World Toilet Day: Innovation Is Key To Sanitary Health Of Indians
Globally, 3.5 billion people still live without safe toilets. Access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene are the most basic human needs for health and well-being. Billions of people will lack access to these basic services as early as 2030 unless the progress quadruples. Demand for water is rising owing to rapid population growth, urbanisation, and increasing water needs from the agriculture, industry, and energy sectors.
We need to understand the importance of toilets in our lives.
On a visit abroad for a conference, a professor invited me for lunch at his university. Little did I know that he was a Nobel Laureate. While I was sitting with him, he moved to the toilet, taking a book with him. Upon asking the reason for taking a book, he answered, “A eureka moment doesn’t necessarily come under an apple tree, most of them our out-of-the-box imagination pops up in the toilet.”
Being an urban planner, I am always hungry for thoughts and ideas that are not a part of classroom book education. Later, I also went into the same toilet. It welcomed me with soothing lights, the smell of flowers, and the sound of chirping birds. It was beyond my imagination that a toilet in an academic building gave me the feel of a garden as opposed to my experience of stinking toilets in India, pushing me out.
Then we went around for a walk towards the cafeteria for lunch. On the way, the professor showed me how toilets are helping them produce healthy vegetables that are used in the cafeteria. He then showed me how I used a toilet without getting wet. It was so interesting to see the integration, research, technology and innovation carried out for the sake of society. This was my experience about one-and-a-half decade ago during an unplanned interaction to understand how science and urban planning can work towards the betterment of our cities. In simple words, if we don’t have a better toilet then we will limit ourselves from ideas generating innovations.
About five years back, around World Toilet Day, a survey of toilets in academic institutions was carried out. The outcome of the survey didn’t surprise me at all. Forget carrying a book into the toilet, a majority of the professors said they have planned their academic schedule in a manner that they go back home when they have to use the toilet. They only use it if there is an urgency. There has hardly been any conversation or discussion around this topic and how it impacts productivity at the workplace besides, of course, the health of an individual.
Investments in infrastructure and sanitation facilities; protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems; and hygiene education are among the steps necessary to ensure universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030, and improving water-use efficiency is a vital key to reducing water stress.
But that day will arrive only when our decision-makers shift focus from contractor-driven public toilet planning & management to a planned, scientific approach.
Civil society organisations should work to keep governments accountable, invest in water research and development, and promote the inclusion of women, youth, and indigenous communities in water resources governance.
Generating awareness of these roles and turning them into action will lead to a win-win situation and increased sustainability and integrity for both human and ecological systems.