Mumbai slums fight Covid-19

While sanitation in Mumbai slums presents unique challenges, MCGM joins hands with other sanitation warriors to fight Covid-19, with conviction!
Flushing the virus, in times of Covid-19 (Image Source: Anand Jagtap) Flushing the virus, in times of Covid-19 (Image Source: Anand Jagtap)

Anand Jagtap, ex Officer on Special Duty (OSD) at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the winner of the Lingaraja Memorial Award and a PhD scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai has been associated with the Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP) undertaken by MCGM with support from the World Bank since 1997 to 2005. After 2005, MCGM is now implementing the same programme and Anand Jagtap has been a part of this programme right from its inception.

Mr Anand Jagtap talks to the India Water Portal on the condition of the slums in Mumbai, the Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP) and the sanitation challenges faced by Mumbai slum residents following the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Could you please give us a background on the state of sanitation in the slums of Mumbai? What is the situation in terms of access to water, availability of safe drinking water, community toilets and handwashing facilities?

According to the 2011 census, Mumbai has the biggest share of slum dwellers among the metro cities, with 42 percent of its population residing in slums. With population densities ranging from 45,000 to 91,991 persons per square kilometres, physical distancing in the slums is extremely difficult and a luxury. Slums in Mumbai can thus get extremely crowded — often with many people staying in extremely congested settings and sharing single rooms – about 10 people in a 100 to 150 sqft close walls. While slums occupy just 9 percent of Mumbai’s total land area, four in ten Mumbaikars live in a slum.

Slums also continue to have limited access to safe water and private household level toilets. This is because there is no space available for having basic amenities. This has to do with the process of how a slum develops. Slums are low lying areas. When migrants come to cities, they start settling in these areas creating illegal settlements that have no access to basic facilities such as water and toilets. Even when facilities are provided, they are provided in a haphazard way, without proper planning.

There are very few household level private toilets in the Mumbai slums and people depend on community toilets constructed by the MCGM, by Suburb districts under MPLAD and MLALAD and private CSR and contractors under various programs including Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U). Access to water is also a problem in slums and many a time, who gets water is determined by politics in the slums and a number of illegal connections are found to be given to houses that have good connections with the politicians in the area. Many of these lines are punctured as the plumbing work done is of inferior quality, many of the pipelines are installed near gutters or nalas and the water stands a high chance of getting contaminated as it flows through the area.

Who are the people who live in the slums? What kind of difficulties do they face in terms of sanitation facilities like water, toilets, handwashing etc.? What are the health problems they are exposed to in the context of WASH?

Most of the people who stay in the slums are migrants and are engaged in informal labour in the city for which they get paid daily. Their contribution to the daily needs of Mumbai is very significant, but they still continue to be neglected and continue to lack access to basic amenities in the slums. While overcrowding makes it difficult to access the limited number of community toilets available in the slums, lack of clean water is another important factor that increases the risk of infectious diseases like jaundice and typhoid as lack of water availability affects the hygiene behavior of people like frequent handwashing to prevent diseases. People have to carry water in mugs, small buckets or small empty cans of paints when they visit the toilets, which remains grossly inadequate to clean themselves and flush the toilets.

Access to the toilets is a challenge too. While the accepted World Bank norms say that one toilet seat should be viable for 50 people, in the slums one toilet seat is available for around 190 users. People access the toilets constructed under the Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP), others are forced to use the free to use MHADA toilets sometimes with caretakers and sometimes without caretakers, which are very poor in terms of water supply and hygiene. Others who can afford it use the pay-and-use facilities, while the rest are also forced to defecate in the open.

Also the workmanship of the toilets and the toilet infrastructure is of very poor quality. None of the toilets can be connected to sewer lines as sewer lines do not exist in the slums. Lack of adequate water to flush and clean makes the toilets dirty, plus lack of lights worsens the situation. Women cannot go to the toilets after 6 pm at night due to lack of electricity, presence of animals like dogs and pigs due to unhygienic surroundings and presence of alcoholics, drug addicts and gamblers. Women and young girls become extremely vulnerable, as they can fall prey to lewd remarks and other forms of physical and sexual harassment. Cleaning these toilets is no one’s responsibility. Government agencies never bother to come and clean the toilets. Faeces clog the toilets due to lack of use of adequate water further creating unhygienic surroundings.

What are the various efforts made by MCGM to improve the situation? Could you please describe the Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP) undertaken by the MCGM and what were the activities undertaken under the initiative?

In the past, toilets were constructed by Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) and the Mumbai Sewage Disposal Project (MSDP). Many of these toilets were poorly constructed and involved a single level battery of 10 seats for use by adults with separate sections for men and women. Toilets were very unclean, had restricted time of use, and did not have access to water and electricity. The operation and maintenance of these toilets posed a number of challenges as users were not actively involved in the planning and these toilets soon fell out of use.

