Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The people and power of Sivanand slum

We're in Delhi this week as you may know - building a three year campaign strategy that hopes to mobilise millions to campaign on water and sanitation. This has meant hours of group work with flip charts, brainstorms and discussion in a basement meeting room, but luckily we also had the chance to visit a WaterAid project in the east of the city to see how grassroots advocacy is making a difference for the urban poor.

A group of End Water Poverty campaigners spent time in the Sivanand slum, in East Delhi, largely populated with the rickshaw pullers and domestic workers of the area, to learn how residents are using local legislation and human rights awareness to ensure access to water and sanitation.

As soon as we arrived, guided by WaterAid India staff, we were proudly shown the three massive water tanks that the municipal government has provided the slum following successful advocacy. Speaking to local women, the difference this water provision has made is immense. Shashi Paharia (centre in photo) says now that she doesn't have to go far to find water or wait for the water trucks, "Life is simply easier. We have time now to walk with our children to the school, to spend time cooking and more time for work and to spend with our family in the evening."

Shashi is a leader in the community's water and sanitation committee which acts as a watchdog of the government provided facilities and mobilises the community to make a stand for their right to water and sanitation. They monitor the attendance of government sanitation workers in the community, even using facebook to report non-attendance using the city government's facebook page! They use India's Right to Information Act to find out why maintenance isn't carried out on the sewerage system and demand change if so.

The water situation in Sivanand is improving, with Shashi sharing that people are healthier and happier as a result. But there is still much work to do. There are 400 households in Sivanand and 20 toilets. Nine aren't working. This means massive queues in the morning - resulting in lateness at work and school, and unfortunately open-defecation in the community.

But the community has rallied - just today they have written a letter to the government demanding that the toilet block caretaker makes more regular visits so maintenance can take place. Judging by the success with the water provision, there's no doubt they'll succeed in their advocacy efforts to get adequate sanitation - and we'll be watching and supporting them along the way!

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