Slum development is a gold mine in terms of not just ecological preservation but also human development. Let us explore this UN-SDG in Indian context

BuzzOnEarth is an online publication on environmental sustainability and human wellness, focused on creating positive impact. BoE aims to bridge the knowledge gap and act as a catalyst in accelerating sustainable development.

It isn’t uncommon for an average Indian to pass across tin-roofed houses or for the matter, houses made of tin completely. It is also not uncommon for us to forget them immediately. After all, the sight isn’t as good and it makes absolutely no sense in tiring our eyes looking at such a scene. 

The people who live there are visibly not well off and seem to be struggling. Puddles of wet mud and gutter water seem to lie right in front of their gates and one can only think- how do they even live there!

 

Well, welcome to the place where every sixth Indian living in urban areas lives. Welcome to the grim world of Indian Slums. To put things into perspective, here are some data points!

About 65% of the towns in India have slums. What is a slum after all but for a place where people do not have access to the basic amenities? Of this slum-dwelling population, about 60% of the population lives close to unsanitary and even open drains. A whopping 40% of these slum dwellers have probably never had drinking water in their life!

Looking at the Silver Lining

Well, yes, there is a silver lining and a significant one at that! Have you ever found a single slum dweller complaining? Well, No! First, they do not have the time to complain because their lives are tough as it is and second, they make the most out of what they have!

A teammate at Buzz On Earth had done an extensive research project in the slums of Mumbai. The research team was surprised to find that the aspirations of the people in the slums are phenomenal.

Despite what they have, the slum dwellers want their kids to study and grow up on the socioeconomic ladder! These people try and improve their lives, even use the “Jugaad-technology” so that they may have access to the basic amenities.

Having generators made out of old scooters or workable water pumps running on physical pedalling are some of the common examples. 

Indeed they see more children as more working hands but the trend has started to change now and they are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of good sanitation.

Not trying to sound political but the slum dwellers have appreciated the recent Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and have gradually started benefiting from the schemes aimed at the development of the urban poor.

What can We do!

Well, this section is mostly for those who really want to take up some project and work for these people. We understand that such stuff will require a lot of effort and dedication but if even one of our readers takes this up, what more will we want!

The slums face a lot of serious concerns, sanitation and clean drinking water being one of the foremost. So, we thought of creating a model of sorts which can make the slum development a self-sustaining activity. We will try and explain it in the points shared below. For a more detailed discussion, feel free to write to us!

Educating the People

To begin with, we will talk about education. One of the major hindrances towards development is that people do not know what it means. They have seen what they have, they have limited exposure and hence they can think only so much. The human brain works on the logic of conditioning and so if we teach the people about what is available and what all can be made available, we will open them to the multiple opportunities. With an understanding would develop the brain’s power to think of the needs, to understand the necessities and necessity has always been the mother of invention!

Training and Systemisation

There are ample examples from across municipalities in the country where the municipal bodies used the barren unclaimed lands to develop employment opportunities for the underprivileged. For instance, several semi-urban towns in Uttarakhand had haats built for the street vendors. This resulted in an organisation of the local vendors giving them a shot at better sales while ensuring complete hygiene.

Thus, while the locals got a new place to hang out, the street hawkers got a better life.

Such replications can be done in terms of sanitation as well as basic health care and vocational training too- a topic which we will discuss in the next heading

Self Sustaining Models

It is possible to create self-sustaining models in the slums which encompass not just education but basic amenity provision too. Let us take sanitation as an example. Now, to ensure that all the waste gets segregated and/or collected in landfills, the trenches will have to be dug. Manpower will be required to dig these trenches. Also, once the process of landfilling starts, someone will be required for maintenance. Plus, to ensure that the sewage or rainwater does not collect, the roads will have to be built. We may not necessarily require tar roads but even cement or solid mud would be enough. Manpower would be required for that as well. All of this manpower can well be generated within the slum dwellers only. Of course, training and basic infrastructure support will be required but with so many NGOs around, the same can be provided for. This is an example of just one self-sustaining model, there can be many more such models if one carefully analyses the situation.

Disseminating Information

The Government is taking steps in terms of the multiple policies at the offer. The problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach the intended. There is a huge gap that needs to be filled and we feel that as individuals or even as the NGOs, we can help bridge that. 

As a matter of fact, slum upliftment can be made mandatory for CSR activities. The focus has been on developing the natural sources till now. Probably, we should look at a mix of these two activities.

 

The thing is, a lot can be done! We just have to think about it sincerely!

 

(At BuzzOnEarth, we have always stood for the idea that sustainability isn’t just about environmental conservation. It is about the holistic development of the entire ecosystem. Indian being a developing country has its own demons to face! While the country is progressing significantly towards environment conservation, issues such as slum development seem to have taken a back seat. As a responsible organisation, we feel that it was about time that someone picked up the concept of human development too! And by human development, we mean not the industrial development but development of an individual. After all, it is only the conscious responsible humans who bring about the change for better!)