Globally, around 80% of wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, according to the United Nations. This can pose a significant environmental and health threat.
As we confront these public health challenges emerging out of environmental concerns, expanding the scope of public health/environmental engineering science becomes pivotal.
- A specialised cadre of public health engineers, also known as sanitation engineers or environmental engineers, is best suited to provide the growing urban and rural water supply and to manage solid waste and wastewater.
- The availability of systemic information and programmes focusing on teaching, training, and capacity building for this specialty cadre is currently limited.
- Currently in India, civil engineering incorporates a course or two on environmental engineering for students to learn about wastewater management as a part of their pre-service and in-service training.
- However, the nexus between wastewater and solid waste management and public health issues is not brought out clearly.
- Most often, civil engineers do not have adequate skills to address public health problems. And public health professionals do not have adequate engineering skills.
- India aims to supply 55 litres of water per person per day by 2024 under its Jal Jeevan Mission to install functional household tap connections.
- In this regard, expansion of the pipeline network, identification of sustainable sources of water which have water available year-round, installation of online systems for monitoring the quantity and quality of supply, and collection and treatment of wastewater become increasingly important.
- Following international trends: In India, public health engineering is executed by the Public Works Department or by health officials. This differs from international trends. To manage a wastewater treatment plant in Europe, for example, a candidate must specialise in wastewater engineering.
- 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.
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