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September 2006


Effective Micro-organisms
for sanitation

- Priya Sundaravalli

EM is increasingly being used in Tamil Nadu

Effective micro-organisms (EM) was discovered in Japan in the 1960s. It's a combination of lactic acid bacilli, photosynthetic bacteria, yeast and other organisms and it has been found to be very useful in, among other things, treating waste water, solid waste, in enhancing organic fertilizer and as a bio-pesticide. It was introduced in Auroville in late 1999. Dr. Lucas, manager of AuroAnnam, is one of its main proponents.

On December 29th 2004, three days after the tsunami, AuroAnnam was contacted by the Secretary of Rural Development of the Tamil Nadu Government who had just been put in charge of tsunami emergency relief. She wanted to know if EM technology could be used in public sanitation work along the affected coast. If so, she wanted a programme to be implemented immediately.

“It was a huge task,” says Dr.Lucas. “But the state machinery was in place to help with the technology transfer, and officials from various coastal districts were put in touch with us.” Within a week, AuroAnnam made a stock of activated EM available for relief organizations working in the affected areas. “But only a few NGOs in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam districts used EM in their public sanitation efforts. Most agencies preferred dusting with chlorinated bleaching powder or, even worse, spraying pesticides to control insects.”

Lucas was not disheartened by the poor reception and application of EM. “In fact we were happy that EM got its foot into the door of public health,” he says. “A few times, the local media reported on EM technology and the Secretary publicly stated that EM was successfully used in the immediate-tsunami hygiene efforts and so had helped to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic.”

The interest of the Department of Rural Development in AuroAnnam's EM technology has since continued. “The Secretary wants us to introduce EM technology in all districts of Tamil Nadu, preferably in every block of Tamil Nadu. She wants to see EM being used in at least in one public toilet or sanitary complex and in one composting site. And then she wants feedback on its performance – what are the problems with using EM, does it work well, and if not, why not.”

But even though AuroAnnam has done a few demonstrations at the district levels, it has not yet been able to convince the less senior officials to use it. Lucas says candidly, “The top level is fully convinced; but things do not move in the middle bureaucratic levels. The motivation to implement a technology that is cheap, cost-effective and interesting is, sadly, zero, and I haven't exactly understood why.”
Meanwhile, AuroAnnam has started working on a smaller scale with local NGOs and, increasingly, within Auroville. “A demonstration site is just being finished in Auroville,” says Lucas. He is referring to the new toilet building at the Visitors' Centre that uses EM Technology for hygiene and for sewage treatment. “Its success can be judged by every visitor to Auroville!” he declares.

The new toilet block of the Visitors’ Reception Centre, designed for daily use by 2000 people, will use EM technology

See also: Water Harvest


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