.

Workers remove garbage collected by floating waste barriers at the Meriti polluted river that flows into the Guanabara bay, in Rio de Janeiro
Cleaning up Guanabara Bay is a longstanding ambition. It was the goal of a project begun in 1995 that has already cost the equivalent of three billion dollars at the current exchange rate, but that has not prevented environmental deterioration of local beaches and water resources.

Eight wastewater treatment stations were built or expanded to improve water quality. However, they have always operated well below capacity, because the main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the treatment stations have never been built, according to Lima.

Pollution of the bay is exacerbated by oil spills. There is a refinery and petrochemical hub on the banks of the lagoon in Duque de Caxias; in addition, all along the Tubiacanga waterfront the bay is increasingly crisscrossed by pipes carrying crude oil, refinery sub products and natural gas.

The effects of a large oil spill in January 2000 are still felt today. It had a direct impact on Tubiacanga and on the fish catch.

“We fisher folk are the ones who suffer most from the consequences of pollution, and who best know the bay; but we are not listened to, we are penned in and threatened with extinction,” said Souza dos Santos, who is encouraging his four sons to take up trades other than fishing.


Nigeria: The need to revive compulsory sanitation exercise

Sanitary conditions in most urban cities and rural areas have deteriorated due to unsustainable hygienic measures. It is for this reason that experts have tasked local government authorities, institutions, agencies and stakeholders to pay more attention to the issue of sanitation in their surroundings.

Sustainable waste management, a precursor to good sanitation, is still a mirage because the federal government is yet to start the conversion of Nigeria's industrial, municipal and domestic waste to wealth.

Some stakeholders have identified revival of the compulsory monthly sanitation exercise, where people are made to clean their environment on a particular day of the month, as a step towards achieving a better and cleaner environment in the markets, streets and homes.

During President Muhammadu Buhari's first stint in governance as a military head of state, he instituted the mandatory monthly environmental sanitation exercise which took place from 7.00a.m. to 10.00a.m. on every last Saturday of the month.

Environmental sanitations, according to WHO are efforts or activities aimed at maintaining a clean, safe and pleasant physical environment through water supply, excreta and sewage disposal, solid waste disposal, and ensuring the safety of the environment in all human settlements towards the promotion of social, economic and physical well-being of all sections of the population.

Some residents who spoke to Daily Trust said the exercise, which many clamour for its return, is presently being adopted in states like Lagos and Edo and that it may go a long way in ensuring a cleaner environment if adopted nationwide.

Sule Ojonugwa,an educationist, said when the exercise was in place, there were no indiscriminate refuse dumps on streets as it is now, saying people were mindful of where they dump their wastes because they are responsible for the cleaning of the environment.

He said if the federal government could adopt the exercise even if it is on two or three hours basis on a set day, the environment will look much cleaner and healthier.

A trader in Jikwoyi, Hyacinth Ogbulonu, said though the exercise is not being cherished by lots of traders because it is considered half day for them, it will be a good one in checking people's attitude towards waste disposal and cleanup.

Ogbulonu noted that he takes out time to clear the gutter around his shop, which also motivates his neighbours to do same, and at the end they all get the place cleared.

"The exercise can be revived and strict measures imposed without restriction of movement, but the truth remains that it will be more effective if movements are restricted," he said.

Another trader, who simply gave her name as Jane, said if government can bring back the exercise, it will be good because people will be on ground to help government officials clean the environment.
The Coordinant-General of Environmental Ethics & Safety Corps (ESCORP), Mr. Emenike Eme, told Daily Trust that the corps would always stand for the enforcement of compulsory sanitation exercise nationwide.

Eme noted that it is in the human nature for people not to do what is expected rather they do that which they know will be inspected.

"If we know this and we don't want to enforce monthly or regular sanitation exercise, we are not helping ourselves because if we don't bring it back, diseases and infections will continue to increase in our country," he said.

He pointed out that there is high resistant malaria caused by mosquito bite, saying "with dirty environment, we will have more than mosquitoes bite and then we will waste money attempting to cure."

All right thinking persons according to the coordinate General, no matter their status in life or what excuse they have, should consider the interest of the masses more important than any other thing.
"Let us help ourselves and bring back the monthly compulsory sanitation exercise," he said.

According to a report tagged 'Conceptual Modelling of Residents' Environmental Sanitation Behaviour in a Nigerian Metropolis' by a lecturer with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Oluwole Daramola, the major determinant of residents' environmental sanitation behaviour was the mandated environmental sanitation exercise.

Daramola said despite the positive contributions of the monthly environmental sanitation exercise, residents need to know the importance of daily environmental sanitation exercise, especially at the household and neighbourhood levels.

Despite the calls, the federal government is yet to make a statement on whether the policy will be revived or not, but there are feelers that work is in progress on the issue of sanitation.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

TANZANIA among top ten countries with greatest number of stunted children


TANZANIA now has 3,061,000 children who are stunted ranking it the 10th country with the greatest number of stunted children, according to a recent survey.

