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Cleaning Crusade at resettlement camp

Cleaning Crusade at resettlement camp

After years of struggle, Bawana – a resettlement site, lying on Delhi’s north-west margins is home to around 130,000 people. Five to six streetlights in every lane, rations are available every day, public conveniences have become operational, piped water are made available although they run next to the sewers, sanitation workers pick up garbage and clean the area.

Bawana does not make for a congenial living environment even today. Its roads disappear into large puddles. Its drains constantly overflow. Garbage lies everywhere and people pick their way through it. But the Bawana of today is still a considerably improved version to what it was in 2004, when the former residents of a slew of shanty towns in the heart of Delhi were literally dumped here after court-ruled eviction drives.

Sarita Baloni, an activist with the Delhi-based women’s resource Jagori group, in 2009 collaborated with Women in Cities International (WICI) for the Action Research Project on Women’s Rights and Access to Water and Sanitation in Asian Cities. The project was initiated to assess the gender gaps in the public provisioning for water, sanitation, drainage, solid waste management and electricity, and study the impact of this on women’s safety and security.

Sitting in a small room in their neighbourhood, elderly Bateri Devi and Satyabhama, along with middle-aged Anita, Vimla and others are eager to share their experiences. Among them is a sprinkling of teenagers too, many of whom – like Nafisa and Mehmooda – come from conservative families that normally frown on girls participating in public meetings. In this project, the Women’s Safety Audit approach has been followed to assess the gaps in the public provisioning for water, sanitation, solid waste management and electricity, especially when it came to women.

The resource mapping exercise, done in five blocks within the community with the help of a simple questionnaire found that there were no latches on the doors of the public toilets; the toilets were always filthy and women felt unsafe using them because there were groups of men loitering nearby. There were general insights, too: It was found that since the taps were located near the drains water was getting contaminated, which was a huge health hazard.

“We did the survey so that Jagori, as a community partner, could understand the ground realities better, while the community gained clarity on what issues they wanted to tackle,” explains Sarita, living in Bhawana. The survey led to a team building exercise. Kailash, a student, now working at the Jagori centre in Bawana, says, “Building a team was important so that we could move beyond identifying problems to initiating action. We wanted to interact with the women to discuss every detail and chalk out a plan.” That’s how the vital Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) process started.

Vimla recalls, “I called 15 women to discuss the water, sanitation and garbage disposal problems. Everyone took time out to come and enumerate the issues that affected them personally. We could feel the impact of these sessions. The women became vocal in demanding their rights.” Their message was clear: Things could no longer continue the way they were. At an individual level, many kept an eye on garbage collectors. Others identified missing streetlights and non-functional toilets. “The one immediate impact of this was that the toilets that had been locked for long were opened and work on the under-construction toilets was completed in no time,” remarks Sarita.

Streamlining garbage disposal was next on the agenda. Anita elaborates, “We called a meeting with the area sanitation workers. But before we went we took photographs of places where garbage was strewn and drains were overflowing. We showed these to them and told them to take action. Today, at least they try and come on time to pick up the garbage. On our part, we dispose our garbage at one place – usually a designated spot at the end of each lane – from where it can be collected.”

Safety audit walks, with the involvement of the local youth, took this work forward. Rizwan, a youth group member who wants to become a mechanical engineer, has been involved in it. He says, “Before going on these walks, we map out the route that includes spots where women have faced threats. We then set out with officials in groups of three or four. On one occasion, the sanitation workers accompanying us decided to clean up as we went along, and we also decided on places where dustbins were to be placed.”

The last two years have seen four safety audits in Bawana. Each time improvements have been noted. Rizwan provides an example, “The first audit had revealed that having no streetlights had an adverse impact of the mobility of girls. Now, thanks to working streetlights and increased police patrolling, girls here feel safer and even their access to toilets has improved.”

The women have been on field visits to other resettlement colonies to observe and learn from the work done there – Bateri is impressed with the ‘safai’ (cleanliness) the women of Savada Ghevra in Delhi have maintained. Experts have also introduced them to diverse subjects like women’s reproductive health and hygiene, budgeting and local governance. Armed with all this knowledge, the women have gained the confidence to put across their issues succinctly to the local MLA or counsellor – who no longer ignore them.

The process of eviction and resettlement may have pushed thousands off the map of cities but one can never underestimate the power of progressive women. There’s a lesson to be learnt from Bawana and Prabha Khosla, an external consultant for the Jagori, puts it this way: “Future resettlement plans need to incorporate the insights gained from experiences like this.”

Aditi Bishnoi
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Bike powered ‘Poop Pump’

A cost effective and novel way of clearing faecal sludge from pits

The removal of faecal sludge from pit latrines, common to slums in Africa, Asia and other developing world, has been posing serious health problems. The conventional method to remove sludge with a large vacuum tanker does not fit in the alleys of slums and the poor cannot afford regular sanitation services. Thus, the sludge from latrines are either emptied naturally – by flooding into the street – or by latrine emptiers, who have to climb in and dig out the sludge by hand, both of which can lead to spread of diseases like dysentery and even cholera.

In order to help those still using old, broken and out of service latrines, Nate Sharpe, a researcher at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Sustainable Development has developed a poop pump. The poop pump provides a hygienic system and gives latrine emptiers the chance of a steady wage and better standard of living. Sucking up sewage through a tube may not sound like the perfect way to end a nice bike ride. But researcher Sharpe has designed a prototype bicycle-powered vacuum pump/tank system which works by putting the end of a hose into a pit latrine and cycling in place for a few minutes on a bike stand. This allows the sludge to be sucked into a bucket attached to the back of the bike.

Sharpe developed the idea for the bike while working on his MPhil at the Centre for Sustainable Development at Cambridge. He has combined his efforts with the team from Sanergy – an organisation set up by students at the MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Sloan School of Management who are developing low cost latrines using a franchise model in Nairobi, Kenya where waste is collected on a daily basis. They hope the waste produced can be used in biodigesters for heating and electricity production or converted into biogas and fertilizer.

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