Reinventing the toilet in India?

Sanitation has long been a critical, but somewhat unfashionable issue in health and rural development, so it is heartening to see the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation putting their substantial resources behind technological change and innovation in this field with their “Reinvent the Toilet” fair. 

A lack of hygienic sanitation and untreated effluent contribute significantly to the pollution of rivers and ecosystems and create an enormous public health issue. Recent measurements of the coliform bacteria levels in the Ganges in India recorded 5,500 mpn/100 ml, well above what is considered safe for farming (5,000 mpn/100 ml), let alone bathing (500 mpn/100 ml) or drinking (50 mpn/100 ml). Every year “food and water tainted with faecal matter cause up to 2.5 billion cases of diarrhea among children under five, resulting in 1.5 million child deaths.” 

The minimum requirements for the competition were that the toilets must operate without running water, electricity or a septic system, must not discharge pollutants and should capture energy or other resources. The winning design from the California Institute of Technology certainly fits that bill, as it is a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity.

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600 million in dark over massive Indian power outages

Having a stable power supply is something that I have always taken for granted in Australia. But not so in India, where dealing with load shedding and power cuts is part of daily life. So much so that most hospitals, large apartment complexes and hotels have alternate power supply and backup generators to deal with the inconvenience.

But last week was somewhat different, as India experienced the world’s largest power cut, far surpassing any regular scheduled cuts. A grid failure of the north, eastern and north eastern grids took out the nation’s capital, New Delhi and affected over 600 million people. If you consider the fact that is almost twice the entire population of the USA, one gets a sense of the sheer scale of the impact. Trains were left stranded on the tracks, metros were closed and traffic chaos ensued. One Wall Street Journal reporter wrote this satirical take on the issue – 1.2 Billion Indians hit by leadership outage, highlighting the lack of national leadership at a time of crisis.

Power in rural Punjab

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Potholes + a fake crashed car + curious citizens = urban India?

The other day I came across this installation in the middle of a busy Bangalore intersection that had people rather intrigued. Passing cars were slowing down in the middle of the road so that their passengers could take photos of the commotion.

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Indian tiger reserves: tourism ban and conservation charges

In recent years, India has seen a dramatic increase in the number of high-end ecotourism facilities around tiger reserves and an accompanying increase in the numbers of tourists. This has caused a degradation of fragile tiger habitat and last year a local NGO filed a public interest petition to the Supreme Court, aimed at curtailing tourist numbers.

Source: National Tiger Conservation Authority

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that there is to be no tourism in the “core” areas of tiger reserves.

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Western Ghats world heritage: label or catalyst for action

The Western Ghats in India tell a fascinating tale of competing interests and agendas. Recently declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO after a persistent 10-year campaign by the Indian Government, the Ghats have been the subject of a number of different agendas, pursued by conservationists, state and central government officials, UN officials, Indian and international scientists, forest-dweller activists and development and mining advocates alike.

No one can dispute that the Western Ghats, a 1600km mountain range stretching along the west coast of India, are a “biodiversity hotspot, containing over 5 000 flowering plants, 139 mammals, 508 birds and 179 amphibian species”.

Map of Western Ghats, IndiaSource: IUCN

This stunning timelapse photography by renowned wildlife photographer Sandesh Kadur gives you a glimpse into that other world. 

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Kids “stop the drop” and save water

Occasionally, you come across a fresh take on a very old issue and the students from Christel House in Bangalore have certainly done just that with their music video “Stop the Drop”.

Screenshot from music video “Stop the Drop”

They rap about saving water and “by using sound effects created by splashing, dripping, pouring, and even flushing water…they have reinvented and emphasized the way human beings interact with one of our most precious resources”.

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