Safe Water & Child Survival:
Situated along the banks of river Yamuna, the northern Indian city of Agra takes pride in being the land of the Taj Mahal. But behind this veneer, lie the poverty and squalor of numerous slums.
Agra, spread over 140 sq. km. along the banks of the river Yamuna in western Uttar Pradesh, is a good example of a fast growing million plus city. It is India’s premier tourist destination – in 2007-08 it witnessed an inflow of 2.7 million foreign tourists bringing in revenue of US$ 2.3 million to the Taj Mahal alone.
Agra also has a sizeable urban poor population, mostly residing in its burgeoning slums. The population living in slums or squatter settlements was estimated at 8.41 lakh, which is about 50% of the city’s total population.
Poor living conditions
Slums live constantly under the threat of demolition and eviction. Rampu Ki Jhopri is an example of a slum which was demolished and relocated at a further distance from its original location. Now the open space is used by the urban poor to tie up cattle owned by them and for drying dung cakes.
Sanitation is the most pressing issue in a majority of slums with situations varying from existence of individual toilets which lead into open drains to a total absence of individual or public toilet facility. Public toilets provided in slums suffer from lack of regular cleaning, rendering them unusable. This is visible in slums like Nala Mantola, Nagla Bhavani Singh and Ghatiya Mamu Bhanja.
Children defecate in drains in most slums. Drains are open and narrow, which remain blocked due to disposal of solid waste and absence of regular cleaning. In Rampu Ki Jhopri, Gopalpura and Takht Gumbat Pehelwan, open spaces are used for sewage and garbage disposal, creating an extremely unhealthy environment.
Public taps and hand pumps provided in slums often dry up in summers, leaving residents dependent on ground water for meeting their basic needs. Water quality is poor. At times residents access the drinking water by inserting utensils or pipes through the wastewater itself.
In some areas one can witness the broken water mains over a drain and people hanging their buckets to fetch drinking water from the cracked pipes just above the slushy drain.
Water from pipes next to drains has also led to cases of water-borne diseases, particularly among the children.
There are also certain neighbourhoods where the womenfolk have to walk as much as two to three kilometres to fetch water. They manage to gather water by digging and it is not fit for drinking.
“There are no hand pumps. There is no water in taps as well. Women have to travel long distances to get water. We are facing a lot of problems. Children are falling sick. There is no water anywhere somehow we are getting water from cracked pipes near drains and are trying to fulfill our requirement,’ said Hem a resident.
Piped water supply was available to only 7 percent of the slum households. 78 percent of them depended on public taps for water.
About 63 percent of the slum households use some kind of flush toilet facility, largely pit toilets and septic tanks, while 33 percent defecate in the open.
Addressing the challenges
The situation of the urban poor in Agra echoes their plight in similar cities across India. In spite of their vital contribution to the city’s economy, the urban poor do not receive the benefits of city life. Their isolation is manifested in slums, which are a reflection of inequality and social exclusion in urban areas.
To address the challenges faced by the urban poor in Agra, it is essential to:
Strengthen services with a focus on vulnerable urban poor settlements;
Explore innovative approaches to expand breadth of affordable services among vulnerable slums – both public and private;
Influence community demand for services and link community with providers to address the increased demand sufficiently;
Help slum communities organize themselves to negotiate change through collective action;
Achievements of SNBS
In order to address the problem of safe drinking water for urban poor population of Agra, SNBS adopted Social marketing as an effective way for the same. For this, SNBS started motivating low-income and high-risk people to adopt healthy behaviour, including the use of SAFEWAT.
A key ingredient of successful social marketing is effective communications to encourage the adoption of appropriate health practices (including proper use of the products and services). So, from May 2009, SNBS started advertising SAFEWAT by generic educational campaigns, using a mix of strategies and channels, including interpersonal communications, to reach the mass population.
Project implementation start date – 8th June 2009
In June 2009, SNBS launched SAFEWAT and set the target as:
All urban slums of Agra City
Low income urban areas
“Consumption of safe water, in a consistent and exclusive manner, by all family members of all slums of Agra City, by regularly using the safe water system to treat water and store it safely’’
Including, adoption of hygienic practices that impact on water and food safety, in particular:
Clean food preparation
Clean toilet habits, including sanitary disposal of feces
Proper garbage disposal
Including continuation of healthy practices known to play a protective/beneficial role:
oral rehydration therapy
increased feeding for up to two weeks following a diarrheal episode
Sodium hypochlorite disinfectant produced by private sector manufacturer for PSI. The brand name is SAFEWAT.
SNBS ensured Social marketing of SAFEWAT with full cost recovery through CLVs / AWWs/ ANMs which can earn a margin on each unit sale of disinfectant.
Current status of project
Communication material about SAFEWAT have been developed and distributed in slums, and training of 500 Women Health Samiti members including 33 CLVs at slum level has put in place on inter-personal communication and door-to-door sales of SAFEWAT.
As per records of sales data, SNBS has achieved sales of 1500 SAFEWAT bottles up till 8th July 2009. Despite of this, in view the necessity of Sanitary Pads to Women in slum areas and Iodine requirements for physical as well as mental fitness of their children, 5000 packets of 1 Kg of Iodine Salt and 150 sanitary pads have also been sold by SNBS in these areas, up till date.