The new survey that was conducted by WaterAid entitled ‘Caught short: How a lack of toilets and clean water contributes tomalnutrition’ released yesterday cited that Tanzania has 34.7 per cent of stunted children which is a drop from 42 per cent in 2010.

The report also showed that the country now has 84 per cent of its population without access to water and 44 per cent of its population without access to a toilet.  

Countries in Africa that have outnumbered Tanzania include Nigeria which ranks second after India with 10,321,000 stunted children, Ethiopia with 5,822,000 and DRC with 5,072,000.

“Stunting not only makes children shorter for their age, but affects their emotional, social and cognitive development, meaning their lives and life chances are forever changed,” says Ms Barbara Frost, WaterAid’s Chief Executive.

Around the world, 159 million children under the age of five are stunted – a consequence of malnutrition in the first two years of their life.

While malnutrition is mainly associated with a lack of food, the new report highlights the major role a lack of access to clean water and decent toilets plays in this global crisis.

Almost 50 per cent of malnutrition cases are linked to chronic diarrhoea caused by lack of clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, including handwashing with soap.

For a child, experiencing five or more cases of diarrhoea before the age of two can lead to stunting. Beyond this age, the effects are largely irreversible.

As the first anniversary of the Sustainable Developmental Goals approaches, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to uphold the commitments they made to end hunger and malnutrition, and reach everyone everywhere with clean water and sanitation by 2030.

“Good food, the focus of most malnutrition programmes, will only get us halfway to the finishing line in addressing this crisis,” says Ms Frost.

“We need to ensure governments make clean water, decent toilets and clean hands a priority in efforts to end malnutrition.”

Other calls made include Ministries of Health, Water, Sanitation, Agriculture and Education must all coordinate their efforts to tackle the underlying causes, as well as the effects, of malnutrition as well as international institutions, researchers and civil society organisations must collaborate to strengthen the evidence-base and understanding of how WASH and nutrition are connected, and which approaches are most effective.

Is it sacrilege for upper castes to clean toilets?

For centuries we have thrust chores we regard to be unclean and socially humiliating on people of the lowest, most oppressed castes.
In urban India some imagine that caste demarcations have become history. We need to only check the caste identity of those employed to clean the toilets in our offices and homes to recognise how wrong they are. For centuries we have thrust chores we regard to be unclean and socially humiliating on people of the lowest, most oppressed castes.

They alone carry the burdens of disposing of animal carcasses, skinning animals, and scavenging and disposing of human excreta. Today, although not written, there’s virtually 100% reservation for the lowest castes in jobs as cleaners and sweepers.

Young people born into these disadvantaged castes battle formidable barriers to enter and stay in school. Research demonstrates that they frequently endure humiliating caste discrimination in classrooms. However, even for many who persevere with their studies, and nearly all of those who cannot, their caste destiny forces them to clean toilets as the only employment available to them.

Can we imagine an India in which cleaning toilets becomes an employment open to people of all castes ? A progressive social service institute in Ahmedabad did it. It issued a job advertisement for a sanitation worker, stating that preference would be given to candidates of higher castes.

The institute knew that the notification would be controversial: They issued it to stimulate public debate and soul-searching about embedded social inequalities. What they didn’t anticipate was violence and threats, forcing its director Prasad Chacko to go into hiding.

The advertisement was issued by the Human Development and Research Centre (formerly Behavioural Science Centre), established in the seventies by a group of Jesuit priests. These St Xavier’s College teachers were moved by the caste discrimination, untouchability and violence which they encountered across Gujarat. The institute tried to organise Dalit and tribal people, and promote gender equity. In 2002, it also became a hub for activists working with survivors of the communal carnage.

Some years ago, the position of a sanitation worker fell vacant in their Ahmedabad office. It was advertised, and as invariably happens, only people from the lowest-caste, Valmiki community, applied. Mukesh, a ‘tenth-fail’ Valmiki youth was appointed, but Chacko and his colleagues felt it would be unjust for him to be trapped for a lifetime in only cleaning floors and toilets. They helped him learn computers and office errands and promoted him as an office assistant.

This spring the position of sanitation worker fell vacant again. It was certain that if they issued a job call, only Valmiki candidates would apply. The audacious idea of stating in the advertisement that preference would be given to applicants of higher castes came up.

They mentioned that Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Baniyas and Patels among Hindus; Syeds and Pathans among Muslims (priestly and warrior castes); Syrian Christians; Parsis; and Jains, would be preferred. Chacko, a Syrian Christian says that his community still claims its Brahmanical pedigree with the myth that St Thomas came to Kerala in AD 51 and converted 51 Brahmins, the ancestors of all later Syrian Christians.

Unsurprisingly, there were no high-caste applications, but one morning late in June three young men in jeans forced themselves into Chacko’s office, introducing themselves as members of organisations representing Brahmins and Rajput Kshatriyas, and challenged him: “Do you believe that Brahmins and Kshatriyas should clean toilets? Don’t you know what responsibilities are assigned to us by tradition?”

