Public Health Engineering: Relevance
- GS 2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Wastewater: A public health challenge
- According to UN, globally, around 80% of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, posing a significant environmental and health threat
- In the absence of cost-effective, sustainable, disruptive water management solutions, about 70% of sewage is discharged untreated into India’s water bodies.
- A World Bank report revealed that 21% of diseases are caused by contaminated water in India.
- Moreover, Startup India also reported that one in five children die before their fifth birthday because of poor sanitation and hygiene conditions.
Public Health Engineers
- To address the various issues associated with water, it is essential to find and implement innovative ways of treating wastewater.
- Example: specialised cadre of public health engineers, also known as sanitation engineers or environmental engineers, are best suited to provide the growing urban and rural water supply and to manage solid waste and wastewater.
- Both as professions and as practice, engineering and public health have been traditionally understood as different fields.
How public health engineering can help?
- These fields can offer a wide range of opportunities for
- development of advanced wastewater treatment systems,
- understanding complex quality and monitoring processes,
- designing and managing septic tank systems,
- supplying good quality water in adequate quantities,
- maintaining hygiene and access to water, and
- ensuring that water supply is sustainable, including the study of relevant industry standards and codes of practices.
- The goal of reaching every rural household with functional tap water can be achieved in a sustainable and resilient manner only if the cadre of public health engineers is expanded and strengthened.
Public health engineering
- From promoting a robust understanding of processes, trends, and the latest technology in water and wastewater quality monitoring, treatment, and management, public health engineering can help decision/policy makers explore the available options.
- Given the population growth, diminishing resources and risky exploitation of natural resources, various State governments and not-for-profit organisations are looking to hire environmental engineers through whom public health problems can be addressed.
Public health engineering as a separate discipline
- In India, public health engineering is executed by the Public Works Department or by health officials. While, to manage a wastewater treatment plant in Europe, for example, a candidate must specialise in wastewater engineering.
- Introducing public health engineering as a two-year structured master’s degree programme or through diploma programmes for professionals working in this field must be considered to meet the need of increased human resource in this field.
- Public health engineering should be developed as an interdisciplinary field. Engineers can significantly contribute to public health in defining what is possible, identifying limitations, and shaping workable solutions with a problem-solving approach.
- Public health professionals can contribute to engineering through well-researched understanding of health issues, measured risks and how course correction can be initiated.
- Once both meet, a public health engineer can identify a health risk, work on developing concrete solutions such as new health and safety practices or specialised equipment, in order to correct the safety concern.
- Public health engineering’s combination of engineering and public health skills can also enable contextualised decision-making regarding water management in India.
Public Health Engineering: Conclusion
- Diseases cannot be contained unless we provide good quality and adequate quantity of water.
- Training our young minds towards creating sustainable water management systems would be the first step.
- Currently, institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) are considering initiating public health engineering as a separate discipline.
- To leverage this opportunity even further, India needs to scale up in the same direction.
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