PROTECTING COMMUNITIES THROUGH SAFE SANITATION

Pratima Joshi reflects on the work of Shelter Associates during the COVID-19 pandemic the vulnerability of slum settlements

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our worlds upside down. The most adverse effect is seen on the well-being of the weaker sections of the society residing in the informal settlements. The present condition demands a major focus on health and hygiene, as there are innumerable slum families who still have issues accessing safe sanitation.

Shelter Associates, an NGO providing sanitation and housing for the urban slums of Maharashtra, has facilitated over 20,000 individual household toilets to the slum communities and continues its efforts even in the pandemic situation.

Using spatial data in communities
Volunteers using spatial maps in the community

While the present focus is inevitably on health and sanitation, Pune’s densely populated Laxmi Nagar slum in the Kothrud neighborhood has emerged as the newest COVID-19 hotspot due to inadequate space for social distancing and lack of proper clean toilets.

The slum houses 1,087 families, primarily serving as construction workers and housemaids. Based on the previous slum data generated by Shelter Associates in 2018, 43 percent of families had no individual toilets and were dependent entirely on community toilets, which meant that for each toilet block, 40 people were using it. On the flip side, 57 percent of families had their own toilets, out of which 55 percent were unusable due to insufficient and poorly maintained drainage lines*. In such a scenario, there was huge pressure on the community toilets, which were overused and poorly maintained, which posed a health threat to the inhabitants using them.

Swati Vairage, a resident of Laxmi Nagar, whose two young children have survived the COVID-19 virus, feels the dire need for an individual household toilet. “I don’t want me or my children to go out to the community toilet again,” says Swati.

Responding to the grief of Swati and many others at Laxmi Nagar, Shelter Associates has initiated its “One Home One Toilet” cost-sharing model. It provides people toilet construction materials free of cost at their doorstep with the beneficiary families investing in its construction.

The Pune Municipal Corporation’s lack of funds for laying additional drainage lines or clearing the existing lines did not diminish the hopes of the residents who decided to work proactively to improvise the situation. They voluntarily invested in laying an additional 40ft drainage pipeline and contributed money toward getting the drainage lines cleaned with a collective motto to get their home toilets ready for use and make provisions for those who are yet to build one.

Local resident Balu Dandekar has been instrumental in easing the entire implementation process: from identifying families that need individual toilets to liaising with the urban local bodies and police to get permission to enter the containment zone. His influence and active cooperation at every step enabled Shelter Associates to continue its efforts and also build a good rapport with the residents.

Spatial map of lazmi Nagar, Pune
Spatial map of laxmi Nagar, Pune

To date, over 102 individual household toilets have been facilitated at Laxmi Nagar, while many more await material distribution. Laxmi Nagar sets an example to all other slum communities as we see a positive change through the willingness of the community and the involved NGO whose joint efforts facilitated a cleaner and safer living amidst the most traumatic situation prevailing around. More so, we see a behavioral change among people who now recognize the importance and are demanding a household toilet as opposed to the age-old notion of defecating away from their homes. Shelter Associates hope to improve the sanitation situation of the residents of Laxmi Nagar and all other communities who are already living in extreme conditions waiting for help to reach their doorsteps.

*Data derived through Rapid Household Survey conducted by Shelter Associates

The article is published on the web portal of Salzburg Global Seminar
https://www.salzburgglobal.org/news/opinions/article/protecting-communities-through-safe-sanitation 
(Pratima Joshi is a Salzburg Global Fellow who is currently taking part in the Japan-India Transformative Technology Network, a program held in partnership with the Nippon Foundation)

TACKLING COVID19 WITH DATA

One of the major concerns of the Covid19 pandemic is the emerging hotspots in slum areas of big cities. As the deadly virus is spreading at an alarming speed in the state of Maharashtra, it can spread very rapidly in the low-income, high density settlements having low disease immunity and inadequate medical facilities. These settlements form an integral and important part of the city’s economy and a breakout of the pandemic in these communities will have a cascading effect which can lead to its spread at all strata of society. Lack of granular data on slums hamper governments from systematic monitoring and tracking the spread of this virus and then fighting and mitigating this pandemic. It is now even more necessary that we have a good tracking mechanism in place when it comes to individual households in slums.

