Syed Arif Hussain
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan especially the farmer community is subjected to lack of Bio-safety and risk management and the concerned quarters are turning their blind eye to this unchecked and fast growing health risk issue. Being bestowed by the fertile land, people of this region enjoy wide verity of agriculture products but the health and hygiene system has always been a stumbling block in the way of their socioeconomic progress. In Gilgit-Baltistan there are some regions where agriculture land owner or famers still use traditional Pits (Dasi chukan) and its content as organic fertilizer .Oshkhandas village is one of them located adjacent to the Gilgit city. It is located almost at 24 km in the east, away from the center of Gilgit city with approximately eight hundred households. By and large the economic status of the people of this area is not up to the mark. Eighty percent people of area depend on their agriculture land and have a simple life style and most of the economy of people comprise on agriculture. Most of people are related to Government sector and NGOs while very few with business. The climate of this area is generally cold in winters and hot in summers and varies in the regions according to altitudinal differences. Based on the cultural differences, mosaic society and climatic variations the inhabitants of area have adopted different methods of agriculture practices. Not only in Oshkhandas but also in some other parts of Gilgit-Baltistan like Skardu, Hunza, Nagar, Jalalabad, Bagrote farmers use content of pit latrine(Human excreta) as organic fertilizer for their better crops production especially for vegetables due to its excellent effect on the fertility of agriculture land. While in remote areas of Gilgit-Baltistan people also use cattle sheds, byres and open fields for defecation and collect the organic manure for its later use in agriculture field. This practice does not only occur in underdeveloped countries or underprivileged societies, even in some advance countries like china, Denmark, Finland, Norway and several others recommend the use of organic waste including human manure and gets wide acceptance as a fertilizer in agriculture field if its hygienic standard is guaranteed. The scientific studies on the application of human excreta as organic manure has been highly encouraged due to its environment friendly peculiarity as compared to inorganic fertilizer but unfortunately the practices adapted for composting process to minimize its detrimental effect on human health are not in accordance with scientific ways and principles. Hence this apathy or lack of awareness is not only posing serious threats to farmer community itself who handle this organic manure without taking precautionary measure to apply on their agriculture land but also to the general masses who consume all forms of crops, especially partially cooked vegetable or ready to eat vegetables (salad, onion, tomato, mint etc) grown by adding this human organic manure without proper composting process. Therefore the content of pit latrine is a potential source of spreading gastrointestinal diseases because most of the intestinal parasites and pathogenic bacteria have fecal oral route of transmission. If the farmers are made familiar about the composting process through seminars, awareness programs on local Television and radio channels, this fecal oral pathway (cycle) can be hampered. This will in the long run save the health, economy of the inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan and ecosystem at large.
In these areas people still are of the notion and belief that these poorly composted human feces is considered a valuable nutrient source for crop production but their approach backfires in real sense due to lack of awareness about the possible and indispensible threats. The world health organization (WHO) estimated that 2.2 million persons succumb to death yearly due to diarrheal diseases while 10% of the population of the developing world is rigorously infected with intestinal worms due to ill waste and excreta management. There are myriad of health related issues that crop up drinking contaminated water containing many fecal coli forms that make their entry into the normal drinking water after being leeched into the streams, wells or down the ground water tanks. There are some other organisms along with the aforementioned organisms which are commonly reckoned as the indicators of fecal contamination as they are always present in the feces of man and warm blooded animals intestine, their presence in soil, drinking water and vegetables indicate fecal contamination.
My M.phil research under PAK-US joint project (WATSAN – Water, Waste, Sanitation and Health and Hygiene Intervention in Northern Pakistani Village 15 years prospective follow up of diarrheal disease, pneumonia , childhood growth, water quality and latrine microbiology) in collaboration with Karakoram International University on the said subject generated significant information on the physical and microbiological quality of the human manure used as a fertilizer in the fields and its possible harmful impacts on human health. If the feces of human are used as an organic fertilizer, it must be ensured that it is properly composted and is free with the human pathogenic microorganisms and fertility of soil is not negatively affected in long term prospective. This information is vital to be conveyed to the people of areas who are ignorant to the serious implications of open air disposal of human feces. Secondly it will help scientific community to get new knowledge to properly compost the content before applying in agriculture field. Thirdly it will also help local people to learn about appropriate measures to reduce the detrimental effects of pit latrines because it is affecting every individual from a different perspective and majority is not taking it as a serious issue just because they are not directly affected or they are quite dark about its injurious influence over their life. Now the onus rests on government and other concerned departments to educate people and make them familiar about the proper composting process so that the health of innocent people of this region could be saved. Being a research student and son of soil I humbly appeal to the Government that serious heed must be paid to ensure the bio-safety and risk management for people of this area where still traditional pit are being used for their defecation and people must be taught personal hygiene ethics through health education. This will in the end minimize the bane of gastro-intestinal and other contagious diseases which are spiraling up to the infinite. The situation will turn from bad to the worse if it is not addressed in time and the biological clock in the near future sees more admissions in hospitals than in educational institutes.
The writer is perusing his PhD in discipline of Biological Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com