Thursday, November 5, 2015

Railways and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

There has been considerable concern in India about the fact that train toilets spread solid waste and urine on railway lines all over India, creating a health hazard. News reports indicate that in 2015, we are just beginning the effort to reduce this menace, installing new types of toilets on selected trains. At this rate, it would take many years to reduce public health risks caused by rainwater carrying contaminating material to village wells and ponds, spreading a variety of diseases. No estimates seem to have been made of the number of deaths caused per year due to this. Medical colleges should carry out fieldwork and research about water-borne diseases spread by this contamination of drinking water.

Sushmi Dey writing in the Times of India, Nov 13, 2014
( India loses most kids to diarrhoea, pneumonia: Study )
reports that “India tops the global list with 318 deaths per 1,000 children under five years of age due to pneumonia and diarrhoea“.

Diarrhoea is the third most common cause of death in under-five children, responsible for 13% deaths in this age group, killing an estimated 300,000 children in India each year, according to
Causes of neonatal and child mortality in India: nationally representative mortality survey

Undoubtedly, there has been a reduction in under-five deaths during the last decade, but reports indicate that India will miss the millennial goal in this regard. Visit Business Standard, March 7, 2015:
Millenium Development Goals: India's progress so far

It is surely worth examining the causes of diarrhea deaths among Indian children. It would be very surprising if poor quality of drinking water is not a significant factor involved.
Science colleges, particularly those in rural areas, should acquire capabilities to test the quality of drinking water used in their neighbourhoods. It would be tragic if a degree in chemistry and biology does not equip a student to test if water is fit enough to drink! We must train students to carry out these tests, and then encourage and support them in doing relevant fieldwork to utilize their training for the benefit of people in the area. An interesting paper shows the results of testing drinking water in colleges in Kolhapur:
We should compliment the researchers at an engineering college who carried out this research. 

The big risks are in bacterial and viral contamination of water sources. Chemical testing alone will not be sufficient. The following website provides some relevant information for those interested in testing water from this point of view. web-search shows a number of vendors who sell water-quality-testing kits.
Railways have their own responsibility in this regard. They cannot magically transform all train toilets to safe toilets. However, they can consider interim measures to ameliorate the problem. They could use small bogies attached to trains to carry a few hundred litres of a solution to spray the space between rails whenever the train is traveling above a set speed. This will avoid spraying too close to railway stations. Experts would have to select cost-effective solutions for the purpose. There are many options to select from, to kill germs and parasites in solid waste before rainwater carries them into village water sources.

A significant initiative by railways in this direction would be a major contribution to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.


1 comment:

Srinivasan Ramani said...

The World Bank has approved a loan to support the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. See the press release.
The loan, from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), has a maturity of 18 years including a grace period of 5 years.