Working in public health for the past few years in and around Kolkata has given me an insight into the problem of acute water shortage in the urban slums, as well as lack of basic sanitation facilities. Thousands of families live in these slums, with dubious water sources quenching their thirst. In many cases, segregating water for washing clothes, utensils, and drinking is a luxury, so the whole family simply resorts to a single reservoir of stored water for every activity. Add to this the fact that many of them lack the knowledge that they need to wash hands with soap and water regularly. So, it isn’t surprising that , when an outbreak of enteric diseases like Typhoid and cholera occurs, they spread rapidly throughout these slums, because practising proper hygiene is not a norm here . Carrying out surveillance in many suburbs in the fringes of the city have also enabled me to realise that the text-book references of the minimum distance required between a toilet drain and a drinking water source is farcical. People are worried about getting a tiny dwelling place to squeeze into, so unless a major health hazard happens, nobody in these crowded suburbs would care to look for violations of the norms for safe drinking water.
It is a matter of huge significance that under these circumstances, TERI University and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in association with Coca-Cola and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) today launchedthe ‘Strengthening Water and Sanitation in Urban Settings” initiative inKolkata. The WASH programme (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) aim to reach 50,000 beneficiaries in low income settlements and over 300 professionals through WASH governance studies. It will also reach out to 2,500 students through 20 municipal schools across India.
This is a first-of-its-kind venture that identifies a basic problem plaguing the urban low-income group settlers, and it is commendable how the global soft drink giant Coca-Cola looks to alleviate some of it. Once the project is implemented, it will go a long way to empower the workforce present in the slums and help their development.