Consider this simple fact: The urban population of India rose from about 68to 284 million during1991-2001. Or this: Half the Delhi population does not have a postal address, because it lives in unrecognized slums. The conclusion is simple too: The present infrastructure is not tuned to the exponential urban growth in India, leaving the urban poor with inadequate or no basic services.
Despite the numerous roadblocks, however, WaterAid India (WAI), the India chapter of an international charity working on the issues of safe water and sanitation worldwide, believes that it is possible to provide slums and other poor settlements with adequate water and sanitation facilities, simply and profitably.
WAI today celebrated International World Water Day under the theme 'Coping with Water Scarcity: The Urban Scenario'. Ms Sheila Dikshit, Honorable Chief Minister Delhi, was present on the occasion; and Mr R Rajamani, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Urban Development, felicitated six urban partner NGO's of WAI, two municipal corporations and a grassroots women's federation for their efforts in providing drinking water and sanitation to those normally forgotten.
The CM inaugurated a photo exhibition and released WAI publications that focused on the theme of the celebrations. Her address emphasized on the need to change our consumption patterns if we are to avoid being in trouble in the next 15 to 20 years. "Delhi uses 256 liters of water per capita per day", she said, "one of the highest rates of consumption for any city in the world. 30-40 years ago, the water table in Delhi was rising to an extent that there was media speculation about the Parliament House being afloat. The situation now is completely reversed, with the water table declining at an alarming rate". Ms Dikshit emphasized a change in people's mentality and small modifications in behavior that would result in big improvement.
Focusing on the urban impasse, Mr M Rajamani, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Urban Development, and Mission Director, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, said that the process of development had to include the urban poor along with the upper and the middle class, for the overall conditions in a city to improve. He also emphasized the role of community participation in making sanitation projects successful.
Mr Depinder S Kapur, Country Representative, WAI, offered solutions to tackle the iniquitous urban growth. These included: transparency in all plans and reforms, Individual connections for slum dwellers, irrespective of tenure; underground/covered drainage within slums; community managed toilets/ bathing and washing utilities; door to door collection of garbage in collaboration with SHGs; building people's agency through civil society; the inclusion of slums in all bilateral projects/loans; and the mapping of slums on a priority basis.
The six NGO's felicitated were Sambhav (Gwalior), Arambh (Bhopal), Gramalaya (Trichy), Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (Ranchi), Ruchika Social Service Organisation (Bhubaneswar) and Social Awareness Institute (Cuttack). A film on community management of toilets (CMT) and bathing complex in Trichy, Tamil Nadu was also shown highlighting the pro-poor Initiatives in urban water and sanitation. The CMTs are being run successfully as business enterprises by women self-help groups; and running these toilets has increased their confidence and given them aspirations both in terms of making a living, and thinking about their children's education.