According to the World Health Organization, dirty drinking water and poor sanitation kills 842,000 people each year. It is a particular issue in India due to the fact that basic sanitation services are severely lacking in certain areas. According to the World Bank, approximately 40 percent of the country's 1 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation facilities, which leads to the spread of diseases, including cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid. Consequently, UNICEF estimate that nearly 400 Indian children under the age of five die every day because of poor sanitation.

India’s ‘Smart Cities Mission’ was launched in 2016 to improve public services, goods and spaces within 100 cities across the country, helping them to be more efficient and more sustainable. Concurrently, the Government of India also launched the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ to construct household and community toilets. Linking the two national priorities presents a unique opportunity to boost economic growth, while addressing the sanitation crisis. It also contributes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.2 - providing ‘universal access to safely managed sanitation’. 

One of the Indian cities involved is Pune, South of Mumbai. Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited's (PSCDCL) vision is to transform the area of Aundh-Baner-Balewadi (ABB) in Pune, into a model Smart City through innovative and novel waste management initiatives. 

Sanitation, along with clean water and food security, is a primary driver for improving public health. In Pune, the city’s authorities have implemented a number of projects related to waste and water, setting an example for other cities to follow. For instance, for sanitation - the city’s authorities have provided smart, clean and accessible public and community toilets with wifi access and cafes nearby. They have also installed processes to ensure no waste is left visible using cleaning teams to clear waste from streets as fast as possible. They have also installed a policy to minimise the movement of waste from the city to landfill sites by adopting in-situ composting. 

Pune’s authorities have partnered with the European Space Agency on a project to install toilets with specialised sensors that extract information such as disease indicators and health statistics, from waste. According to Sunil Agarwal, director of the Smart Sanitation City Project in Pune, these sensors are able to detect diseases such as cholera, before individuals begin to show symptoms, allowing health officials to react early and potentially limit the spread.

Pune’s authorities are also working with the Japanese government to build 11 sewage treatment plants. What is unique about these plants is that at least two of the facilities include resource recovery technology like biogas or compost. Converting waste into fuels or fertilizers creates the potential to generate revenue. Talking about human waste as a resource transforms sanitation into an economic opportunity.

Taking its commitment further, Pune Smart City has partnered with the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC), a business-led partnership and platform made up of global organisations committed to addressing the global sanitation crisis. Through the support of TBC members such as Unilever, Veolia and the Confederation of Indian Industry, Pune has access to leading technologies that allows the city to be cleaner and safer by being smarter. “What we're trying to do is build up this sense that the sanitation system isn't something that is forgotten on the dirtiest street corners but it's part of a modern, thriving city,” said Sandy Rodger, chief operations officer of the Toilet Board Coalition.

These activities in Pune are part of TBC’s efforts to establish a ‘Sanitation Economy’ - a new way of looking at sanitation by considering its ability for cost recovery, revenue generation and business opportunities within the waste industry, whilst building a system built for future resilience. 

By incorporating 4IR technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Sanitation Economy uses the vast amounts of data that can be collected to improve sanitation systems. This data is currently virtually untapped and yet, has the potential to unlock new insights about human health and well-being. Such is the potential of this project that TBC estimate that the Sanitation Economy will be worth $61bn by 2021 in India alone.  

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is changing the way we live. It is helping to ensure global citizens are healthier and happier and creating entirely new industries, such as the sanitation economy. Whilst new and innovative technology is often first deployed in the developed world, there are many ideas and solutions that could help improve the lives of those living in lesser developed countries exponentially. It is important therefore, that the 4IR is an inclusive paradigm shift, that it benefits everyone and that no one is left behind. 

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