“Would you ask Christian priests or Muslim maulvis to clean toilets? It is the Kshatriyas who protect the nation, how dare you insult them by asking them to clean latrines?” they asked. Chacko said that there was no reason for priests and maulvis to not clean toilets, and that it is the army and police — comprising men and women from every caste — that defend the nation. They recorded Chacko’s views on their phones and left.

In a few hours, Chacko’s interview began circulating on the Internet, and a number of Gujarati TV channels arrived at the college campus where the institute is located. By afternoon, a crowd of around 20 angry young men gathered at the campus demanding that Chacko apologise. The police finally arrived and dispersed the men.

The next day, more men gathered, and when they could not meet Chacko, they smashed windows and flower pots outside the office. Many joined in to condemn the advertisement, including Hardik Patel’s outfit and for good measure even a Muslim organisation. The institute issued a ‘limited’ apology for unintentionally hurting sentiments, but did not retract the advertisement.

Dalit and human rights groups on the other hand rose in solidarity across Gujarat issuing statements in support of this gesture for advancing the idea of social equality. Jignesh Mewani, a Dalit activist and lawyer said, “Narendra Modi has declared that sanitation work is a spiritual exercise. Then why should the upper castes be denied this opportunity?” The matter simmered for a while, and is now dormant, but Chacko continues to be on leave.

The fury and indignation of upper caste organisations is instructive of how entrenched the idea of caste remains in India. On the other hand, simply the accident of birth into disadvantaged-caste households makes it fine for low-caste youth to be trapped in this work that the upper castes so despise.

The country is building toilets in every rural school, which is welcome, but the responsibility for cleaning these toilets frequently fall on students from these oppressed castes, who are shamed into doing work that would so offend their higher-caste classmates. This too causes no outrage.

It is evident that the value of different lives still varies infinitely in India based on the chance of where children are born. For some, the skies are within reach, and the idea of cleaning dirt is sacrilege. For others, clearing human waste is a fitting destiny, and reaching for the skies is sacrilege.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Over 10.14 million Indians at risk from excess Fluoride in drinking water

The World Health Organisation says that ingestion of excess fluoride, most commonly in drinking-water, can cause fluorosis which affects the teeth and bones
Nearly 14,000 habitations in 17 states reported to have excess fluoride in drinking water sources, affecting more than 1.14 crore (a crore being equivalent to 10 million) people, Rajya Sabha was informed today.

According to the World Health Organisation, ingestion of excess fluoride, most commonly in drinking-water, can cause fluorosis which affects the teeth and bones.

Moderate amounts lead to dental effects, but long-term ingestion of large amounts can lead to potentially severe skeletal problems, WHO say.

At 6,855, the maximum cases have been reported from Rajasthan, followed by 1,087 cases from Bihar, 1,065 from Karnataka and 1,064 from West Bengal, Minister of State for Drinking Water and Sanitation Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi said in a written reply in Rajya Sabha.

Young girl with dental fluorosis in Holkunda village
“As on July 20, the problem of excess fluoride in rural drinking water sources is reported by 17 states in 13,949 habitations,” he said.

The minister said 1.14 crore people are at risk due to presence of excess fluoride in water.
Rural drinking water is a state subject. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation assists the states in providing safe drinking water in rural areas through centrally sponsored National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

As per the plan of the Ministry, 90 per cent of the rural population would be provided with safe drinking water by 2020 through surface water based piped supply schemes, he said.

In a separate reply, the minister said that during 2015-16, an amount of Rs 4,268.58 crore has been provided to the states under NRDWP. While in 2016-17, Rs 1986.66 crore has been released to the states in first installment in April-May.


Monday, July 25, 2016

SO what will it be, a toilet or safe drinking water? The stark choice facing many people in rural India

A hand pump with a cracked base in Dhenkenal, Odisha. Poorly maintained pumps are vulnerable to contamination from above ground as well as from nearby leach pits.
June in Odisha state’s Puri district, and the mercury is hitting 39C. The monsoon is still days away but, when it comes, the Mahanadi river could flood low-lying villages, as it often has done. One such village is Aaruha, a network of congested huts surrounded by vast rice fields.

Chaibi Swain, 52, lives here with her husband, a rice farmer. Her home is little different to the rest of Aaruha’s low-rise dwellings, but it has a toilet, which puts her among a small minority in rural Odisha. 

Eight out of nine people in Odisha’s villages do not use toilets, instead defecating in the open, leaving them vulnerable to diseases. The Swains, with their tiny toilet, which empties into a leach pit – a hole in the ground used to compost faeces when there is no sewage system – are the face of progress.

There is a problem, however. The leach pit is next to the household’s drinking-water source, a tube well. Water so close to a leach pit is vulnerable to contamination from faecal germs, since bacteria, viruses and protozoa can travel through soil. 

This toilet with a leach pit in Puri has been built next to a hand pump, making contamination likely
Worse, when the monsoon comes and the Mahanadi overruns its banks, the groundwater levels in Aaruha rise, making the contamination worse. The Swains’ toilet could actually be a health risk.
They aren’t the only ones whose backyard toilet is a threat to the water supply. As the Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM) – India’s ambitious campaign to stop open defecation by 2019 – gains pace, about 1.3m leach-pit toilets have been built in Odisha alone.

