Monday, October 20, 2014

Someone Please Clean India

If you've ever visited India- I haven't- you will know that the country is home to some of the more visually and culturally spectacular places you can witness on this planet. You will also see things that are not quite so spectacular: breathtaking levels of poverty, a caste system that officially is being softened but in practice is only sporadically ignored and remains deeply ingrained, horrific human-rights abuses (particularly towards women), and the most visually obvious, jaw-dropping piles of filth. Garbage strewn about, walls urinated on.

Now let's be clear here. Generating the waste isn't the issue; in fact, waste-generation is very much a problem concentrated in developed nations, cities in particular. India is nowhere near the top in that respect (though they are climbing the rankings). The problem is throwing that trash away so that it can be dealt with. Having ways to deal with it once collected. This is where India fails miserably and they know it. And if they didn't know it, they found out when Bangalore garbage workers went on strike in 2012.

Noah M. Sachs of the Atlantic took a look around in June to provide a fuller assessment of the situation. It's worth a read.

There have been periodic attempts to clean up the place, but obviously, as of yet, none have really worked. Current prime minister Narenda Modi is setting off on another one, the $10 billion Clean India campaign, and at least at first, all castes look to be on board. The higher castes, who have the money, want to be able to look at a prettier country. The lower castes, who don't have the money, have more pragmatic concerns: garbage breeds disease, and if an epidemic of something breaks out, it's going to be the ones who can't afford health care that are going to die first.

When a problem is as major and pandemic as this one is, you tend to see some very oddball fixes pop up, because clearly the so-called 'normal' methods aren't working, and people are willing to try just about anything if it works. Which is why ceramic tiles of religious images have been placed on various city walls around the country. The theory goes, if your god is staring right at you, maybe that will get you to think twice before you pee on the wall he's on.

And out-of-box thinking may be necessary, because a lot of the problem is that the basic infrastructure isn't in place to take care of the garbage, and even if it was, many Indian citizens just plain don't give a hoot about garbage after it gets out of their house, which is typically kept clean. It will go on the street, in front of the neighbors, and they will consider it as no longer their problem. In order to spruce up the country, India must first spruce up people's attitudes. If everyone is on board, like they claim they are, then it can be more about simple infrastructure.

Are they?

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