Flushing away Covid-19, the Mumbai way!

Training safai and cremation workers on safe practices during the corona pandemic (Image Source: Triratna Prerna Mandal)
Training safai and cremation workers on safe practices during the corona pandemic (Image Source: Triratna Prerna Mandal)

Slums, fast growing Covid-19 hotspots!

Slums are fast emerging as Covid-19 hotspots in India, especially in Mumbai, in Maharashtra state, which has been showing the highest rise in Covid-19 cases. While 17 percent of urban households stay in slums in India, 42 percent of the households in Mumbai reside in slums —many in temporarily built tarpaulins and tin shanties. While Dharavi is the biggest slum in the city, and probably in Asia, there are many other subpockets of slums that display a huge disparity between the urban rich (haves) and the urban poor (have nots).

Slums in Mumbai are known to be extremely crowded — often with many people staying in extremely congested settings and often sharing single rooms – about 10 people in a 100 to 150 sqft close walls. Lack of amenities like private and community toilets, and availability of safe drinking water worsens the situation in these slums. Many people in the slums depend on community toilets provided by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the State Government and Private entities. However, many of them continue to be woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the growing population. For example, guidelines by “Swachha Bharat Mission” (SBM) Annexure-II: Technical options for toilets under SBM and the norms for community toilet” recommend standards of 1 toilet seat for 35 men and 1 for 25 women. However, in Mumbai slums, one toilet seat is shared by as high as 100 to 150 people from the community.

Community toilets and the risk of Covid-19

And community toilets are now feared to be spreading the risk of Covid-19! While most of the slum pockets in Mumbai have a limited number of community toilets, this results in large gatherings at toilets making it difficult to maintain social distancing and increases the chances of infections. Evidence also shows that as high as 78 percent of community toilets in Mumbai slums lack handwashing facilities and 90 percent do not have any handwashing points making it very difficult for the residents to practice frequent handwashing to prevent the spread of infections.

Fears are increasing that failing to flush away the coronavirus from the community toilets could lead to disastrous outcomes and lead to the further spread of the virus in the slum pockets and further to the other population in the city. The sanitation situation in slums thus needs urgent attention and has to be the central focus for interventions while addressing the other essential needs of the populations in the slums.

The role of Community Based Organisations in managing  toilets

Community toilets are currently being managed by Community Based Organisations (CBO) formed under “Slum Sanitation Program” (SSP) of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and are registered as charitable organisations under the Charitable Act 1860 and the Bombay Public Trust Act 1950. CBOs play an important role in maintaining the community toilets and looking after the welfare of the community.

Currently, there are over 1,200 CBOs across Mumbai, which act as the governing bodies of the community toilets. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the MCGM instructed the CBOs to allow the use of toilets at no cost, making them free for use without charges, that led to their increased foot fall in the community and other types of toilets by 20 percent. However, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has not waved off electricity and water bills for the toilets and also does not provide essential cleaning materials, disinfectant sanitation kits and adequate ration to the caretakers who maintain and clean the toilets. There are no proper mechanisms in place to institutionalise the involvement of CBOs and they often lack training and do not have capacity building opportunities through the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). All these factors hinder the progress made in terms of sanitation outcomes achieved and attempts made at controlling the pandemic.

Triratna Prerna Mandal comes to the rescue

However, the situation is now changing due to the involvement of Triratna Prerna Mandal (TPM), a non-profit organisation in Mumbai, which is closely associated with nearly 150 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) working for the welfare of the vulnerable communities of Mumbai, covering 6 Slum Squatters and reaching out to 2.5 million population. Since 2016, Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) is collectively working with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) in the formation of Community Based Organisations (CBO) through Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP) and CSR. For addressing the Covid-10 pandemic, special  technical and financial assistance is  being provided by the UNICEF Maharashtra Office through its’ partner Citizens Association for Child Rights (CACR).

