Not many are reconciled to the fact that “circular economy”, which is seen in the natural ecosystems, has to be replicated in the human habitations as well
Australia is First World country in the Far East, along with Japan and New Zealand, and its civic amenities conform to those of the developed western countries. There are plenty of toilets, and the usual problems faced by poor people in developing countries in Asia and Africa are not those of the Australians. But there is a hitch, though, and it is of a different kind.
Australia is a continent-country. It is the fifth continent. Large parts in the heart of Australia are desert stretch. The settlements are on the south coast, a bit to the west and then to the south-east. Apart from the Murray-Darling, which is the country’s major river system, there are the artesian wells, and underground water tables with a rocky base. For a long time, the country did not have to worry about toilets and the sanitation system that went with it. But with population growth and climate change, Australian policy-makers are forced to think of managing water supplies. They had two options. The first is to build desalination plants, where the sea-water is made potable. It is a costly affair. Then there is water-recycling. That is, the sewage water is treated and the water is used for drinking purposes. Perth, Australia’s western city, is already into using recycled water. And experts say that this could become the norm for the country. But the people are finding it hard to accept the fact.
The argument that is being put forward by the administration is that when urban habitations in Europe and other places use river water, like London uses water from the Thames, the water that reaches homes is treated because the river water is not potable and it needs to be treated. But Australians seem to be balking at the idea that they would be drinking water which has been recycled from sewage.
A more direct problem with regard to sanitation in Australia is the status of indigenous communities – the Aborigines – in Australia. A decade ago, Australian government had to earmark funds for sanitation infrastructure in the remote areas where the indogenous communities lives, and which did not enjoy the same facilities that the rest of the white population enjoyed in the southern, coastal belt of the country. A decade ago septic tanks and used pit toilets were what the communities had. Then the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) Strategy on Water and Wastewater Services had provided funding for “centralized water treatment infrastructure”. Out of this, the Queensland government used AUD8 million to improve indigenous councils’ capacity for secure and safe drinking water and wastewater services, while the New South Wales (NSW) government worked with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to set up the Aboriginal Communities Water and Sewerage Program for the maintenance, operation and repair of water supply and sewerage systems. About AUD 200 million over a 25-year period is allocated to 61 indigenous communities.
It has also been seen that the remote communities suffer from hygiene-related diseases at rates higher than the rest of the Australian population. One of the reasons is overcrowding. It was found that in 2014-15, 38 per cent of the indigenous communities in remote eras were living in crowded spaces compared to 13 per cent in the rest of the population. Twenty-eight per cent of them were living in a space where one or more of the facilities like washing clothes and bedding, safely removing waste, and/or for enabling the safe storage and cooking of food was not available or did not work quite as expected.
Though construction of houses was done to solve the problem of overcrowding, it has been noticed that not much was done to “promote health-related hygiene and behavior change”. It was also noticed by researchers that in these indigenous communities living in remote areas use of soap and washing of hands, and absence of menstrual hygiene among women due to lack of privacy and cultural taboos as well as inadequate access to water is leading to health problems. There was also the persistence of “endemic Trachoma” an water-borne eye disease among these marginal communities.
According to the publication, “The Conversation”, in 2016 noted “As a developed nation, it might be assumed that Australia will easily meet these new goals at home – including goal number 6, to ensure “availability and sutainable management of water and sanitation for all”. But the unpalatable truth is that many Australians still lack access to clean water and effective sanitation.” It also refers to a Western Australia government report which said that drinking water in some remore areas was contaminated with “uranium, faecal bacteria and nitrates above recommended levels”.
Australia did not have a full-fledged sanitation infrastructure in its big cities in the south. The infrastructure grew over the early part of the 20th century. Like many other Western European and American citirs, Australian cities too had to experience the discomfort and ignominy of being dirty. Describing the Melbourne Sewerage System, the Institution of Engineers Australia says on its website, “Melbourne’s sewerage system was developed in a single mammoth effort in the 1890s. However, before it was built there had been 60 years of complaint, make do, inadequate alternative proposals, and ad hoc attempts at disposing of human and other waste. Until, 1897, the city did not have the facility for disposing off its waste, apart from the services of the night cart, and despite Melbourne’s well developed infrastructure, civic and commercial buildings and robust economy, it was known as “Marvellous Smellbourne”, to a great extent because of the raw sewage which lay in drains and cesspits due to inadequate collection and treatment facilities.” Then the sewerage system was put in place with 2400 miles of underground sewers, steam-powered pumping station, a 16-mile gravitational Main Outfall Sewerand a Sewage Farm. After the Second World War, the system was extended to the suburbs which came up. The challenge that Australia faces then is that of social and poltical bias where the predominant white population neglects the needs of the marginalized indigenous communities. Australian government, the political leaders and policy-makers have now turned their attention to the the distressing state of affairs in the vast and remote interiors of the land mass. There seems to be the recognition that no civilized society can allow a section of its population to live in a deprived state, and that it does not reflect well on the country as a whole. It is also a fact that mere changes in policies and setting up the sanitation infrastructure would not be sufficient. There has to be participation on the part of indigenous communities through behavior change. It would require that the white population would have to display an inclusive attitude towards the indigenous communities if the water, sanitation and hygiene.
© 2016 Sulabh Swachh Bharat. All Right Reserved