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Vizag made smart strides in urban sanitation, says report

Substantial though uneven progress in urban sanitation was observed in Visakhapatnam news image

VISAKHAPATNAM: Substantial though uneven progress in urban sanitation was observed in Visakhapatnam, along with a city each in Philippines and Ghana in a latest global survey done by an international NGO to assess the efforts of various cities towards sustainable development goal (SDG) target of universal access to sanitation.

Titled ‘A tale of clean cities: Insights for planning urban sanitation from Ghana, India and the Philippines,’ the survey by WaterAid organisation that was released on September 1 found that though uncontrolled urbanisation and proliferation of slums make development of urban sanitation a big challenge, still, a few cities including Visakhapatnam in India, Kumasi in Ghana and San Fernando in Philippines are performing well in sanitation and positively contributing towards the vision of a clean city.

With a population of 2.1 million, Visakhapatnam is the largest city in bifurcated Andhra Pradesh. The city’s economy is the 10th largest in the country. According to the survey, eight per cent of the population of Visakhapatnam lacks access to toilets, which indicates that at least 30,000 households are forced to resort to open defecation. Around 32 per cent of the population is connected to the sewer system while 60 per cent either have on-site facilities (septic tanks and pit latrines) or are connected to open channels. There are about 200 community and public toilets, 75 per cent of them managed by Sulabh International on a pay-per-use basis while the rest are operated by community groups. The city has around 793 slums.

Assessments have shown that compared with other cities in India, the coverage of the sewerage network in Vizag is high. Commercial reuse of treated waste water, for example by some public sector industries, and a golf course is planned to expand through a project for tertiary treatment of waste water for industrial re-use. Further, the city has no separate underground storm water drainage system and relies on a network of open drains.

Until recently, solid waste collection was poor and erratic. But the launch of the national Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission – aiming to eradicate open defecation, build toilets and clean up public places – and Smart City Mission in 2015, marked a turning point in Visakhapatnam. With the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission, sanitation has been considerably raised in the political agenda. There has been a major push on all fronts, with the emergence of a vision and a strategy to address gaps in service delivery and bottlenecks, as well as to increase public awareness and foster behaviour change. Strategies to eliminate open defecation was developed and the city is paying increased attention to faecal sludge management, said the study.

Andres Hueso, senior policy analyst for sanitation at WaterAid, averred, “Fifty-four per cent of the world’s population live in cities, putting major strains on city planners to extend drinking water and sanitation services to all.”

Explaining why and how the change in urban sanitation management came up, the survey states, “The state of water scarcity in Visakhapatnam has driven the sanitation efforts. In the context of a rising industrial demand for water, authorities have strived to develop sewers and treatment infrastructure that enable water re-use. Nevertheless, for many years, progress was relatively slow and in certain high-end patches than city-wide. The increased prioritisation of sanitation in the political agenda and awareness among the public brought about by Swachh Bharat Mission were also important drivers of recent progress. The launch of the Smart Cities Mission in 2015 made further resources and financing opportunities available for development of urban sanitation services and represented a drive towards building a more comprehensive strategy. A reason why the national missions are having such a catalytic effect in Visakhapatnam, compared with other cities, is the territorial reorganisation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 that positioned Visakhapatnam as the economic capital of the state. Since then, the municipal and state authorities have wanted to promote the city as a vibrant metropolis and model on sanitation. Moving up in the clean and smart cities rankings has become a priority and a source of pride for the city.”