Water, sanitation and the schoolyard

Story by Samara McRae

Many places in India face a water crisis of some sort, and this is certainly true of the country’s government schools which often struggle with poor sanitation and water shortages.  Improving the situation requires fresh thinking and new ideas.

In this article we take a look at three different approaches.

Better, cleaner treatment

While the government has made it mandatory for all government schools to install sewage treatment plants (STPs), they can be costly and difficult to maintain. 

Sewage treatment involves the process of removing contaminants from wastewater.

Eco-Paradigm, an engineering company which implements sustainable and eco-friendly treatment projects said mostSTP systems are expensive to build and operate, and require constant power, experienced operators, and extensive maintenance.

But Eco-Paradigm, Manager, Ayeesha Khanam said her company has built a different type of STP, a type of purpose- built decentralised wastewater treatment system (DTS) which is more sustainably efficient than other STPs.

“There are no motors, no pumps, no extra energy required for running the plant and unlike other STPs, they don’t require daily maintenance,” she said.

“This technology can re-use water for flushing, gardening and cleaning.”

Decentralised water systems can provide a sustainable source of high quality non-potable water for regions in need of water resources, and have a much lower environmental impact as they do not discharge waste into waterways. 

Which makes them well suited to schools.

Eco-Paradigm have installed their DWS treatment plants in a number of schools throughout Bangalore and Chennai, and while these schools are government funded, it was funding from the Pollution Control Board that paid for the plants.

“There should be funding from the government to install them in all schools around the country,” Khanam said.

Students making changes

Throughout Bangalore many schools, students and organisations are becoming agents of change when it comes to addressing water issues.

Prakriya Green Wisdom School is one school taking water seriously. 

With green trees all around the school and towering over every building, students enjoy gardening, going for scheduled nature walks and a number of other activities on a daily basis that foster a sense of being earth citizens.  

With six hundred students, their impact isn’t huge, but with matters like rain harvesting, water conservation and sustainability integrated into their curriculum, these young ones are well positioned to be leaders of water and climate discussions into the future.

Prakriya believes their students will be the ones who face the brunt of climate change and its consequences if they don’t act now.

With the district often ravaged by water shortages and distribution issues, the school is concerned these pressures of urbanisation may affect their holistic and ecological way.

Facilitator at Prakriya Green Wisdom School, Geetha Nadarajan says the school ran out of water once and had to get its supply from water tankers.

“The children are (now) doing a lot of conservation,” she said. 

“Most water resources are depleting, and the groundwater is depleting, so better we conserve the water we are using now, rather than wasting it.”

The school currently maintains four borewells on campus and a collection tank, with a basic filter, holding 5000 litres of water.

But while Prakriya is taking a proactive approach to water conservation, Ayeesha Khanam explains most schools – including Prakriya itself, have not thought to treat wastewater or reuse it. 

“(DTS’s) are a way to treat the water and reuse it and save it.”

But that’s not the worst of it.

When faced with power outages, schools with conventional STP’s, like Prakriya have installed, could face an even bigger problem.

“You can’t use (an STP) plant when the power is cut off,” Khanam said, adding that a DTS system can continue to filter water without an electrical supply. 

If an STP water filter has switched off, children are left drinking poor-quality water which can affect children’s health, wellbeing and education.

Clean water essentials

One of the projects undertaken by the Bangalore Rotary Clubs is installing filters, wash stations and toilet blocks in government funded schools.

President of the Bangalore Club (2018), Dr Venkat, said 10 wash stations (have been) installed in government schoolsso far.

“(We) need funding for 20 more wash stations and toilet blocks,” Dr Venkat said.

The club is also in the middle of finalising a project at a school in Gurghantapalya, Bangalore to improve bathroom infrastructure.

Dr Venkat says the drop-out rate for children in Bangalore is about 5 percent at the elementary level and increases to about 18 percent for high school students – with at least some of the latter figure attributed to poor school sanitation. 

This is linked to girls having difficulties with the poor quality of sanitation facilities when they are menstruating. 

The hope is the Gurghantapalya project, like the others will see schoolchildren able to attend classes without having to worry about the hygiene and sanitation issues they face.

Samara McRae is a Gold Coast based journalism and communications student focusing on international news.  She has worked at Radio Metro since 2018 broadcasting on stations though network of stations including 105.7 Radio Metro and 4EB. Ms McRae interned with Channel 7 news at the Gold Coast and with the Brisbane and Gold Coast based Fotomedia creative agency. (See: LinkedIn).

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