By Dr. Tania Datta, CH2M HILL Wastewater Process Engineer

Dr. Tania Datta, CH2M HILL Wastewater Process EngineerDr. Tania Datta presents, “Socio-Economic Challenges: The future global water and sanitation challenges,” at the International Water Association 2nd Development Congress and Exhibition on November 21. The paper is co-authored by Katja Neubauer and John Sauer of Water For People.

Roughly one-sixth of the world’s population remains without access to safe drinking water, and slightly less than half lack adequate sanitation. Though these statistics are not new, the goal to reduce these numbers by 2015 per the Millennium Development Goal faces new challenges. Population growth, climate change, and increasing water and food scarcity are among the major socio-economic and political issues worldwide. These issues have a huge impact on global water and sanitation and are further complicated because challenges in this sector differ among regions and countries, significantly influenced by the local social and cultural norms.

A photo of an arsenic water filtration facility in India taken by Dr. Datta on her Water For People volunteer trip.As a rapidly developing country, India faces a number of existing and future challenges. India’s economy is the tenth largest in the world by nominal Gross Domestic Product, yet around 30 percent of India’s population falls below the international line of poverty per World Bank data. Although some parts of the country are making encouraging progress, serious disparities remain. Lack of access to improved water infrastructure and adequate sanitation is still a serious problem in large portions of India.

Hygiene education remains a huge challenge in India, which is reflected through the high rate of child mortality from The incinerator for safe menstrual waste disposal at Dakshin Habra High School.preventable diseases, such as diarrhea. Several schools and residents in low-income regions in rural and urban environments have no access to safe drinking water, toilets, hand wash stations, and proper training in basic and menstrual hygiene. To add to the problem, these regions often have a higher number of children per family.

In a culture such as India, females are responsible for most household chores, which include drawing and storing water and educating children at home. Reaching out to the females who work at home and providing them with effective training and education has the potential to solve many water and sanitation related problems. However, due to the societal setup, female empowerment remains a challenge.

The drinking water station at Dakshin Habra High School that supplies Arsenic free water for the students--a Water For People collaboration.In addition, there is a lack of effective capacity building to ensure sustainable water supply and sanitation services in India. The rapidly depleting groundwater is the primary source of drinking water, and often infrastructure fails because the community is not equipped to function and maintain it. Moreover, water supply and sanitation services offered for free of charge are neglected if broken or damaged, as people do not feel liable to repair them. These existing models of water and sanitation development do not take into account the knowledge of community needs and capabilities, social understanding, or the advantages of implementing innovative, cost-effective technologies.

I will provide an overview of these challenges from a socio-economic perspective and will attempt to address a few of the issues during my International Water Association Development Congress presentation.  The perspectives of Katja Neubaur and John Sauer of Water For People are instrumental for this presentation, as Water For People has developed a unique, successful approach that accounts for these socio-economic challenges for helping achieve a world where all people have access to safe drinking and water and sanitation. You can learn more about this approach, and why CH2M HILL is proud to serve Water For People, here.

Dr. Tania Datta is a wastewater process engineer based in CH2M HILL’s Salt Lake City, Utah, office. Dr. Datta has experience in wastewater process modeling, design and detailed cost estimates and research experience in biological wastewater treatment technologies, identification and characterization of molecular ecology and bioremediation of contaminated soil and sediments. Among her areas of expertise are biological nutrient removal, water sampling techniques, and use of advanced molecular tools to identify and analyze microbial ecology in aquatic systems.