EcoPro conference on Ecological Hygiene & Sanitation Aug. 2019 - summary & key messages

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EcoPro conference on Ecological Hygiene & Sanitation Aug. 2019 - summary & key messages

EcoPro Conference
Ecological Hygiene and Sanitation
Aug. 16/17, 2019, in Auroville, India
Summary & Key Messages


The purpose of this interdisciplinary conference – with talks, discussions and two site visits – was to clarify the essential concerns of hygiene and sanitation and to connect research perspectives, academic teaching, policy and action programs, which currently are disconnected and struggle to achieve change in mindset and behaviour.

The prevailing hygiene concepts and standards were questioned and the need for revision was highlighted based on fresh scientific research, e.g. in regard to the human microbiome i.e. the microbiological "flora" on and in a healthy body. From these insights a range of conclusions can be drawn for our dealing with drinking water filters, disinfectants and sanitizers, for basic provisions in public hygiene, for the management of wastewater and for residential plumbing and urban planning, for sanitation technologies, and for the social context of sanitation operations and maintenance. Strategies in sanitation based on fresh scientific insights will simplify technology and will be more sustainable, i.e. not only assure public hygiene but save water and make better use of wastewater and of biomass, nutrients and energy.

The audience of about 45 people, with participants from JIPMER Puducherry, IIT Madras, NGOs and schools, responded lively to the invitation to clarify doubts and make comments. Amongst the suggestions for follow-up were the following: a conference with the same rationale and purpose to be organized on a national level; the curriculum of Public Hygiene to integrate new findings of microbiology and ecology; administrators and staff involved in sanitation programs to be educated for a wider understanding and for site-specific choices in the implementation of these programs. The conference provided some contacts required for such follow-up.

Key messages:

Lack of sanitation i.e. lack of hygienic management of human excreta leads to a) spread of fecal-borne and sewage-borne disease; b) loss of national productivity; c) malnutrition including impaired brain development. Hygienic management of human excreta is a must; its lack cannot be afforded.

One small component of the technology package of sanitation can be a toilet. However, a toilet is as little the totality of sanitation as a broom is the totality of municipal waste management.

The number of toilets constructed does not reflect well any improvement in sanitation. Complete implementation of a sanitation system and its use and maintenance are equally significant.

Toilet construction in nation-wide programs (for the last 35 years) suffered from lack of quality in design, lack of quality in implementation, lack of education towards behaviour change, lack of the stakeholders’ understanding of the overall purpose etc.

Management of human excreta cannot be reduced to getting rid of them, i.e. their disposal. Ecological understanding demands that all biowaste is recycled and used productively.

Human excreta contain nutrient elements i.e. agricultural macro- and micro-nutrients, in quantities comparable to those contained in human food. A single person’s excreta provide the fertilizer required to grow a single person’s food.

Existing standards on hygienic safety – or on a tolerable risk of disability (disease or shortened life) – must be questioned and probably be redefined. Existing standards for drinking water are not convincing, i.e. in contradiction to field observations and excessive.

WHO standards for potability of water refer to thermotolerant coliform bacteria and to Escherischia coli (E. coli). – Thermotolerant coliform bacteria are irrelevant as indicators of fecal contamination. It is suggested to remove them as testing parameter, if not required for other reasons. – E. coli are decent indicators of fecal contamination but bad indicators of fecal pathogens. (Exceptions seem to be two E. coli strains, both very rare, one of them being E. coli 0157:H7.) Hence the discussion should be on the tolerable risk.

Epidemiological data do not support the present standards for drinking water.

Existing mindsets regarding hygiene and marketing of hygiene products are based on the concept of surgical hygiene. Surgical hygiene was developed for surgery and, in this context, is a boon and a must. Surgical hygiene transferred and applied to everyday hygiene is nonsense.

Modern microbiological research, in particular research into the human microbiome, increasingly gathers evidence how important and beneficial the human microbiome is and what wide-reaching effects it has.

Production, consumption and marketing of disinfectants in everyday hygiene products should be discouraged. Their wide-spread use is a burden on the environment and living organisms and a threat to human health.

There is a need for teaching & spreading a concept of ecological hygiene.

Existing standards on treated wastewater are not in sync with ecological understanding: a high value of BOD and of suspended (biological) solids is welcome in soils, while low values of BOD and suspended solids lead to eutrophication of waterbodies and hypoxic conditions and thus to a loss of biodiversity.

Biodiversity and resilience of soil ecosystems are limited by nutrients. Organic matter and nutrients are welcome in soils.

Biodiversity and resilience of water ecosystems are limited by dissolved oxygen; healthy waterbodies are oligotrophic i.e. low in dissolved nutrients; eutrophication must be avoided.

Resilient soil ecosystems rich in microbiota constitute the ideal treatment “system” for biological waste, solid and liquid.

Flush toilet technology is expensive (in capital investment and in operation & maintenance), uses huge amounts of resources and huge volumes of water, and neglects the nutrient contents of sewage. – The alternative to flush toilet tech is called ecosan, e.g. a urine-diversion dry toilet (UDDT).

While human feces requires processing into a hygienically safe product prior to recycling and re-use, human urine can be re-used without reservations and minimal precautions or easily processed. The use of human urine as a fertilizer can be safely promoted; architecture, civil engineering and urban planning must adopt urine re-use.

Worldwide, the resources of fresh water are over-used. Rainwater harvesting and landscaping for recharging of groundwater tables are not practiced widely enough and, where practiced, often not matching with the existing ecosystem.

Crop choices in India do not respect local agro-climatic conditions; growing water-demanding crops in regions of insufficient rainfall and recharge of aquifers is non-sustainable i.e. not only unwise on long terms but already now depleting freshwater resources and causing water stress.

Increasingly, eco-friendly hygiene products are offered on the market. These products are based on plants, plant extracts, microorganisms, or on the enzymes produced by microorganisms or plants. – One example of such inputs is EM which stands for Effective Microorganisms. Developed for horticulture and agriculture, it is used in animal care and aquaculture, in composting and solid waste management, in sewage and effluent treatment, in sanitation hygiene and in bioremediation of polluted water-bodies and soils. One of the most striking and convincing benefits is the elimination of ammonia odour from toilets and urinals.

Resistance against toilets (typically in villages) is not based on ignorance but on understanding and anticipation of fecal sludge or sewage to be managed. Urban population would be as resistant to flush toilets if people were made responsible for the operation and maintenance of sewerage and management of sewage.

Imposing low-cost criteria in rural sanitation schemes, lack of design quality, and shoddiness in construction, all these reflect the purity-pollution gradient of the caste-conditioned Indian society. It is the duty of the upper classes and the educated, of the classes of money (business) and of power (politicians & administrators) to overcome and break the barrier of caste; this cannot be expected from the dalits.

Dr. Lucas Dengel
Aurosarjan Complex, Auroshilpam
Auroville - 605101, India
website EcoPro:
personal e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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