Mapping Toilets in a Mumbai Slum Yields Unexpected Results!!!-Advocacy Tool

Source: http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/india-cheeta-camp-slums-sanitation-toilets-harvard-public-health-mapping

Dozen students from the Harvard School of Public Health  traveled to Mumbai in January to research life in the city’s slums. The mishmash of variables in high density city life make urban public health one of the most pressing and yet least understood aspects of global health. This is especially true in Mumbai, with over half the city’s population of more than 12 million living in slums. The site was Cheetah Camp- a planned slum in Mumbai.

Cheeta Camp is an Indian oddity — a planned slum. It was formed in northeastern Mumbai when an impoverished community was moved to make way for a government atomic research station. The displaced residents were given plots of land on which to settle, but no provision was made for basic infrastructure like sewers.

The residents of Cheetah Camp help up their  toilet facility membership card and stated the tale of the perpetually about-to-open toilet. Apparently, for the last 15 years or so, the toilet had been built, demolished and rebuilt three times.Each time, local politicians claimed that the lavatory facility would open “after the elections,” but that never happened. Instead, the residents told  the government workers would just tear it down and start to build a new one next time the elections rolled around.

The students thereafter decided to create a map of Cheeta Camp’s toilets (the interactive map can be found here). That meant two weeks tromping around the slum, figuring out where the toilets were located, who had put them up, how they functioned, and if they were even operational.

The students saw toilets as a way to delve into the inner workings of the community, to see what worked and what did not.

See the interactive map at https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?vps=2&hl=en&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=213281544174043702623.0004b617c56e89532fff9

So toilets were built ad hoc. The first thing the students found was that nobody really knew how many toilets were in the camp: the local authorities said one thing, local nongovernmental organizations another. So the students counted and mapped. They found 46 toilet facilities, containing 701 toilets, to serve Cheetah Camp’s 117,000-person population. Of these 46 facilities, 38 were functional. That means roughly one toilet per 170 people.

While a recent movement has sprung up over getting the government to provide more free public toilets, in Cheeta Camp, the Harvard students found that most people preferred the pay toilets. Unlike the free public toilets, the pay ones, which were generally provided by a nongovernmental organization, had water, electric light and were kept cleaner than government-run facilities — well worth their 1 or 2 rupee (2 or 3 U.S. cents) cost.

The fact that poor people are willing to pay for cleaner, safer toilets belies the typical portrait of the poor as helpless victims. The clean pay toilets seem to have made a difference: “Now we don’t have to spend so much on doctors. Previously we had to struggle a lot, but now are happier,” said Kanis Sayyed Hashim, a 45-year-old mother who has lived in the slum for 26 years and said her children get sick less now that they use the pay toilets.

By mapping the locations and functionality of the toilets, the students were echoing a process that had been used by slum dwellers organizations in India to force government to act. The act of naming streets, counting citizens and mapping facilities turns information into an advocacy tool.

By mapping the locations and functionality of the toilets, the students were echoing a process that had been used by slum dwellers organizations in India to force government to act. The act of naming streets, counting citizens and mapping facilities turns information into an advocacy tool.

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