A serious issue has surfaced regarding the sanitation systems in the Himalayan region, according to a recent analysis by the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
The report calls on both the central government and the governments of Himalayan states to prioritise sanitation alongside addressing rampant illegal construction and the surge in tourist inflow.
The CSE's study specifically scrutinised popular tourist destinations in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Sikkim, revealing a stark reality: a significant number of Himalayan towns lack proper sewerage systems.
Notably, merely 31.7% of households in Uttarakhand are linked to a functional sewerage system, forcing the remaining households to rely on on-site sanitation arrangements.
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A striking revelation from the study is the prevalence of faulty toilets in most households across these towns.
This issue has led to the seepage of black water into the ground, consequently contaminating the region's primary water sources, including springs.
A similar concern arises from the management of grey water, the wastewater generated from bathrooms and kitchens.
The report highlights that numerous households and small hotels resort to using soak pits to manage grey water.
Regrettably, in some instances, this grey water is discharged into unlined open drains, seeping into the ground and compounding the ecological challenges.
As per the guidelines set by the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin, each hill town receives an average of 150 litres of water per capita. Alarming statistics indicate that approximately 65–70% of this water supply transforms into wastewater.
Consequently, millions of litres of grey water are introduced into the ground, sparking concerns about further weakening the topsoil.
"In most towns analysed by CSE, the soil is clayey, loamy, or metamorphosed schists, phyllites, and gneiss. All these are either loose soil or weak rocks," reported Down To Earth quoting Sushmita Sengupta, a representative of CSE.
"As the huge amounts of water and wastewater seep through the ground, it would make the clayey and loamy soil softer and prone to landslides," the report added.
A concurrent parliamentary report emphasises the urgency of the situation.
Released on August 10, 2023, the report from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change underscores the mounting stress on the Himalayan region due to tourism and unlawful construction activities.
The committee emphasised the escalating tourist activities in the region, leading to excessive strain on natural resources.
This surge has, in turn, triggered the overexploitation of these resources and unauthorised construction, spanning from home stays to resorts.
To address these issues, the committee urged the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change to devise a practical action plan to curb ecologically detrimental activities, Down To Earth reported citing a news report by the news agency Press Trust of India.