Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sanitation Mania

October 15th 2008 was celebrated recently as World Hand Washing Day. This is the latest manifestation of the mania that has gripped the United Nations and various NGOs regarding sanitation. Disease is caused by unhygienic surroundings and habits and so stress is being laid on sanitation to prevent disease which leads to loss of productivity and in extreme cases to loss of life. However, the solutions suggested are highly superficial and in some cases downright dangerous. The standard prescription to prevent open defecation is to build pit latrines where a concrete slab with a water seal toilet is constructed over an unlined pit. Thus the bacteria from stools and urine along with the water leach directly into the subsoil without any treatment leading to contamination of groundwater. So even if the problem of open defecation is overcome it leads to the contamination of the water in wells near to the latrine. The problem becomes more acute in the congested slums in Indore city. The lack of adequate water supply means that the toilets are not flushed properly and so they begin to stink. Moreover the construction of so many pit latrines in close proximity means a severe contamination of the groundwater below which is drawn up through handpumps by the people in the slums for drinking.
Not surprisingly most of these latrines are now unused and the people are still defecating in the open and the roadside is strewn with stools as shown in the picture below in the approach to a slum in Indore.

This slum is one of many that has seen the implementation of a sanitation project funded jointly by the UN HABITAT and WATERAID. The latrines are of no use now but the board announcing the project at the entry to the slum is being effectively used by one household which has converted it into a bathroom.

These low cost solutions are downright dangerous and also ineffective. What should instead be done is to construct community latrines with proper lined septic tanks and soakpits and the recycling of the solid waste in the form of manure or cooking gas. This requires a considerable amount of prior awareness building work with the community to get them to participate in a such a community effort. However, since genuine community mobilisation is a difficult task and it can also create problems for the extraction of surplus by evolving into political movements funding agencies and the NGOs who partner them normally seek only superficial solutions.

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