ANU researchers confront India’s waste management

Photo provided by ANU.

IN a book titled “Waste of a Nation”, written by ANU researchers, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks of a 2019 “clean India” goal to help his country grow into an economic superpower.

The book, written by Associate Prof Assa Doron and Emeritus Professor Robin Jeffrey, takes a look at the major problem of waste and sewage management in India in unprecedented depth.

Prime Minister Modi, who launched the Clean India Mission in 2014, says India’s poor history of managing rubbish is holding the country back.

“If we want to improve the standard of living of the poor, one of the basic things to focus on is improving the sanitation and hygiene practices across the country,” he says.

“Poor garbage management also has an adverse effect on tourism, and indirectly impacts the overall health of a city, and impacts India’s image on the world stage.”

Associate Prof Assa Doron and Emeritus Professor Robin Jeffrey agree with the Prime Minister’s observations and in the book highlight three key drivers behind India’s struggle: population density, increasing volumes of waste and the country’s caste system.

The research finds poor infrastructure is one of the main causes of India’s inability to manage the estimated 52 million metric tons of waste it produces each year.

“1.2 billion people churn through a lot of waste,” Dr Doron says.

“Infrastructure is failing to deal with this because of under resourced local authorities. Half a billion people don’t have toilets and many are forced to defecate outdoors.”

The authors also found that cultural stigma persists for those people who deal with waste and is holding back the country’s ability to overcome the problems of a booming consumer economy.

“The people who are left to deal with the country’s sewage, toxic chemicals, consumer goods and rotting garbage are those at the bottom of the social pyramid: those formerly known as ‘untouchable’ castes and other disadvantaged communities,” Dr Doron says.

“Such people don’t have the proper technology, skills or education to enable them do the job properly. Cultural change is therefore key to ensure that respect and just rewards are given to all those who deal with waste.”

Dr Doron says he hopes “Waste of a Nation” will provide the analysis required for Indian policy makers to change how they are confronting waste management.

Dr Doron and Professor Jeffrey have been invited by the Indian Ambassador to the US to deliver a public Lecture on their book and findings at the embassy in Washington DC later this month.

“Waste of a Nation” was published this month by Harvard University Press and is available online at hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674980600

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