In districts such as Ganjam, Balasore and Puri, these pits are often built without safeguards against contamination, say the NGOs working with the government. “It is quite alarming, because if this problem is not addressed at this time, we are building sites of contamination all around,” says Devdeep Saha, a research associate at the sanitation NGO Friend in Need Trust.

The safeguards in coastal districts such as Puri, which have high groundwater tables and are prone to flooding, include keeping a 10-metre distance between water sources and leach pits, raising the top of pits above the ground so that flood water does not enter, and sealing the bottom of pits to prevent pathogens escaping. But villagers who build their own toilets in return for funds from the mission often ignore these safeguards.

The reasons are many. First, many households in congested villages do not have the space to build toilets and tube wells far apart. Harendranath Pradhan, a government sanitation engineer in Odisha’s Balasore district, says this is the main reason for guidance being ignored.

“Even though his job is to ensure toilets are properly built, Pradhan says this isn’t always possible. “We tell the beneficiary to maintain a distance from the water source. But they say they don’t have the land. So we build the toilet, because we have to meet targets,” he says.

India is not yet meeting its mission goals. Only about 19m toilets have been built across rural India, meaning another 92m are needed over the next three years to meet the 2019 target. Vivek Sabnis, who previously worked for the Bangalore-based sanitation NGO Arghyam, says: “Unfortunately, everybody is pushing for quantity over quality.”

Odisha isn’t the only state that faces a threat to its water supplies from new toilets. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand also have badly built toilets, according to Saha. This means that, as coverage grows, contamination may worsen.

A study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in April found that certain diarrhoea-causing protozoa can travel 150 metres or more in the high groundwater of Puri to contaminate even deep tube wells, which are thought safer than shallow tube wells and open ponds. The study says full latrine coverage in high water table areas would reduce contamination in open ponds, but increase it in tube wells.

Marion Jenkins, lead author of the study and an environmental health researcher at the University of California in Davis, says recommended safeguards may reduce contamination a little, but won’t eliminate it. “Drinking-water aquifers are already seriously polluted with faecal protozoal pathogens from the existing stock of latrines in rural Puri,” she says.

This means that unless the existing latrines are pulled down, and new ones built differently, pollution will remain.

Another study, published in January, found tube wells in Bihar to be contaminated by faecal pathogens about 18% of the time, when they weren’t far enough from pit toilets. This study was done in summer, and the authors predict contamination would increase during monsoon.

None of this means India should panic and abandon pit toilets, says Sandy Cairncross, an environmental health researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Improved toilet coverage is likely to benefit people much more than it hurts them, he points out, adding that it would be better to provide piped water to villages, instead of relying on tube wells and ponds.

Another solution is to train villagers to monitor the quality of their toilets, instead of relying on government officials to do so, says Sujoy Mojumdar, a former SBM director who is now with Unicef India. 

The system of a government official inspecting toilets before disbursing money doesn’t work because toilet users do not feel ownership, he argues. Village teams already exist in some states, he says, “but it is still a rare example and not widespread”.


Majority of teenage girls in Northern Ghana drop out of school over menstruation

A research conducted by the Catholic Relief Services, the University for Development Studies and the Desert Research Institute has shown that about 59-95 of teenage girls in Northern Ghana have little knowledge about issues of menstrual hygiene.

According to the research about 95 per cent of these girls miss school during their menstrual periods because they are mocked at by their peers especially the boys.

Girls learn about menstrual hygiene management and other health issues from a trusted teacher at their school
The research also showed that girls in their menses are perceived as unclean making it difficult for them to stay in school or attend social events during that time of the month.

Presenting the findings at a symposium in Tamale, the Coordinator of Schools Health Education Program, Bernadette Kafari said many people in the Northern region stigmatize young girls or women when they are in their menstrual periods leading to school dropout.

She said at the lower level the dropout rate is low but as they progress to the senior high school the dropout rates increased to 65 percent for girls and 58 percent for the boys.

Madam Kafari said they have had to mobilise key stakeholders in the region to help address the findings.

The Country Representative of the Catholic Relief Service Kris H. Ozar charged stakeholders in the education sector to support in the mobilization of resources to help tackle the issues of menstrual hygiene in schools across the country.

Education stakeholders need to mobilise resources to help tackle the issues of menstrual hygiene in schools across the country
He said issues of menstrual hygiene remain a challenge in the country and called for its management.
The Country Director said despite Ghana’s growth in education and health the Northern and the Upper East regions are still struggling to reach their full potential.

Mr Ozar said absenteeism is rife in the two regions with the retention of girls in schools becoming a huge challenge.

He said the Catholic Relief Service is working in the education sector to ensure increase the enrolment and retention of the girl child in school.

Catholic Relief Service organisation works in a number of countries particularly in sanitary pad research 
Mr Ozar said currently CRS and its partners are working with 138 schools in six districts in the Northern and Upper East Region on menstrual hygiene.

He added that they are targeting the enrolment and retention of about 122,758 pupils in these schools at the end of the three year duration.

