Setting hygiene standards in urban slums
21 March 2011, Dhaka, Bangladesh - Before a small crowd Doly Ahkter unravels a large piece of brown paper covered in ticks and crosses and begins to explain what the markings mean.
The 22-year-old is one of 15 young hygiene monitors, living in the Rupnagar slum in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, who voluntarily check to see that their families and neighbours are keeping up with safe hygiene practices. They record their findings on large bits of brown paper; ticks and crosses indicating whether or not residents are complying with set hygiene practices.
Dolly’s role was formed as part of the UNICEF-supported Mirpur-Rupnagar Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Upgrading project. The 12 month initiative, which began in mid 2009, sought to promote hygiene awareness and rebuild vital water and sanitation infrastructure in the slum after major parts of it were demolished in 2008. Existing latrines, which UNICEF had helped build between 2001 and 2005 were also destroyed in the process.
Along with the hygiene monitoring process, Dolly is also responsible for the maintenance of a hygiene shop: a small store that was set up to sell cleaning products and sanitary napkins to hundreds of slum residents. Dolly and other young girls make the cotton napkins themselves with money and resources from the upgrading project.
Since starting out, the girls have successfully marketed their product to near-by schools and garment factories and now field orders for thousands of napkins at a time. What small profit the store makes is then put into a community bank account.
“Before we set up the shop we used to just advise community members about hygiene. But now we have the necessary tools to help people deal with hygiene issues. We have sanitary napkins, soap and cleaning products. These things are costly outside but we make them accessible at a reasonable price,” says Dolly.
The upgrading project in the Rupnagar slum provided 11 demountable structures, which contained a hygienic latrine and two bathing areas, each of which served 40 households.
The buildings were constructed beside seven key legal water points, which, after negotiation with the government-run Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA), UNICEF and its partner organisations managed to secure.
Monirul says a legal and sustainable water connection meant cutting out the middle men who were supplying the slum’s residents with illegal water pipes. “A lot of these people were profiting from the illegal connection so they wanted to ensure it stayed that way,” Monirul says. WASA agreed to set up a legal water connection only after UNICEF and its partner organisations helped create a community based organisation that ensured residents paid their bill on time.
As she pushes down on the water pump 40-year-old Anwar Begum says the legal connection has saved her and other households time and money.“Before we had a water point installed, many of the women who worked in the garment factories were forced to get up at 6am and walk half an hour to a near-by house just to ask for drinking water,” says Anwar. “The water was often unreliable and contaminated and because the women had to go straight to work, they didn’t have time to boil it so their children got sick” she says.
More than six months after the upgrading project was phased out in the Rupnagar slum, its residents continue to enjoy clean water, safe sanitation facilities and access to hygiene supplies.