Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsIndia: Access to Water, Access to Education
Two Bangalore slum communities have asserted their rightsto water so that their children can attend school and securea better future. One has already achieved some success;the other is still working on a solution. Will the concertedefforts of the public water utility, a nongovernmentorganization, and community women speed up the deliveryof water and education to these neglected slums?
A TALE OF TWO NEIGHBORHOODS
It is often said that social tabooshinder girls’ education in India.But lack of access to water cando that as well, as indicated bythe experiences of two slumcommunities in Bangalore.In MRS Palya, residents nowregularly get two hours of watera day. It’s not much from many’sstandpoint, but it’s better thanhaving no water at all. “That ismore than enough for eachfamily,” says Rahat Begum, acommunity organizer andcoordinator of the Association for Volunteer Action andServices (AVAS), a nongovernment organization. “Theyhave time to sleep, take a bath, and do all the housework.” “Before, we could not send our children to school becausewe had to fetch water at midnight,” said Muniamma, a 40-year-old mother of two and resident of MRS Palya. “Today,the children go to school regularly and they are doing well.” “The environment is very clean; there is no pollution. Weused to get many diseases; now we are getting trained incomputers, in management, and many are getting collegedegrees. I’m very happy,” said Murthy, a youth leader whohas already completed one year of schooling towards ahotel management diploma.The same, however, cannot be said of Sundamnagar,another slum community of around 300 households mostlyinvolved in casual labor and the services industry.Sundamnagar residents still have no access to water, muchless educational opportunities for their children.AVAS, the Bangalore-based nongovernment organizationthat helped bring water and sanitation facilities to MRSPalya, is now helping Sundamnagar achieve the same.
BRINGING WATER TO BANGALORE’S SLUMS
Now known as India’s information technology capital,Bangalore boasts of new buildings that house high-techlocal and foreign companies. Employing thousands of graduates from India’s elite technological institutions, thesecorporations’ services extend to global markets, includingthe United States and Japan. A stone’s throw away from these new establishments is areminder of old India—the slums that house the pooruntouchables shunned by the rest of the city, with no waterand sanitation services and low literacy rates. Bangalore hasabout 365 slums, which are home to a fifth of the city’s 6.5million population.Salma Sadhika, a social development specialist at theBangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB),observed, “The contrast between the two only serves toreinforce the enormous difficulties faced by the urban poorand the urgent need for new initiatives to address thesituation.” The BWSSB could not give water and sanitation connectionsto these informal settlements because the latter do not haveland titles. Years of lobbying by community-basedorganizations like AVAS finally persuaded public authoritiesto find a way around this legal requirement. Through theefforts of BWSSB’s Social Development Unit, the land titlerequirement was waived, and ration cards or voters’ IDs arenow accepted as proof of residence. As an added bonus,BWSSB alsoreduced water connection fees.AVAS was able to buy land and work out a collective landtitle for MRS Palya. It also provided collateral to the bank sothat each family could borrow up to 20,000 rupees(US$500) to build a house.More importantly, AVAS community organizer M.Nagarajaiah explains, “We want to build people beforebuilding houses. We have to build, empower, organize, andeducate them.” AVAS gives emphasis to women’s education,particularly in water and health management, and sets up awater and sanitation (WATSAN) committee in eachcommunity. And most WATSAN committee members arewomen.
WATER AND EDUCATION FOR MRS PALYA
Women in MRS Palya faced a lot of hardships before theygot their regular 2-hour water supply. Muniamma recalls, “Women used to travel two to three miles to fetch water.Girls and women used to do this work. To wash clothes oncertain days, we had to start walking at 1 a.m. We were notable to send our children to school because they had tocome with us to fetch water.” “There was no peace in this community those days. Womenhad to queue all night to get a bowl of water. Some younggirls who went there get raped,” Begum said. “Most of themen watch TV at home all day, and those who work spendmost of their money on alcohol,” she added.Today, MRS Palya is generally clean because there aretoilets inside the houses with adequate water supply, andbecause, Begum said, it is the women who maintain thesystem. “If the water doesn’t come and leakages happen,they immediately take it up with the concerned authorities,” she said.