Mr Ozar said the CRS is also working hand-in-hand with the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Education Service to mobilise and sensitise parents and Teachers on menstrual hygiene to help curb the absenteeism in these regions.

Mr Ozar called on the private sector to support the projects to ensure its success.

'Healthy Start' campaign kick started to curb maternal mortality in India

Infant health worker Pinki weighing a child as part of a regular check-up

One in five newborn deaths within the first month of birth, could be prevented by ensuring access to clean water and providing a clean birthing environment, a new survey has found.

The survey commissioned by WaterAid India entitled ‘Healthy start campaign’ cited that Sepsis, a leading cause of infection in newborns, is associated with unclean practices at and after birth.

“Evidence also suggests that poor water, sanitation and hygiene in health care facilities is associated with high in-hospital maternal mortality,” the survey read in part.

 With 167 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births and 28 newborn deaths per 1,000 live births, India has one of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world. Studies have shown that many deaths in the first month of life result from diseases and conditions that are preventable.

Though the link between lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and disease was established in the last century, most of India’s healthcare facilities continue to have inadequate WASH facilities. Almost 140,000 children under the age of five die every year in India from causes linked to lack of clean water and adequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices.

WaterAid, globally, envisions everyone, everywhere to have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. In India, WaterAid assessed the situation of WASH in 343 healthcare facilities across 12 districts in six states.

The findings draw attention towards the poor status of WASH in healthcare facilities. There is not only severe lack of WASH facilities in the healthcare institutions but wherever present, most of them are either dysfunctional or inconveniently situated for the expectant or lactating mother.

Healthy Start is a campaign by WaterAid India with an overall goal to contribute towards preventing a significant number of neonatal and maternal deaths through safe WASH in healthcare services.

Its major objectives include influence change in neonatal and maternal healthcare for a shift from curative to preventive health services; strengthen the health delivery system to ensure adequate and safe WASH in healthcare facilities; and increase demand for safe WASH services by communities in healthcare facilities.

The government’s National Rural Health Mission (launched in 2005 as NRHM) brought the issues related to newborn healthcare into limelight. Since then, there have been several programmes and schemes launched to promote maternal and neonatal healthcare with an emphasis on institutional delivery ensuring a safe and professional birthing environment for the expectant mother and the newborn.

For example, the Janani Suraksha Yojana (implemented in 2005) has led to an exponential increase in institutional delivery, currently estimated at 80 per cent of all deliveries. The Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram (started in 2011) introduced a special provision for both facility based and home based newborn care to ensure neonatal care in Primary Health Centres, Community Health Centres and District Hospitals. 

Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCH+A) approach introduced in 2013 places an emphasis on ensuring a continuum of care from pre-pregnancy to childhood with specific components for each segment.

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), launched in 2014 with an aim to make India open defecation free by 2019 has increased its ambit to address healthcare facilities as well. The specific national initiative programme ‘KAYAKALP’ launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in May 2015 as a part of SBM promotes cleanliness, hygiene, infection control, and sustainable practices related to WASH in healthcare institutions.

This offers a unique opportunity to ensure that every newborn and mother is protected from preventable diseases and thereby enable that every start of life is a Healthy Start.

Toilets for all possible in 3 years: Sulabh founder

Dr Pathak
DR Bindeshwar Pathak, sanitation expert and founder of the prominent NGO Sulabh International, believes it is possible to provide toilets for all citizens across India in three years, but ministers need to focus and carry forward the commitment to deliver it.

Dr Pathak, who was in London for a conference on India’s smart cities, told Hindustan Times on Thursday evening the bureaucracy could not be expected to lead, but to follow directives of ministers to implement such a massive project.

“The leadership and clarity is there at the top from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on this important issue, but ministers responsible for delivering need the vision to take it forward, and not expect the bureaucracy to lead the drive,” Dr Pathak, 73, said.

Presenting figures of the all-India challenge, Dr Pathak said 120 million toilets can be constructed in three years with a budget of Rs 3.6 lakh crore (each toilet costing Rs 30,000, inclusive of cost escalation).

Besides subsidy from the government, potential sources for funding include corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets of thousands of Indian companies, non-resident Indians, bank loans and contribution from beneficiaries.

“It will not only provide employment in our 2.51 lakh panchayats and 6.46 lakh villages, but also ensure the sustained maintenance of toilets,” he said.

Backed with 45 years of award-winning experience in providing low-cost sanitation in India and other countries, Sulabh’s approach is based on partnerships with local governments, backed by community participation. It ensures maintenance and follow-up of projects.

“It does not matter if we are part of this initiative but I can say that only the low-cost Sulabh model based on two-pit pour flush compost toilet technology can ensure that India is free of open defecation. They can take our model, but the government alone cannot do it,” he said.

Earlier this month, Sulabh opened the world’s largest public toilet facility in the holy city of Pandharpur in Maharashtra, with nearly 2,800 seats. Pathak said Sulabh had so far constructed 8,500 public toilets and 1.5 million in homes.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Africa’s water woes call for strong dedication, says VP

INNOVATIVE financing mechanisms and diversification of water resources are crucial for Africa to tackle the challenges facing the water sector and achieve sustainable development.

