Solar power to supply toilets in Bengal with flushing water
October 22, 2013
About a year back, Dr. SP Gon Chaudhuri, former managing director of West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation and a former national level monitor panelist in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, had gone to the remote village of Baikunthapur in Kultali block of South 24 Parganas to set up solar lighting infrastructure at a hospital there. While there, he saw something which struck him as odd. Patients in the hospital were tugging buckets of water from a nearby pond for the purpose of using in toilets.
Seeing this lack of running water in a hospital set him thinking. With an erratic supply of electricity in this far-flung village, it was difficult to run a pump at regular intervals to store water for the toilets, yet a hospital is supposed to have a high standard of sanitation. So the expert in renewable energy set out to do what came best to him: solve the problem using sustainable energy.
The result of his research is going to be inaugurated today, on October 22: a novel 24-hour solar-powered water supply system for the toilets at the hospital. Not only is the system going to solve the lack of running water in toilets, the used water is going to be purified through the process of reverse osmosis to be used as drinking water. This has already drawn international attention. Experts at United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in India feel this is a viable technology to meet the common problem of running water supply in rural toilets. Third-world countries like Mexico, Peru and Colombia, which face problems similar to India’s, are also interested in adopting this technology.
The technology behind the solution
Dr. Gon Chaudhuri’s research, costing Rs 5 crore, was accomplished with financial assistance from the German Consulate in Kolkata. Using solar cells (placed on the top of the toilets in this case), water is drawn up to storage tanks on the roof of the hospital. Water from the tanks is directly fed through pumps to the toilets. The solar power not only draws up water, but also lights up bulbs and tubes. Innovative use of technology has been achieved by the creation of an electricity-powered ‘Intelligent Controller’, a box the size of a set-top box used with TVs. A sensor in the box alerts the Intelligent Controller to actions like when to draw water through the pumps, when to supply drinking water or when to put on the lights.
Since solar power is going to be used, the whole system has been made in such a way as to counter days of heavy rain, when little sun would be visible. According to Dr. Gon Chaudhuri, on days of constant sunlight, 5,000 litres of water can be filled up in a tank by running the pumps for just two hours (thus, minimal use of electricity is also achieved). And that is enough for five days. Hence, unless there is extremely bad weather, with no sunlight visible for days on end, which is a rarity, there would be no problems with the supply of water.
Consider these statistics.
• According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 59% of the world population who defaecate in the open is present in India • According to India’s Planning Commission, 73% houses in rural India do not have toilets • According to the union ministry of rural development, 75% of toilets in rural India have remained unoperational due to shortage of water or lack of awareness about sanitation
It is therefore quite understandable that constructing proper toilets, which means having running water, for rural households is a pressing need in India.
Social revolution through sanitation
This technology has the potential to change the social scenario in the country. For creation of proper toilets can speed social development in a number of ways:
• By aiding progress toward gender equality: Poor women and girls are hit hardest by the absence of toilets. They care for the sick and are in greatest physical contact with human waste.
• By promoting social inclusion: Around 800,000 people in India still live by personally removing faeces from other people’s latrines, taking it away in baskets on their heads, a livelihood that bars their inclusion in mainstream society.
• By increasing school attendance: Most schools in the developing world are built without sanitation and hand-washing facilities. Where no toilet block is set aside for girls, parents often won’t allow their daughters to attend school.
• By building community pride and social cohesion: When families and influential local figures focus on ending open defecation, the condition of the whole community can be transformed. Pride in keeping paths and streets unsoiled can help build and maintain community morale.
• By contributing to poverty eradication: Poor sanitation is often a symptom of poverty. It also causes poverty by making people ill, reducing their productivity and incomes, and by forcing them to use their time unproductively, either waiting to use public toilets or, in the case of open defecation, searching for seclusion.
I have worked for an NGO in the Sundarbans, and have seen first-hand the problems faced there. Remote areas in other parts of the state face similar problems. Maximum utilisation of solar power would go a long way in solving problems.
Rural places should be provided with proper supply of drinking as well as regular water.
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