Daily Archives: October 12, 2011

Dung with a difference – for the dead

Most often people who bring in their dead have to wait for many hours for the power to reach stability of a kind that can incinerate the body at the furnace in electric crematoria.

A simple technology that can be made to work in any graveyard or funeral center is a system that employs dung cakes, but with a difference.

The system is traditional, and used by potters in the country. Circular pits are made of one meter to a depth of 1.5 meter. The dung cake are patted into cylindrical shape of 6 inches high and 3.5 inches diameter. These are stacked inside the circular pit on the inner wall. About 200 kg dung cakes are required to cremate a body. This makes for about 80 dung cakes of the cylindrical shape, each weighing 1.5 kg. The cakes are arranged in tiers and the body is placed within. The pit is then packed with the rest of the dung cakes and a small approach is left open to perform the last rites.

Using wood to cremate demands 250 kg at about Rs. 1500. In our villages people still use mango tree wood, for such cremation. The time taken for cremation is about four hours. If cow dung cakes are used, we require 200 kg and the cost is about Rs. 500-800. The time taken for cremation is under two hours. Electric cremation is of course the fastest but the energy consumed is far too high and is not sustainable.

Engineers don’t think, do they?

Engineering solutions over the last half century and more have taken a very insensitive civil engineering approach to community toilets. The solutions often lie in understanding the social. Problem is never with technology. It is to do with how people manning processes understand community needs and sensitivities.

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Sundarbans waters turn ugly

The Times of India on its front page reports Jan 29 morning about the steady rise of temperature and the impact it will have on crops, on rainfall, on our living patterns.

A one per cent rise in temperature can affect crop production by as much as 10 per cent. There are other impacts of such rise in temperature that we are seeing. The waters in the Sundarbans delta are fast changing in quality. The waters coming from the west are fresher, lighter and less saline while those that come from the east are saltier and more turbid. Both are warmer, a sheer consequence of climate change. Such large estuaries where rivers and seawater mix are unique and so are their flora and fauna. Any small change can have far-reaching impact.

The sea surface temperature at the Sundarbans delta has been increasing at a rate of 0.5 degree centigrade per decade. This surpasses the warming of global oceans at 0.06 degrees per decade. Salinity has decreased in the western sector but increased in the eastern Sundarbans during the last 30 years. The western rivers, Hooghly and Muriganga dump waste discharges from Kolkata and Haldia into the western sector where they also get replenished by glacial melt water from the Himalaya through the Brahmaputra.

Hence the western sector remains fresh. The eastern end is not so lucky. Solid waste disposal and heavy siltation from the surrounding cities cut eastern rivers off from the Himalayan water resources.

This has had impact on PH values too. It has decreased overall but still stands higher at 8.3 against the global figure of 8.1. When temperatures rise it decreases oxygen’s solubility in water. One solution is: how can Haldia and Kolkata not dump their waste discharges into the Hooghly and Muriganga?

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