The Vice-President, Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan, said this yesterday in Dar es Salaam at the opening of the 10th African Ministers Councilon Water (AMCOW).

The AMCOW General Assembly was preceded by the 6th Africa Water Week which commenced on July 18 to 22 with the theme ‘achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water security and sanitation.’

According to the VP, recent global statistics show that about 800 million people still lack access to safe water, while about 2.5 million do not have access to improved sanitation.

“Almost these affected people live in developing world and particularly in Africa which accounts for 40 per cent of this population,” Ms Hassan said. She added that within an hour, about 400 people mostly children are likely to die in the continent from water linked diseases.

Estimates show that about 400 people mostly children are likely to die every hour in the continent from water linked diseases
It is estimated that 60 per cent of hospital beds in developing countries are occupied by people suffering from water related diseases.

Ms Hassan said that the common resolve by Africans to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets on water and sanitation has helped about 322 million Africans to have gained access to safe and drinking water and 189 million have access to an improved sanitation.

She, however, said that Africa is currently experiencing high population growth and expansion of its cities accompanied by accelerated economic activities, thus call for collaborative efforts to make deliberate considerations on the requirements for water related sanitation.

“These challenges are many and require bold and decisive solutions … we must tackle future challenges by diversifying our sources of water and being innovative in our financing mechanisms, taking into account huge funding requirements for the sector,” Ms Hassan observed.

She added that there was a need for agency of mobilising funds to put the right infrastructure and skilled manpower to develop and manage the sector more efficiently. Ms Hassan, however, 
reaffirmed the commitment by the fifth phase government to initiate strategic industrial growth in key areas including adding value to agricultural products.

“This anticipated industrial growth is likely to attract expansion of the agricultural sector with notable expansion of irrigated land and general increase in farming activities in the country,” she cited.
She said more water abstraction from the ecosystem will be required in a sustainable manner in order to achieve sustainable development.

Speaking to the ‘Daily News’, the AMCOW Executive Secretary, Mr Bai Mass Taal, said that attainment of SGDs needs proper financing mechanism.

According to him, Africa needs 11 billion USD per year for the implementation of its projects, thus without proper financing it will be difficult for the continent to achieve its goals. He called upon African governments to allocate more funds for the water sector in order to address the impending problems.

Africa needs 11 billion USD per year for the implementation of its projects
“This conference is crucial because it gives us an opportunity to sit down and draw out our strategies and road map on financial mechanisms to achieve the SGDs,” Mr Taal said.

He further noted that African governments should act now on water problems facing its people, adding that approximately 340 million people in Africa have no access to drinking water. Mr Taal commended the development partners for supporting Africa in water and sanitation projects and called for further support for the continent to attain SDGs.

For her part, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Ms Rhoda Tumisiime, said that the theme for the 6th Africa Water week and the 10th AMCOW General Assembly is timely because it is in line with the theme of the 2016 AU summit.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Want to know the key to beat superbugs? Handwashing

A new report in May has highlighted the growing threat of drug-resistant "superbugs". The projections of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) - prepared for the British government by economist Jim O'Neill - are disturbing: antibiotic-resistant bacteria already kill nearly a million people each year.

Worse, by 2050, this may rise to 10 million, potentially costing the world US$100 trillion (S$136 trillion) in lost productivity.

Society must focus on prevention and become much more prudent with the use of existing antibiotics in order to slow the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. In South-east Asia, this means reducing usage by consumers, as well as by farmers who use antibiotics in agriculture. Prevention requires better sanitation and hygiene.

Across the region, access to sanitation remains problematic. The World Health Organisation estimates some 935 million people in South Asia and 176 million in South-east Asia lack sanitation. These areas will feel the impact of drug-resistant bacteria more acutely as infections become increasingly difficult to treat.

In South-east Asia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, cholera and pneumonia, among others, have already shown resistance to current drug treatments. The result is prolonged periods of sickness, more expensive treatments and greater risks to communities. 

Governments must prioritise the provision of water and sanitation systems to counter the spread of disease. In addition, the immediate and cost-effective way to reduce risk is handwashing with soap.

Handwashing does not solve the problem of drug-resistant bacteria. But it does slow the emergence of new resistance and saves people from getting sick with potentially untreatable illnesses. According to Unicef, the United Nations' children's agency, handwashing with soap after defecation and before handling food can reduce diarrhoea by up to 59 per cent, and respiratory illness by one quarter.

Handwashing can help eliminate millions of courses of antibiotics that are currently ineffectively and often inappropriately prescribed. Proper hygiene behaviour also helps prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as Sars, H5N1 influenza and Ebola, long considered impending threats among dense populations.

However, handwashing with soap is more commonly said than it is done. Notoriously difficult to monitor, rates of handwashing with soap vary dramatically, though rarely surpass 40 per cent to 50 per cent at key times and can be much lower, according to international studies. Even among medical professionals, there is an overall median compliance rate of only 40 per cent, according to the AMR global report.

Knowledge and practice are not equivalent. Establishing regular hygiene behaviour requires water, soap and a convenient basin together at the proper time and place - an "enabling environment".

