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Women help clean up slum areas in Uttar Pradesh, India

Marking World Water Day 2011

© UNICEF India/2010/Hellen
Munni Begum belongs to a 16-member volunteer women’s group, which is helping to clean up her neighbourhood and spread awareness about good hygiene in Karulla, a major slum area in the Moradabad district of northern India's Uttar Pradesh state.

By Angela Walker

MORADABAD, India, 22 March 2011 – Raw sewage bubbles up along the open sewers that line the narrow walkways of the slums of Moradabad in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state. Hills of stinking garbage pile high in vacant lots, surrounded by wafting clouds of eager flies in the hot, humid air. Florescent green algae sprout over ponds of pooling fetid water. 

“The more near we are to this garbage and dirt, the more sick we are,” says Munni Begum, an older woman squatting on a daybed outside her modest one-room home to escape the humid heat.

Women's empowerment

Ms. Begum belongs to a 16-member volunteer women’s empowerment group, which is helping to clean up her neighbourhood and spread awareness about the importance of hygiene to promote good health.

“Before the group, it was very, very bad,” says Ms. Begum. “Inside the houses it was very dirty, and the roads were very dirty.” She adds that the slum used to rely on manual scavengers who removed faeces from dry latrines in baskets carried on their heads.

“It’s quite an inhuman thing, and it’s really quite unhygienic also, because they would then dump it on the road,” said Project Officer Nupur Pande from the Uttar Pradesh UNICEF office.

An action plan for results

Promoting proper hygiene is part of a 10-point child-friendly agenda being promoted by the women’s group, whose members are trained with support provided by IKEA Social Initiative – UNICEF’s largest philanthropic partner – all within the context of an integrated project aimed at building a protective environment for children. The group’s activities are also in line with World Water Day 2011, which is being marked today with a special focus on water and sanitation in urban areas.

Sushma Sharma has been a member of the women’s group since it was formed last November. “We all sit together, discuss our problems and find solutions,” she says.

© UNICEF India/2010/Hellen
Children walks past an open sewage canal in Karulla, a slum area in the Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh, India, where women’s empowerment groups trained with support from the IKEA Social Initiative are helping to clean up the neighbourhood.

The group has mapped the families in the community and developed an action plan, identifying each problem, the reason behind it, the potential solution, roles and responsibilities, and the progress made. Formal meetings are held twice a month. Group members make home visits, as well.

In the past, Ms. Begum’s group has met with municipal officials to request that the open drains be cleaned and that demands for bribes stop. As a result, sweepers now come every week and proper toilets have been introduced. The group also promotes simple, cost-effective hygiene practices such as proper hand washing with soap, which can dramatically reduce diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections – the main causes of child deaths in India.

‘A better life for my children’

Today, her neighbourhood is “too much clean,” says Ms. Begum. “The children used to have bloated bellies and very thin hands and legs, and that’s reduced a lot.”

Human excreta are the essence of the sanitation challenge. One gram of faeces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs.

“Good health and proper hygiene are inextricably linked,” says Adele Khudr, chief of the UNICEF office in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India with 183 million inhabitants. “These women are educating and empowering their communities to ensure that improved hygiene practices are accepted and sustained.” 

Ms. Begum says being a member of the group has increased her status in the community. “I’m much respected, and everyone greets me – ‘salaam,’” she says. “My life is nearly over, but I want to ensure a better life for my children and all the children here.”



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