March 25, 2009 / 3:47 PM / 10 years ago

Indian health crusader wins Stockholm water prize

STOCKHOLM, March 25 (Reuters) - A man who has fought for almost four decades to improve sanitation in India’s slums and villages was awarded the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize on Wednesday.

The Stockholm International Water Institute noted in particular Bindeshwar Pathak’s campaig against manual "scavenging" of human waste — a practice where people, often children, clear out excrement from open pits using buckets. Many die from disease contracted in this work.

Battling conditions such as those seen in the rags-to-riches film Slumdog Millionaire, shot in the teeming slums of Mumbai, Pathak won the award for his work to change unsanitary practices in India.

The Institute said Pathak’s work, which has improved the health of millions of people, had served as a model for NGO agencies and public health initiatives around the world.

"Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak is a shining example of how hard work and plain speaking about sanitation can measurably improve people’s dignity, privacy, status and, most importantly, health," said David Trouba, communications officer at the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council in Switzerland.

Some of his innovations included a twin pit, pour-flush toilet, better water conservation systems and technologies that convert waste into biogas for heating, cooking and electricity.

Born in 1943, Pathak lives in New Delhi and has authored several books including The Road to Freedom.

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