For those living in affluent cities, this challenge may not be obvious. Yet, piped water and modern sinks are expensive and often unavailable in rural areas. Traditional water storage methods create awkward logistics for handwashing.

Makeshift solutions often involving recycled plastic bottles or milk cartons attached to a tree or post can be free, but have proven unsuccessful in changing behaviour. Because they are free, such devices are not valued and easily discarded. As one development expert said: "People don't want to use something that looks like rubbish hanging in their yard." Undeniably, the goal is regular usage.

World Design Impact Prize 2015-2016 Finalists
In response, a small company in Vietnam has launched an innovative and attractive low-cost consumer product that promotes behaviour change, born from the Global Scaling Up of Handwashing campaign, a project under the water and sanitation programme that is part of the World Bank Group's Water Global Practice.

Our think-tank, the Global Institute For Tomorrow (Gift), supported this process. Currently wholly-owned by the WaterSHED non-governmental organisation, the social-business is now seeking to scale up production and distribution throughout the region.

Designed through a human-centred design process, it was a finalist for the World Design Impact Prize, which encourages industrial design driven projects that benefit society. Imagine a "portable sink" complete with soap tray, wastewater pipe and modern design, placed in the kitchen or outside the latrine, with optional mirror, dental kit and make-up - an aspirational, modern lifestyle product, yet still affordable at about US$12.

This contrasts with products in other regions that retail for US$200 or public hand sanitiser devices which require regular servicing.

The number of rural residents in Asean who could stand to benefit from a low-cost product that changes handwashing behaviour could amount to well over half of the region's 625 million population.

Countries with the greatest need for such a handwashing device, based on the percentage of the population with what is termed "improved sanitation", according to World Bank figures, are: Cambodia, 42 per cent (which means 58 per cent do not have access); Indonesia, 61 per cent; Laos, 71 per cent; the Philippines, 74 per cent; Vietnam, 78 per cent; and Myanmar, 80 per cent.

However, even where there is improved sanitation, there may not be running water, and in many rural areas there is no piped water into the household, so it is inconvenient to wash one's hands with soap.

Handwashing is the most important preventative measure that can be implemented today. Other more costly and time-consuming investments in infrastructure and new pharmaceutical cures are also necessary. Singapore and other centres of innovation should incentivise the development of new drugs. 

Concurrently, Asean should set targets to reduce overall antibiotics usage. Doctors, meanwhile, must be more conservative with prescriptions and also seek to facilitate handwashing behaviour among patients. Everyone will have a role to play in this critical race against drug resistance - and it starts with prevention.

Water projects’ implementation in Tanzania thrills AfDB

AFRICAN Development Bank (AfDB) has expressed satisfaction on Tanzania’s implementation of water and sanitation projects, promising to continue working closely with the government towards the target of availing water and sanitation services to more citizens.

AfDB Director of Water and Sanitation Department Mohamed El Azizi said in Dar es Salaam yesterday that the bank has financed a number of water and sanitation projects in Tanzania and in Africa in general.

Mr El Azizi was speaking at sixth Africa Water Week, which started on July 18 through July 22, under the theme of achieving Sustainable Development Goals on Water Security and Sanitation.

The continent’s development financier has since 2001 approved nine water and sanitation operations in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar at a total cost of about 700 million US dollars (over 1.5trn/-).

The director advised the government and development partners to increase funding for water and sanitation projects to address the problem of access to reliable water and sanitation services facing a number of African countries.

The bank indicated that for Africa to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals there must be political commitment, prioritisation of water and sanitation issues, as well as more budget allocation to the water and sanitation sector.

Mr El Azizi challenged the government and development partners to set sufficient budgets for water interventions.

“At the African Development Bank we are already supporting large scale water and sanitation projects like the Arusha Sustainable Urban Water and Sanitation Project which will cost over 200 million US dollars,” he said.

The AfDB recently agreed to focus on five priority actions and goals which will help to transform the African continent. The five priority goals, which AfDB calls the “High 5s for Africa” are: Light Up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industrialise Africa; Integrate Africa and Improve the Quality of Life for Africans which will directly contribute to the development of the water infrastructure and the water security.

According to the director, water and sanitation will remain one of the key development challenges facing communities and nations of Africa since it will have direct impacts on the economic growth and on the attainment of most other Sustainable Development Goals, the international targets that replaced the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

Africa is one of the developing regions which have not met the drinking water and sanitation targets. More than 50 per cent of Africa’s population currently does not have access to safe and reliable water and sanitation services.

Also an estimated one million Africans die every year from lack of adequate sanitation, hygiene or from water borne diseases.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why the government has to confront a long standing challenge of providing clean and safe water to the majority of Tanzanians

I travelled to over seven regions of this country recently and one of the most imposing successes as you move hundreds of kilometers, is the modern roads connecting scores of regions. It’s admirable. But the story is different with regard to access to clean water.