Shelter Associates (SA), an NGO based in Pune who actively works on Sanitation and Housing for the urban slums of Maharashtra, with a recent milestone achievement of facilitation of over 20,000 individual household toilets for the slum families; has invested in creating spatial data on slums of 7 cities of Maharashtra in the last 2 decades and made mapping of slum data a vital component of its work. SA has demonstrated how this data can become an excellent planning tool to effectively deliver essential services like water, sanitation, housing etc. Through the medium of GIS mapping, infrastructural mapping and individual household surveys, Shelter Associates has created a strong database of slum communities and families and has now proved to be a boon in facilitating various relief campaigns helping the vulnerable families during the Covid19 outbreak. The data is also shared with the various Municipal Corporations of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Kolhapur, Thane, Navi-Mumbai and Panvel who can use our granular data as an excellent planning tool to effectively deliver essential services. In addition to that, the concerned Government authorities can identify the households with Corona positive patients and as an immediate step can create a buffer of families around that house who will need to be screened. “Through the data and slum maps generated by Shelter Associates, it has become very easy for us to identify and track the slum families at this crucial hour”, says Mr. Nilkanth Dhondiram Poman, Chief IT Officer, Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation.

Example of how spatial data can help to plan strategically track the cases and high-risk houses in the buffer. A house in red colour shows the house of a suspected patient and houses in pink are high risk houses and families from those houses might be required to screen.
Example of how spatial data can help to plan strategically track the cases and high-risk houses in the buffer. A house in red colour shows the house of a suspected patient and houses in pink are high risk houses and families from those houses might be required to screen.

 

As a direct relief, Shelter Associates plans and conducts community outreach through telephonic campaigns to create awareness within the slum communities in not only educating the people on Covid19 and its prevention, but also busting the various myths and misconceptions surrounding the virus. The callers are also made aware of Emergency helpline numbers where they can easily reach out for help. Moreover, through a comprehensive analysis of the slum data, Shelter Associates has identified vulnerable slum communities in Maharashtra and have extended support through the distribution of Hygiene kits and Essential Food Grains. With the support of external funders, SA has strategically distributed hygiene kits comprising sanitizer, face masks, soaps and phenyl to 750 slum families in Pune, 850 families in Kolhapur, 550 families in Panvel and 150 cleanliness workers and policemen in Thane. At the same time, SA distributed food grains to 430 families in Pune and 20 families in Miraj. For that, SA has identified and trained volunteers from the community who work tirelessly along with the SA team to provide relief to the communities. It is an ongoing effort and till date, over 11800 individuals are facilitated with the Hygiene items and Food grains in selected slums of Pune, Kolhapur, Thane, Panvel and Miraj, Maharashtra.

Shelter Associates team ready for action
Shelter Associates team ready for action

Hygiene kit being packed for distribution

Cleanliness workers provided with essential hygiene items
Cleanliness workers provided with essential hygiene items
Distribution of dry ration to the needy families
Distribution of dry ration to the needy families

“Shelter Associates has been helping poor people like us even during this corona crisis. The materials such as masks, soaps, phenyl provided to us are very useful and essential for maintaining good health and hygiene as the disease will spread very quickly in the settlement”, says Meena Sontakke from Yadav nagar vasti, Kolhapur.

On the whole, spatial data is useful for organizations like governments, businesses, and humanitarian agencies to locate the slum households for the facilitation of services and welfare schemes and to enhance the ability of public and government authorities to plan, manage and develop the service system matrix.

http://shelter-associates.org/covid-19 

Ask an Innovator: Shelter Associates

“Though change is inevitable, building upon lessons learned is a critical step to shape more effective solutions moving forward.”

The following is an article published on the Results for Development website.
We appreciate and thank them for the support given to us.

Ask an Innovator: Shelter Associates by Eva Adler

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”- William Pollard.

Though change is inevitable, building upon lessons learned is a critical step to shape more effective solutions moving forward. Not only do these conversations about past challenges cultivate better dialogues about innovation, most importantly, they catalyze new approaches to best tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.

Shelter Associates exemplifies this kind of innovation in the water sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. Shelter is a non-profit organization that works alongside the urban poor, particularly women, in Maharashtra, India to provide technical support to community-managed slum rehabilitation housing (including security of tenure), and essential services projects. One of the most innovative aspects of Shelter’s work is how geospatial data is integrated into the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) process and verifies sanitation improvements across project sites.

