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Recycling Wastewater Could Help Tackle Water Crisis In Urban India

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Urban water systems in large and small cities of India are facing water crises in summers, while monsoons see regular waterlogging. There is a large gap between the water supplied by the city government and the urban water demand in all cities. Sustainable cities of the future will need treated wastewater reuse to be brought into the water allocation framework of the urban water management cycle. This will help in reducing surface water, and groundwater pollution as the treated wastewater from Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) often mix with the raw sewage being disposed of in sewers downstream of STPs, eventually affecting the water quality of surface and groundwater.

Reusing non-potable wastewater could help in tacking the impending water crisis in India.

The National Water Policy Draft (2012) has mentioned water reuse in urban areas as a measure of demand management; implementation, however, remains a challenge in India. While untreated and partially treated wastewater is being used in the agriculture sector, the health hazards of such use need to be critically assessed. Cities in India still lack 100% sewerage coverage, and consequently, not all sewage reaches treatment plants, thus, while we add more kilometres to the city sewerage network, decentralised treatment technologies are urgently needed to reuse the treated water within the micro catchment of cities.

Reliable reuse of water in cities will address the water scarcity issues, especially in times of drought in semiarid regions of the country; cities like Delhi, Jaipur are a few which will certainly benefit (Melbourne, Australia has benefited through the adoption of water reuse policy). Currently, water scarcity in India is not due to less availability of adequate quantity, but wherever adequate quantity is available, the water quality is poor. Water quality has not been addressed very well in India till date for determining water scarcity. As our grey water footprint increases, the challenge that water quality is posing will only increase.

As the generation of wastewater increases due to the rising population in Indian cities, the grey water footprint will increase, and our precious river basins will get more polluted. Reuse will not only restore urban ecosystems, but it will also reduce pollution in rivers. Currently, at best 50% of the wastewater generated is treated, only about 18,883 MLD (Million Litres Per Day) of wastewater is treated (Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), 2013), with highest treatment being carried out in Mumbai and Delhi (close to two-thirds of wastewater generated is treated). In the case of Delhi, river Yamuna reports 23 mg/l of BOD to 11mg/l (CPCB, 2015) while compliance is at 3mg/l.

National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP), 2008, recommends a minimum 20% reuse of wastewater in every city.

Since the wastewater generated by the city will only increase, it is an uphill task to reduce the effluent, to restore the health of the river, the wastewater reaching the river will have to be reduced. This can be achieved with reuse of treated wastewater near the source; the reuse potential for Delhi is high, like in many other cities. The water demand of Delhi is met with water supplied from the river Yamuna (various canals), river Ganges (through Tehri dam located 320 Km away), as Delhi is rainfall deficit.

The key to having a sustainable water supply in Delhi is to utilise the treated wastewater and rainwater harvesting. With severe depletion in groundwater resources in Delhi and many other cities, restoration of groundwater levels through recharge using rainwater and treated wastewater must be thought of (providing compulsory monitoring facility will be crucial). Besides, there needs to be a water reuse allocation framework and policy thrust and implementation drive.

The current key policy initiatives which support wastewater reuse in urban areas are the Water Act
of 1974, which mandates that urban local bodies must treat wastewater to the required level before discharge, National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP), 2008, which recommends a minimum 20% reuse of wastewater in every city. Though reuse is recommended in many policies and programme of the Indian government, there is a gap when it comes to giving clear guidelines and framework to support such an implementation. Extensive use of groundwater for non-potable purposes further
adds to the problem; Delhi is in the overexploited groundwater zone of India.

Some initiatives, like the use of treated wastewater from STP at airports and shopping malls within the toilet facilities of these large buildings across cities, are trying to address the issue. More such initiatives need to be taken by large schools, colleges, railway stations, hotels to bring in large scale water reuse. The water reuse in urban green spaces and city forest area will help in restoring greens and recharge of groundwater. These initiatives need active consideration; the involvement of various stakeholders in cities, amongst them the citizens, are most important to make such initiatives a success.

Currently, India has more than 35 cities with a million-plus population where a detailed water demand assessment is needed, based on which reliable urban wastewater reuse framework and guidelines for reuse at the city level can be implemented. This will turn out to be an essential tool for drought risk management in cities with rainfall deficit, delayed onset of monsoons, and large variability in annual rainfall. We hope that the recently constituted Jal Shakti Ministry will take such initiatives and involve urban local bodies and leading educational institutions to develop implementable decentralised reuse plans.

Beijing and Melbourne have in recent times contributed significantly in leading the way in reuse of non-potable wastewater.

This post is also a part of YKA's first user-run series, Water Wars, by Zeba Ahsan. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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