Sludge disposal a delicate task

Framework for its management in six months, says expert

March 17, 2017 08:23 am | Updated 08:23 am IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

Members of USAID and WSUP Advisory with officials of GVMC and representatives of Vacuum Truck Operators in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday.

Members of USAID and WSUP Advisory with officials of GVMC and representatives of Vacuum Truck Operators in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday.

Disposal of faecal sludge has become onerous task in the absence of licensed operators and standard operating procedure in the city. With 84 % faecal sludge untreated and 54 % of households dependent on on-site management with septic tanks and pits besides only 40 % of the city covered under underground drainage (UGD), the magnitude of the problem is quite high. Roughly 50 % of the households in the city require the services of vacuum truck operators to empty septic tanks but the disposal is unsafe with the trucks discharging the untreated sludge in nalas, sea or open environment, a study, by WSUP Advisory, says.

In such a scenario, the objective of total sanitation under Swachh Bharat Mission can be achieved only with the implementation of Faecal Sludge and Septage Management Policy.

For effective implementation of the policy, an integrated sanitation plan regulating services of vacuum tank operators that work in the unorganised sector and make them affordable and accessible is necessary.

To work towards the objective, Water and Sanitation for Urban Poor Advisory, funded by USAID, organised a rolling out meet on “National FSSM policy in Visakhapatnam: Reinforcing GVMC-VTO partnership” on Wednesday. The capacity building exercise was for ‘SBM-Urban technical support to USAID-GoI knowledge partnership’.

Visakhapatnam is the only city in the country where WSUP Advisory is working to help in capacity building and enable achieve the goals of SBM. A presentation the faecal management situation in general and details of WSUP study in Visakhapatnam was made. With around 12000 individual household toilets added under SBM more VTO services are required. But the findings showed that from three to the number of VTOs increased to 58 with 42 forming an association. But the trips fell from a minimum of 5 to 40 a month from a high of 120 to 300 a month in the past. One of the reasons could be the rise in price for emptying the trucks and more area coming under UGD.

Paul Seong and Tom Schumacher of USAID, Amanda West of Mercy Corps, Robert Martin of WSUP Advisory and WSUP Advisory Country Director Akhilesh Gautam and Chief Medical Officer (Health) of GVMC Hemanth were present.

The USAID and WSUP Advisory members raised questions over the availability of tanks, safety of workers, accidents, safe disposal of sludge and enforcement.

No regulation

Dr. Hemanth replied that till now there was no regulation of the operators. Neither was there an SOP nor precautions taken during the process of emptying of tanks. However, a framework would be in place in six months, he said. Mr. Gautam said a fulcrum that balances the incremental increase in cost with a price band, demand or schedule-based emptying of tanks, roughly every two years, and disposal sites earmarked within the city would be worked out in the next six months.

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