Pratima Joshi, founder of Shelter, spoke to Results for Development (R4D) about a story of a success and of a challenge the organization has experienced since its founding in 1994, and most importantly, how they drew lessons from those experiences to develop their model for greater impact.

Story of a Success

One of the largest challenges facing Shelter, like many water-focused organizations, is the lack of in-country infrastructure and resources to effectively deliver WASH services to everyone. The Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum in Sinhagad, Pune, which is home to 87 households and some 329 people, offers a good example of a place where providing WASH services is challenging, due to its location and very poor population. Open defecation rates were particularly high in this slum due to technical challenges to build a sewer system on the rugged steep sloped terrain.
However, Shelter’s staff were undeterred to tackle the problem. When they started their work in the city of Pune, and the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum, two key challenges were immediately obvious:

1) The lack of real time data to assess on-site realities and general knowledge of already existing infrastructures;

2) The city’s lack of proper consultation and collaboration with stakeholders during the process of installing community toilets in urban slums.

In order to overcome these challenges, Shelter Associates identified two key methods to accelerate and uplift local sanitation conditions. Its approach, unlike others, moved beyond providing basic sanitation structures and services, to included inclusive and cross-sectoral strategies to cultivate more innovative solutions.

To better understand on-site realities, Shelter Associates incorporated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping software to accurately display spatial information across the slum (houses, sanitation facilities, and common defecation locations). Increased awareness of existing infrastructure in the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum was a direct outcome of this addition. The project also increased knowledge of ground realities and the impact Shelter’s water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and education programs had across households. Greater data availability for the slum also meant more opportunities for the urban poor to participate in larger city planning agendas and decision-making processes.

To strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration, Shelter unified policy makers, local leaders, and regional non-profits (NGO’s) to inform the planning and implementation stages of the city’s urban slum community toilet initiatives. They facilitated community focused gatherings and inclusive workshops, which were well attended by women and children. Although a time intensive process, this enabled Shelter to strengthen personal relationships and trust with community members. This approach was the most successful method to enable community participation and most importantly, inform the urban slum management process.

Since the start of the project in 2013, GIS maps have pointed to improvements in the Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum – the prevalence of open defecation has fallen dramatically and now the slum is nearly 95% open defecation free. In a few years alone, Shelter has contributed to the 60% decrease in open defecation and given households the opportunity to live in improved sanitation conditions.

Pratima Joshi explains, “Now since Shelter’s intervention, the slum has been transformed from one of the worst living conditions in Pune, to a clean, more respectful place where people live safely and with dignity. People now feel less marginalized and more valued. They can see how Shelter and the government have undertaken a lot of trouble to help improve their lives.”
The Rajiv Gandhi Nagar Slum highlights an excellent case study of a project ‘win’. Even with immense challenges from the beginning, Shelter Associates identified barriers and overcame challenges in the slum. With determination and persistence, Shelter created innovative strategies and will continue to use these approaches in its future work.

Story of a Challenge

As Pratima Joshi from Shelter reflects upon organizational experiences, she recalls a particular story of a challenge or something that did not go as planned. She described this as a “lessons learned”.

In 2000, Shelter Associates participated in the Pune toilet project led by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and local non-profit organizations (NGO’s). The objective of the PMC was to build sustainable community toilets in the urban slums of Pune, however, mistakes were made along the way which Shelter has since learned from and applied into its own work going forward.
Pratima explains, “Various organizations were roped into building toilets within a limited time frame and led to many maintenance challenges in the community.”

The narrow focus of only building toilets in the urban slum led to weak community involvement. The inability to mobilize local leaders and community members created a capacity gap in the toilet program and hindered the implementation and sustainability of the program as planned.
Pratima recalls, “At the time, there wasn’t the capacity or time for us to properly assess existing infrastructure. There was also a lack of consultation and communication between the local councilor, the communities, and other partnering organizations.”

The lack of unification prevented the success of the city’s slum toilet initiative. Shelter took this lesson learned and made mobilization a non- negotiable step in its work. Since then, Shelter has integrated more urban slums community leaders and decision makers into the urban planning process and increased impact for on-site realities.

Though innovation and learning go hand in hand, Shelter Associates has learned that success and challenges never remain static. The ability to adapt and redirect after a challenge, or as Pratima puts it “lessons learned”, is a critical step to cultivate and implement innovative approaches in our ever changing world. Shelter Associates most of all, is an excellent example for other innovators to integrate lessons learned into organizational approaches to reach greater impact.