People rarely talk about sanitation, unless when human waste is treated in the context of a joke or vulgarity. It is not an attractive or photogenic topic, and it is not glamorous to be featured in the media, yet it is as important as our daily drinks and meals.
Using a toilet is considered a human right, as is the right to sanitation (UN2014). While many people have flushing toilets inside their houses, many also have sewage holes in their lawn. These sewage pits are often poorly covered with sheets of plywood, a cracked cement or broken metal as the only safeguard.
Now, just imagine falling into a sewage hole. One would turn up the nose at the situation. People would talk about how tragic and sad it is that children have died after falling into a sewage hole, or how irresponsible the parents are or make excuses, but they would not address sanitation as a public service. It is easier to say ‘monitor the children’ or ‘ensure that sanitation channels are covered at home’. One can hardly keep the eyes on kids at all times, and it may be that the sewage holes are covered — precariously.
The recent news of a child’s death after falling into a sewage pit is disheartening. Several other children had suffered a similar fate: An undignified way to die. The truth is that sanitation services are limited and people, particularly in villages, have been using sewage holes in their yards to dispose of human waste — then, hire septic tank truck companies to clean their wastage — or call it by another name. These deaths highlight the lack of shared responsibility.
There were also those who died while performing their duties as septic tank workers. People employed in the manual or automated cleaning or emptying septic tanks and trucks can be affected by the toxins emitted by human waste. Septic tanks can be one of the most dangerous hazards. Sewer gases are poisoning and can be fatal.
It seems there is a blind spot in urban development. The recent deaths of children falling into sewage holes are ugly truths of unsanitary domestic sanitation and inadequate public sanitation services — looking towards the glitter while cold-shouldering one of the humanity’s basic dignities. Then, it is questionable when raw sewage seeps into yards, water table or streets.
Showing little concern over a damaged or unsecured sewage cover — or even a lapse in septic system maintenance is reprehensible. People, not just parents, need to take action so no other precious child’s life is lost in such a senseless way. The death of a child due to a septic tank related injury or incident has an effect on the family, neighbourhood and community; it is also humiliating.
Accidental falls into septic tanks are more common than most people realise. It is not only a tragedy that happens in developing or underdeveloped countries. It can happen in any country, in public parks, or on one’s own lawn, it can happen in busy streets in densely populated areas. It is a must that periodical inspections are carried out. It is not an exciting job but necessary.
Sewage network lines are a huge project that can take years to develop and may not cover the entire length of a country: However, awareness campaigns on septic tank maintenance, hygiene education and investment on training people can be done.
We should be talking more about toilets and sewage pits because they are the mirror of society as a whole — what is important and what is not! And, let’s face it, the undeserved death of a child or an adult who falls into a septic hole is the result of someone else negligence. It is a serious public health issue.
The writer is a journalist, academic, researcher of media studies