A pastoralist collects drinking water from a contaminated water source in the northern part of Tanzania
Despite progress made, provision of water supply remains one of the biggest problems especially in the rural areas. Yet, Universal access to clean water and sanitation is one of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As President John Magufuli’s new government moves to embark on reforms in the sector, analysts urge it to make it central since it’s a critical role that water and sanitation plays in human development.

One of the global faces of this subject, Professor Anna Tibaijuka, a Member of Parliament for Muleba South, says that since goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, the government should make it central in the new budget whose implementation started in July.

“This is an important recognition of the critical role that water and sanitation plays in human development, and hence, its function in the elimination of poverty in our countries. The effort reached this far to forge global partnership to address the means of implementation to achieve the SDGs is fundamental in social and economic progress not only for Tanzania but to all countries which are still lagging behind to fully achieve the SDGs,” she notes.

Prof Tibaijuka, who is the former chairperson of Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), says that in the SDGs, the countries are called on to improve not only drinking water and sanitation but comprehensively to deal with other challenges too, such as, water quality, reduce amount of untreated wastewater, reduce water scarcity, implement integrated water resources management and trans-boundary cooperation, and protect water related ecosystems.

Initiatives like the drinking ATM installed in India by the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation where clean drinking water is sold at near give away prices will go a long to increasing access to this invaluable liquid if replicated
Targets 6.1 and 6.2, the two targets related to drinking water and sanitation, set a higher benchmark than the MDGs did not, they emphasize on universal and equitable access.

She adds that the government of Tanzania on its side has participated in the formulation and implementation of these development frameworks. There are a number of interventions in water and sanitation programs that have been envisaged for some time now, with all aimed at improvement of water and sanitation status in the country.

She recognizes the Water Sector Development Program, an effort to comprehensively improve status of people with access to safe, clean and equitable provision of water services in urban and rural; and improving access to improved sanitation.

“This is a flagship project for the Government and the WASH Sector to ensure that more communities are reached with improved water and sanitation services in Tanzania,” she adds.

The Global Sanitation Fund, the world’s only multi-donor financing facility dedicated to sanitation, supports the development of national sanitation and hygiene improvement programmes, which are community-based, government-enabled and commercially operated.

Tanzania is among the beneficiary countries and the program is going hand in hand with and supports the country’s National Sanitation Campaign by facilitating communities improve their sanitation and adopt sustainable hygiene practices.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Community Development Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC) Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya, says that Tanzania as a country and member of UN is signatory in the adoption of this agenda of taking stock and re-strategizing for effective delivery of sanitation and hygiene work, since it aligns very much with countries efforts to attain set targets for meeting the SDGs.

He cited that the key role of improved sanitation and safe water supply in the poverty alleviation and economic development efforts at large.

“Our commitment to achieve equitable access to sanitation and safe water is anchored to our recognition that, access to those public services is a pre-requisite for all Tanzanians to lead a life of human dignity; a cause that extends beyond metrics and results to touch on the daily lives of our people,” he says.

Tanzania as a country and member of UN is signatory in the adoption of this Agenda.

In the SDGs, the countries are called on to improve not only drinking water and sanitation but comprehensively to deal with other challenges too, such as, water quality, reduce amount of untreated wastewater, reduce water scarcity, implement integrated water resources management and trans-boundary cooperation, and protect water related ecosystems.

Tanzania has formulated The Water Sector Development Program with the aim of comprehensively improving the status of people with access to safe, clean and equitable provision of water services in urban and rural; and improving access to improved sanitation. The Program took off on July, 2007.

The National Sanitation Campaign was launched in June 2012 to facilitate the sensitization and provision sanitation and hygiene services in Tanzania. The GSF supported program USAFI WA MAZINGIRA TANZANIA (UMATA) is the key support to provision of lessons for improvement the National Sanitation Campaign. Its implementation has taken the direction that allows government systems to capture results and lessons.

In order to encourage good management and prevent excessive profiteering of only specific group of operators, standard contracts will be developed.

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation in collaboration with the President’s Office, Regional Administration and Local Government will supervise the recruitment of registrars at Local Government Authority by 2016. The later will be responsible for registration of Community Owned Water Supply Organizations (COWSOs).

The Ministry of Health needs to develop a guideline that stipulates focus areas on promoting sanitation and hygiene which all the stakeholders will be engaged. This measure will ensure the common goal on sanitation and hygiene is attainable and that through this approach the country commits itself to increase access to improved sanitation to 53 per cent and reduce ODF from 12 per cent to 6 per cent by 2016.

A mechanism to be established by the Ministries of Water, Health and Education to accelerate the mobilization of resources both human and financial which are required for the implementation of sanitation and hygiene interventions. Inadequate resources have been identified as among the barriers to improved service delivery on sanitation and hygiene services in the country.

The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Water, Local Government Authorities in collaboration with the network of CSOs will work together to strengthen the private sector participation in the delivery of sanitation and hygiene service by building capacities to the same and creating enabling environment to access technical support and open up the business opportunities on the sector.

The private sector involvement in sanitation and hygiene is expected to be of great importance in strengthening the supply chain on sanitation and hygiene services. Tanzania has set targets to achieve 100 per cent ODF by 2019. This is an ambitious goal.