World Toilet Day and the East Kolkata Wetlands

                                                                                             [inundated wetlands]

And why working with nature is always best…

Before we talk about the East Kolkata Wetlands, let’s establish what wetlands are and why we should care about them.

While the regulatory definition of a wetland is complicated, the average person recognizes wetlands as marshes, swamps, bogs, fens, bayous, and the like, basically, swamp-like places that are wet and mucky and hold standing water.  Wetlands are important for a variety of reasons:  they control flooding, acting as a safe harbor for flood waters to recede slowly rather than rushing off downstream via stormwater drain conduits; they filter out toxins — such as heavy metals, oily contaminants and excess fertilizers and pesticides — that would otherwise reach the rivers, streams and groundwater by capturing them in their soils; and they provide a home to a variety of flora and fauna that thrive in watery places, among other things.  Coastal wetlands act as a barrier between the mainland and the ocean, giving that vast body of water the space to expand and contract as storms and winds dictate, providing a much needed buffer in times of severe weather.

While we appreciate the value of wetlands here in the states, in at least one part of India, their lives and livelihoods depend upon it.  The City of Calcutta has a population of five million people with an additional two million “floaters” — those without a permanent home — and no wastewater treatment system, but what it does have is a gem of a natural treatment system in the form of the East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW).  The EKW are considered the City’s biggest asset. In 2002, these amazing wetlands were recognized as a Ramsar Site for the benefits they provided to society.

In comparison, imagine the City of Philadelphia with its population of 1.5 million without sewage treatment as it was at the end of the 19th century. Everything ended up in the streets and, ultimately, the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers.  Even with a population somewhere shy of 55,000, that was an incredible amount of sewage for Philly’s rivers to manage.  Beginning in 1901, the City of Philadelphia began building sand filtration plants; by 1914 in response to an outbreak of typhoid, chlorine treatment had been added, resulting in a  dramatic decrease of water-borne diseases.

By contrast, Calcutta doesn’t use chlorine, but works directly with nature to bring about the same result. To quote Dr. Arun Deb, a founder and Board member of the Global Water Alliance in his recent editorial entitled, “Engineering History and Heritage,” by ICE Publishing:

“The EKW is an example of wonderful large wetlands, demonstrating that a city can have a large symbiotic ecosystem that provides sewage treatment, aquaculture and agricultural lands for the city, generating livelihood for thousands of people.”

To read Dr. Deb’s full editorial, click here.

World Toilet Day is November 19.  To learn more about it and what you can do to assure everyone has the right to take a seat, click here.

pam lazos 11.11.20

About Pam Lazos

writer, blogger, environmentally hopeful
This entry was posted in access to sanitation, access to water, clean water and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to World Toilet Day and the East Kolkata Wetlands

  1. Would you believe the Magic School Bus series of the 90s covered this very concept on wetlands? Kids realized that as cool as a big ol’ mall would be for their town, the “smelly” wetlands outside the town provided crucial help with filtering water and homing wildlife. So I guess we need politicians to go to school to learn about productive arguments and city engineers to watch old PBS kids….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hilary says:

    Hi Pam – sorry really late … but wetlands are so essential. We have to find a way to deal with toiletting in these Covid days – I sincerely hope this will be looked at along with other aspects – especially in the really poor countries. I’m always amazed at how much nature helps us – and will do over time … but now … it’s a real challenge in a lot of places with a huge population. Thanks for reminding us all about wetlands and how they can help. Take care and stay safe – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pam Lazos says:

      Wetlands are good for other things, too, Hilary, like pollutant storage and flood retention. Did you know the areas in England they call the fens are actually wetlands? They’re amazing, wetlands are.


  3. aFrankAngle says:

    Resa sent me this way. For a variety of reasons, I can’t shake the statistic the Calcutta floaters. On the bright side, I invite you to come along for a beach walk. After all, the topic is water.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Resa says:

    So much to think about, and do. Recently saw a docu about disappearing wetlands, and some conservationists attempts at refurbishing them. I was educated.
    Water… There is a First Nations Reserve in Ontario that has had a boil water advisory in place for 25 years!!!!! Last week the gov’t evacuated the entire town because whatever water they have was covered in a black oily slime. It seems the company that was given a contract 4 years ago, to correct the situation… and the one before that..and so on are corrupt. Nothing has been done.
    This is very sad, as we are the #3 fresh water country in the world, and we have a low population.
    I saw 1 report that said the USA was #3, but it said the Great Lakes were all in America. That’s not true, as Canada and the US share 4 of the 5 Great Lakes. This is also pretty moot, as we’ve made a mess of them, as well.
    I digress. My point is, with all this water, and the town/reserve I speak of is by a lake. How/why have they been deprived of water?
    You are a caring person, but I fear greed motivates those in absolute power. This needs to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pam Lazos says:

      Oh Resa, how I would love to have a pint with you and discuss the state of water in the world. There is so much corruption – I always point to the water companies as stealing from the masses since they take our common resources and sell it back to us as bottled water. 😡 water is the most misunderstood element, capable of purifying and rejuvenating but we’ve taken it for granted and now we’re in a mess. 25 years in a boil advisory!! That’s wrong on so many levels, but if you’re marginalized as a people there’s little you can do. As a society, we need to change all that and make sure everyone has access to clean safe water.
      Thanks for stopping by, my dear. 🙏😘

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I would think you might like it!!!!! There are big swathes that are not populated x

    Liked by 1 person

  6. amandAVN says:


    Liked by 1 person

  7. amandAVN says:

    “…works directly with nature…” : and isn’t that the way it should be, where possible? Instead we are often just too quick to bring out the heavy artillery.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. TanGental says:

    I’m sorry Pam but here i am reading a serious article on sewage and you write ‘a population of 5 million with 2 million floaters…’ and before I go on my mind immediately turns to the idea of the Indian Stool Survey where some where in their huge civil service there’s a department dedicated to categorising the buoyancy of faecal matter… and then, my surreal fix sated I move on… thank you for that and for this article…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pam Lazos says:

      😂😂😂Don’t you love the mind’s free association game, Geoff? And anyway, 💩 talk is always a tale that generates a few titter – possibly because of all the fart jokes we all told as kids. 😳😂


  9. Susan Scott says:

    Lovely to read about wetlands Pam thanks. We’ve got them here too. Will look upon them with more appreciation 🌺

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Now this is quite apost sister !!!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

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