Effluent crisis in densely populated countries – one possible solution – Vetiver System

Each time I open up Google Earth and look at various locations in India I see densely populated rural and urban centers, and know that many of them have no formal waste disposal systems, and are unlikely to have such facilities in the foreseeable future. In the mean time the problem multiplies as the population continues to grow.  The options are: (1) do nothing – not acceptable (2) wait for government to do something – slow and huge funding constraints (3) look for solutions that may not be perfect but will at least move towards some mitigation of the problem, (4) find solutions that depend heavily on community involvement. and supporting voluntary organizations. The problems if not at crisis level now, will be a crisis in the foreseeable future – that means soon – it also means that options 3 and 4 have to be given serious consideration.

I think that the Vetiver System applications could provide a useful and important tool in any mitigation effort, particularly in rural and semi rural areas because the technology is people friendly, very low cost, has widely tested and of course we know it works. Question is why hasn’t it been taken up at a significant scale? There are I am sure many reasons including political, cultural, lack of information and other constraints.  But I am sure one of the major reasons is that we have not really approached mitigation as a community effort, by which I mean all the people –  citizens, leaders and officials in a village/town whether they be farmers, teachers (very important to teach the children), health workers, sanitary workers and others.  If we could get them all involved and interested in the benefits we might get some action and positive results. The Vetiver System can be applied to all the sectors that operate in a village or small town. If you plant Vetiver to stabilize the side of the road, that same hedge will dry up standing and often filthy water, reduce breeding grounds for mosquitoes, provide some privacy around a house, reduce dust movement – – community health improves.  Vetiver hedges on the village rubbish dump will stabilize the dump, will reduce litter from being blown all over the place, reduce smell, reduce toxic leachate entering drains and groundwater – resulting in better health and cleaner effluent. Vetiver hedges around the village tanks (ponds) and floating Vetiver pontoons on the tank water surface will stabilize the sides of the tank and help reduce sedimentation and rubbish inflows, will remove phosphates, nitrates and other toxic chemicals from the tank and will result in cleaner water enhancing the beauty of the village, better bathing conditions, and health.  Follow back to source the open drainage systems within a village and where possible (probably mostly not!!) plant Vetiver along side the drains. Introduce the Vetiver latrine concept (again where possible) to reduce fecal material entering the ground water. These same villagers own land adjacent to the village and can use Vetiver to stabilize their farms, reduce loss of rain water, and remove excess agricultural chemicals, improve crop yields, and some drought proofing. Treat point source small industry waste effluent with Vetiver to remove toxic compounds. Create (if land available) Vetiver wetlands to process surplus drainage water from village.  Apart from all the foregoing benefits the other benefits including handicraft materials and forage are well known and established bi-products.  None of this should get in the way of installing modern sewage systems – constructed vetiver wetlands can provide long term tertiary treatment for such systems.

A community approach using VS applications to mitigate these sorts of problems might just work, and if it does, it should be possible to scale it up country wide.  The feedback that we get from some other countries shows positive results when the communities are involved. One such an example from Lima, Peru – is rather impressive – one man, one shovel, Vetiver, and lots of ideas and commitment, and very little money, got a community involved and gave it hope.

NGOs and others need to take the initiative and find communities that might be interested to solve these sorts of problems and to help them pinpoint the issues, assess and identify the main sources of pollution, create a plan, and then execute it.  We know that each individual VS action will work — all the evidence firmly supports the use of Vetiver — imagine what might be the result if multiple Vetiver applications come together.

Dick Grimshaw, Earth Month – April 2017