The toilets constructed under the Slum Sanitation Programme (SSP) in 1997 were planned to be based on the participatory approach unlike the earlier ones and promised better technical construction and maintenance standards. There were special provisions for building amenities for women, children and caretakers, and for disabled. The toilet blocks were created by involving stakeholders or users in the process. The collaboration included involving local NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisation) and CBO’s (Community based organisation). This was done by forming a CBO whose members could make a financial contribution towards membership. The members would be involved in toilet design and site selection. The NGO's were to facilitate the involvement of the CBO in the above process. A CBO was formed as a trust /Society under Bombay Public Trust Act.

The operation and maintenance was to be carried out by the CBOs. The CBOs were allowed to collect monthly fees (in the form of a family pass) from the members and per user charges from other non-member users to ensure the long-term functioning of the toilet blocks. The construction and technical part were to be carried out by the contractors or the NGO’s depending on the consortium. The MCGM’s main role was to coordinate between the CBOs and the NGOs. 

Majority of these toilets are located in community toilet blocks with two floor reinforced cement concrete (RCC) frame structures, are pour-flush toilets that require half a bucket of water for flushing, have waste disposal to septic tanks or aqua privies, have an overhead water tank, supposed to have 24 hours water and electricity; have an average of  20 toilet seats and a usage norm of 50 users per seat, are designed for 30 years lifespan and have a caretaker’s room which can be used for community activities.

In contrast, majority of the toilet blocks constructed by MHADA or local area development fund have no connection to sewer-lines, almost 60 percent of the  toilet blocks have no water and electric  connections, implementation of “one-size-fits-all” approach regarding the technology used and lack of involvement of slum dwellers into the design of community toilet blocks has led to rapid disuse of the toilets.

What kind of challenges has Covid-19 brought up in the context of water and sanitation? What has MCGM been doing /planning to do to cope with these in the short term and long term? (Could you please describe or give us some examples of the efforts being planned)

The important challenges during the Covid-19 epidemic have been that of maintaining social distancing, keeping the toilets clean and ensuring that users practice hand and personal hygiene in places where access to water and toilet facilities are limited. For this, they cannot be provided free of cost. CBOs require funds to function and run the toilet, provide wages for the caretakers to keep the toilets clean and manage them. There is also a need for innovation in the community toilets to ensure availability of electricity by harnessing solar energy and finding out ways to manage faecal sludge including des-sludging of septic tanks. Also, transparent monitoring systems need to be put in place to monitor the functioning of the toilet blocks.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, MCGM has installed incinerators and sanitary pad vending machines in the toilet blocks to address the menstrual hygiene needs of women and girls. We along with Hindustan Unilever have also installed community laundry machines in some of the toilet blocks and the wastewater from the laundry can now be used to flush toilets. The CBOs have been participating in the ‘Flush the virus’ initiative with UNICEF Maharashtra. In response to the current Covid-19 pandemic, we are associated with an NGO, Triratna Prerna Mandal (TPM), which is collectively working with 150 CBOs to spread awareness about Covid-19 among communities in partnership with another NGO, CACR with support from UNICEF Maharashtra Office and the urban alliance of NGO platform convened by UNICEF. We are in the process of distributing 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. The project also aims at setting up hands free pedal operated handwashing station facility attached to each community toilet separately for males and females.

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 Procedures) SoP. We are also taking part in health and hygiene education awareness, sensitivity workshops to make people aware of what to do during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the help of the alliance convened by UNICEF, Maharashtra and its partners, we are also distributing personal protective equipment (supported by Rotary Club of Bombay) among the toilet caretakers, sweepers, cleaners etc.

There are many Community Based Organisations (CBOs) like TPM engaged in operation and maintenance of community toilet blocks constructed under SSP which require hand holding and we are engaged in working with the CBO federation.

I feel that there is also an urgent need to move beyond looking at sanitation as only construction of toilet blocks to focus on sustainable sanitation in the coming times as we face serious threats in situations like floods and the current Covid -19 pandemic. Focus on awareness and educational activities in slums thus need to be increased to encourage community engagement, targeting Infection Prevention and Control (IPC).

We do hope to continue working on capacity building of people on sanitation hygiene while also encouraging more and more people from the community to get involved in the effort in the future.

When Maharashtra became a Covid-19 hotspot, UNICEF Mumbai swiftly brought together more than 55 developmental partners from various sectors and locations with diverse backgrounds to work together to respond in Mumbai and Maharashtra. Mr Jagtap provides advice to the CBOs working on slum sanitation. 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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