In response to the current Covid-19 pandemic, Triratna Prerna Mandal (TPM) is collectively working with 150 CBOs to spread awareness about Covid-19 among communities in partnership with CACR with support from UNICEF Maharashtra Office and the urban alliance of NGO platform convened by UNICEF. It has till now distributed cleaning solutions like bleaching liquid, white phenyl, sanitisers, liquid hand wash to about 60 CBOs from M-East, G-North, F-North, H-East and N ward covering nearly 150  toilet operators and cleaners. TPM is also active in its locality with its ration distribution program to vulnerable families.

Triratna Prerna Mandal (TPM) and CBOs are now part of  "Swachhta Samvardhan Mahasangh" (Federation of community-based organisations) in Mumbai which is currently under registration process and UNICEF is intending to  provide technical support to develop (Terms of Reference) ToR and (Standard Operational Proceedures) SoP. While the Federation is in the process of registration, TPM is currently anchoring the administration part of the federation and the day to day management and coordination. Because of this long association and constant connect with the rest of the CBOs across Mumbai, Triratna Prerna Mandal (TPM) is in a good position to understand the needs and problems of the CBOs and nurture them in administration and management  aspects.

Taking UNICEF’s work to the grassroots

Triratna Prerna Mandal (TPM) has been associated with UNICEF Maharashtra for almost 10 years now.

As Dayanand Jadhav, Executive President of Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) says, "Every discussion that takes place with UNICEF, a global organisation through its project ‘WASH’ has been a great guide to our toilet and TPM's capacity. In fact, from time to time, TPM has tried to use the research conducted by UNICEF on water, sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for the benefit of the people at the grassroot level. We learned from discussions with UNICEF about what is going on in the world for toilet efficiency and sustainability. The most significant positive learning was the solar installation in the toilets run by Triratna Prerana Mandal to save electricity and the successful project of groundwater recharge for sustainable sanitation”.

“Today, Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) has got an opportunity to work with UNICEF for Covid-19 response activities at the grassroot level. This is our golden opportunity to take UNICEF's work to the grassroots. TPM also hosted its’ office and TPM run community toilet as an exposure site for the global participants of UNICEF in 2016", he adds.

Recently, through extensive liaising efforts from UNICEF Mumbai, Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) has been able to connect to the Rotary Club of Bombay (RCB) and has received 1200 face shields as a 'protection from virus' equipment from RCB. These face shields were distributed among toilet caretakers as safety equipment in addition to the masks they use because of their frequent physical interaction with the beneficiaries. Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) has also asked for feedback from the users on the ease of use of the equipment and durability and is also continuously monitoring community-based organisations and addressing their issues to the MCGM and State authorities.

Taking the movement ahead, with conviction

With the objective of safe sustainable sanitation in vulnerable communities in coordination with its donors, Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) is moving ahead with conviction with its priority message being ‘Flush the virus in the community toilets’ followed by clean containment, transport and treatment and more importantly follow up on the key behavioural patterns now mandated because of Covid19. Further to this, Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) has also formed associations with Citizens Association for Child Rights (CACR), CORO Right to Pee Campaign.

With technical and financial support from UNICEF Maharashtra, the alliance is now reaching out to 150 community toilets in four urban slum clusters (Dharavi, Gowandi, Santa Cruze and Shivaji Nagar) covering 150,000 population with no hand touch pedal operated hand washing stations, conducting activities like training of CBOs and sanitary inspectors and leveraging further resources from corporates for continuous supply of liquid soap, disinfectants and Faecal Sludge Management (FSM).

Triratna Prerana Mandal (TPM) is continuing with its untiring efforts and is also advocating solutions for multiple technologies for safe faecal sludge management to reduce the foot fall in community toilets to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

The need of the hour is to support for Disinfectants, PPE Kits for Toilet Operators, Service Providers, Hand Sanitisers, Liquid Soap, Masks, Face Shields, etc.

When Maharashtra became a Covid-19 hotspot, UNICEF Mumbai swiftly brought together more than 55 organisations with diverse backgrounds to work together to respond in Mumbai and Maharashtra. Triratna Prerna Mandal (TPM) is a part of that collective. Read more about the collective here. The collective has rolled out several flagship programmes such as the #Jeevan Rath #Urban Slum Sanitation #Village Preparedness #School Readiness #Training of all Service Providers, Teachers and FLWs from Maharashtra and #MHM.

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