The world can help cut India’s $53bn Clean India bill

23-Mar-2016 # Clean India Source: India Inc

by Brian Arbogast

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is among the leading global agencies to throw their weight behind the Clean India Mission. As India looks to the world for support, one of the foundation’s team members lays out the scope of the challenge.

One of the most pressing issues facing India today is poor sanitation, with one in two people still practicing open defecation. This exposes millions to diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, and other infections transmitted by faeces.

Almost 600,000 children under five die every year due to diarrhoea and pneumonia. Infections transmitted by faeces also result in a child’s reduced ability to absorb important nutrients and life-saving vaccines. This can result in both physical and cognitive stunting.

And, of course, all of this seriously undermines economic performance and prosperity. The World Bank has estimated that poor sanitation costs India more than $53 billion a year – over 6 per cent of its GDP.

By improving how we deal with human waste, we can reduce chronic diarrhoea, improve children’s ability to develop healthy minds and bodies, and help everyone lead more prosperous and productive lives.

Yet despite the great improvements that sanitation can bring, it remains one of the world’s most neglected challenges. This is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission has been a game changer. The initiative has firmly placed sanitation centre stage.

The government has done commendable work towards achieving safe sanitation in 4,041 cities and towns by investing in over 10 million household toilet units, and 500,000 community and public toilets. All of these are a part of the larger plan of constructing millions of toilets across urban and rural India by October 2019.

While these strides forward are hugely important, they’re not sufficient. As the government of India is now making clear, success in Swachh Bharat will also depend on ensuring that all of this waste gets treated, to avoid transmission of disease. We are working with a number of innovative partners whose technological advances give us the potential not only to protect communities from waste-borne pathogens but also to convert this waste into profitable commodities. For example, better waste-processing technologies that allows entrepreneurs to earn money from selling by-products like compost or energy.

But there remains a lot of work to take these sanitation solutions from the lab to the communities that need them the most. Private sector partners will be crucial in transforming these technologies into affordable products and services that can be sold at scale.

By providing capital for entrepreneurs who need to buy equipment and encouraging competition within the market we can create incentives at every step along the sanitation chain. This will make it is possible for the private sector to help transform sanitation from a dirty business into a respectable utility service. In fact, new technologies will do more than improve sanitation; they will make it possible to develop a formal and self-sustaining sanitation marketplace.

From there, we can aspire to a world with profitable sanitation systems that manage human waste hygienically and contribute to privacy, dignity and personal safety for all.

Brian Arbogast is director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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