Urban areas are characterised by densely populated settlements, a factor that adds considerable complexity when devising sanitation interventions. Unlike rural contexts, where the focus is on household-level infrastructure (e.g. single wells for water or individual on-site waste disposal systems), in cities sanitation needs to be conceived as a system capable of efficiently catering to large densities. Therefore, addressing sanitation issues in urban areas should not solely aim at eliminating open defecation; but at improving living conditions in highly dense and contested environments. Key aspects of our work in ensuring effective and equitable sanitation in urban poor communities include:
Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) aims to achieve a universal access to sanitation in cities and villages, and eliminate the practice of open defecation. In alignment to the SBM, we provide handholding support to poor families to construct individual toilets, by linking them to public subsidies (offering bridge loans or CSR support where necessary), and providing technical guidance in locating and constructing toilets as per right specifications. So far, MHT’s support has enabled 1,08,767 poor families across 19 Indian cities to construct toilets in their homes.
Building toilets is rendered meaningless unless households have access to running water and adequate facilities for safely disposing water. The status of slum residents as “informal citizens” with no legal titles to their land often excludes them from accessing basic infrastructure. Families also face significant financial barriers in accessing these services. MHT bridges these gaps by working with governments to delink tenure from service delivery, enabling access to finance for poor families, providing technical inputs for implementation, and carrying out building of services where necessary. MHT empowers women to engage with elected councillors and leverage their funds to improve community level infrastructure.
MHT started its school sanitation program in 2015, focused especially on improving sanitation and health for adolescent girls. Our ‘WASH’ in schools program focuses on three key aspects: conducting tailored training programs on health, sanitation, and menstrual hygiene, supporting construction of gender sensitive toilets in municipal schools, and actively engaging with school sanitation committees and school boards to scale this model and advocate for clean and accessible toilet facilities in all schools.
In tandem with ensuring access to sanitation infrastructure, MHT works on influencing behaviour of women & girls around sanitation and hygiene practices, specifically consistent use of toilets and safe menstrual hygiene management. While women carry a disproportionate burden of inadequate sanitation, they are often not involved in decision making around sanitation spending. They are also bound by cultural norms that dictate their sanitation practices and impede hygiene transformation. MHT adopts participatory processes to understand and address these cultural and gender barriers.
Lack of sanitation results in significant disadvantages in terms of health, education, safety, and well-being for girls and women. Lack of organization and a collective voice in communities hampers their ability to voice their concerns and meaningfully participate in community and city level decision-making processes.
Pursuing the double objective of enhancing community’s voice and addressing women’s lack of decision-making power, MHT has encouraged the creation of Community Action Groups (CAGs), in slum. CAG members are trained to interface with local government to access reliable information on sanitation programs, voice their concerns, and participate in sanitation governance at the community and city level. In recent years, MHT has also encouraged teenage girls to lead sanitation change in their communities. In Ahmedabad, more than 40 girls have overcome shyness, fear, and skepticism from community members, to get involved in various activities including conducting surveys, participate in surveillance drives, and registering complaints and grievances with the government. In addition to producing valuable data and initiating new practices in slums, involving girls has become an opportunity for new leaders to emerge. Girls are developing confidence, learning public speaking, and articulating issues concerning their communities.
It feels good to have a toilet because previously at night we would walk ½ kilometer to go to the bathroom. That was the worst. I lived in this basti for 15 years, 13 of them without a toilet. Now my life has changed, not just for me but for my family as well.We are much happier, prouder, and calmer.
Before, when we didn’t have a toilet, the girls in my house would have to go far distance, outside. They would often feel scared—especially at night. Now, we feel calm. We feel at peace.
I was always walking half a kilometer to and from the hillside to go to the bathroom. Because I work from home, the time I was away meant less earnings for my family. I am no longer wasting time walking to the forest to go to the bathroom.We are not scared to go to the bathroom as we can go anytime. It has changed our lives.
We can take baths, wash our clothes, and wash dishes whenever we want. We finally have free time. We don’t have to lug heavy buckets anymore or wake up at 3:30 a.m. for water. All you need in life is water and housing. Without water you can’t live. We can finally live freely.
- Endline Assessment of Sanitation Project in Katihar, Vol. I, Vol. II
- Approaches to Basic Service Delivery for the Working Poor: Parivartan Slum Uprgrading Programme
- Role of Women Councillors in Extending Infrastructure in Slums
- Nafisaben’s Journey from a Community Leader to an Elected Councillor
- Improving School Sanitation for Girls at Rakhial
- Developing Social Capital in Poor Communities: MHT’s Model of Empowering Women as Change Agents
- Gomti, an Adolescent Girl Leading a Sanitation Change in her Slum Community