"When non-governmental and community-based organisations coordinate with city governments and international funding organisations, a transfer of ideas takes place that creates well-grounded solutions for urban slum areas," says Pratima Joshi, Director of Shelter Associates (SA), a Pune-based NGO working with the urban poor. "The NGO-CBO combination makes the communities themselves aware that a situation can be improved with the active participation of all stakeholders."

SA, comprising architects, social workers, GIS experts and community workers, facilitates and provides technical support to community-managed housing (slum rehabilitation) and infrastructure projects. The organisation is helping the ongoing successful implementation of a community-led toilet project in 12 slum settlements in the Sangli Miraj Kupwad Municipal Corporation (SMKMC) in Maharashtra. The SMKMC area is a rapidly growing city, with a population of nearly a half a million. Almost 15 per cent of residents live in slum settlements that lack access to basic infrastructure and civic amenities. SA pinpointed 12 slum settlements, covering approximately 3500 households, for upgrading sanitation, as well as other improvements. "Not only does upgrading sanitation make a marked difference to health, stress levels and quality of life, but this can also be an entry point for other slum improvements," says Joshi.

Joshi says that the Indo-US Financial Institutions Reform and Expansion Project (FIRE) had started work with the Sangli municipal corporation in 2001 and they got in touch with SA on hearing about the NGO's earlier project mapping poverty in Pune city.

Toilets in slum communities

There are four phases to the current Sangli project, three of which have been completed; the fourth is ongoing. In the first phase, in which FIRE was involved, SA's role was to identify all slums in the SMKMC area and carry out preliminary surveys of settlements in order to find out what kind of services already existed, as a grounded approach for future solutions. Following this, SA implemented the second phase of the project in Sangli in 2001-02 with the assistance of the Canadian based Institute on Governance (IOG). As a pilot effort, this phase's goal was to build two community toilets in two separate slum settlements and its successful accomplishment proved the sustainability of the model. A forum consisting of representatives from the government, media, and civil society (communities and NGOs) worked together. The collaborative effort helped SA and its associate group Baandhani, a federation of slum dwellers, build strong relationships with the local government.

Once the pilot was completed, SMKMC and SA decided to replicate it citywide in Phase III. Mapping and surveys were carried out for slums that had been chosen jointly by the two. This information, which built on the data collected in Phase I, developed a useful tool in planning and designing sanitation projects to ensure that services are equitably distributed.

In the ongoing phase IV, the Cities Alliance (CA) and USAID's Community Water and Sanitation Facility (CWSF) are helping to create the right conditions for citywide, community-driven slum upgradation through community mobilisation, public-private cooperation, and an expanded micro-credit savings plan. The project is helping about 3600 households distributed over various slums in Sangli (about 35 per cent of total slum households of the city) gain access to community toilets. CA supports the actual construction and technical assistance for the project, bearing about 20 per cent of construction costs, while the government of India, the state government and SMKMC incur the remaining costs. SA provides technical assistance by building federations in slums through savings groups, designing the facilities, coordination with the local administration, as well as assisting the local government to access funds for the construction of toilets from the central and state governments. Nearly 400 individual/shared toilets have been constructed so far, covering four settlements with approximately 750 families.

Jatkar slum before and after the project (Pictures by Shelter Associates).

A methodical approach

Both physical and household data were collected in phase III. Physical data entails a detailed map of the settlement using plane table methods: marking houses, electric poles, common water points, street lights, surface gutters, garbage containers, trees, etc. Individual household data includes a breakdown of members, employment records, poverty indicators, educational status and other relevant social data, like each member's ration card and existence on the electoral roll. This two-layered profile of the slum enables it to be examined on a regional or individual household basis. Trained SA staff then processed this socio-economic data with the maps from plane table surveys using GIS software, detailing an analysis of each settlement in individual reports. Through a master list and system of numbering houses, door-to-door surveys were conducted. The results of these compiled surveys were integrated onto the software, also providing crucial comparative information and fact sheets regarding the 12 chosen slums of SMKMC.

With the advantage of this information, SA, in consultation with the municipal commissioner, was able to custom fit its strategies according to local conditions. SA undertook the responsibility of supervising construction of individual toilets in three slums, and extended technical support to the communities in Sangli and Miraj. Further, it helped SMKMC frame the rules and conditions for the implementation and maintenance contract to be signed with selected NGOs, providing for the future maintenance of the sanitation project.

Baandhani, a federation of slum dwellers, has played a pivotal role in the project's success and sustainability. Along with survey work, the federation members work with slum dwellers to create better understanding. "This is a good way to create trust before starting the surveying process, which normally creates apprehension within communities, as they sometimes perceive it as a possible threat to their existence," points out Joshi.

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The first few successes helped build interest. Many slum households sought individual toilets, and also showed a willingness to contribute financially themselves. In April 2005, five families of the Jatkar Samaj Vasti, one of the slum settlements, took the initiative to build three toilets in their own homes on a shared basis. The households not only contributed 20 per cent of costs, but also took provided materials and unskilled help during construction. "Jatkar Vasti paved the way for change, not only within the settlement, but also in the attitudes of bureaucrats and urged them to adopt a flexible attitude towards sanitation. They were also able to convince families of neighbouring slums to initiate this process within their slums," says Joshi.

Enthused by this, more families came forward with their contributions. Finally SA built 103 shared/individual toilets covering 135 families. After the toilets were constructed, the local councillor decided to pave the roads within the settlement, thereby transforming the face of the settlement completely.

"Khaja Vasti, a small settlement with 107 structures, proved to be the most vexing of all slums," recalls Joshi. "Despite repeated efforts, the families made it clear that they could not contribute anything to the efforts here." The survey findings also showed that this was the poorest settlement of the selected slums. But 16 families had individual or shared toilets even before the project was initiated here. SA decided after consultation with the community that here it would use its contribution to provide the basic pan and connection and three brick walls around. As and when the families could afford it, they would put the door and roof and other finishes inside. "I remember Lailabi, a handicapped woman, weeping after her toilet was built," says Joshi. "For the first time, she was free of the trauma of queuing up in front of the toilet blocks or defecating in the open."

A model for other efforts

The methodical, participatory approach has created a sea chane in the attitudes of key stakeholders - from the authorities to the individuals within the affected communities. In retrospect, Joshi observes that the project drew involvement from all levels of the bureaucracy. As different issues cropped up, local and state government officials rose in action, instead of just passively disbursing funds. She points out the specific instance of the vice-president of the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority, Sitaram Kunte coming forward to support SA/Baandhani to implement a pilot scheme with individual toilets within the project.

"The highlight of this project really is the range of options we were able to offer the poor based on our GIS poverty mapping," says Joshi. "For example, through the poverty mapping carried out for 12 settlements, it was observed that for four of the 12 settlements, individual toilets could be provided as against community ones. This was a turning point in the project as we worked relentlessly to change the mindset of the bureaucrats - to help them understand that there could be a range of options based on the surveys instead of one standard solution of community toilets. Our experience emphasised to the local government the need for having a sound database in place to ensure effective solutions," she concludes.

The Sangli project model can be replicated in any city and at a much larger level, avers the director of SA. This can be funded under the Basic Services for the Urban Poor or Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) of the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. One of the key issues for such community toilet projects is maintenance. Joshi's observation is that wherever there is the willingness to build the capacity of the slum residents by way of extensive community-based federation activity, women's federations can maintain the facilities. As a result, the community-run model is very replicable. Also, the Sangli model has shown that wherever possible, if individual toilets are given, this leads to upgradation of the facility by individual families themselves and in the process completely frees the local bodies or NGO/CBO of the responsibility of maintenance.