Problem Addressed

India has a high rate of urbanization, with 7 million people migrating to urban India every year. This movement creates large unmanageable slums with no infrastructure. Pune, where Shelter Associates is based, is the 9th largest city in India but ranks 66th in terms of sanitation infrastructure. An estimated 70% of slum households in Pune do not have individual toilets, so residents are forced to stand in long queues to use community toilets, or are left to defecate in the open. This leads to severe health and safety implications. Additionally, most slums do not have any garbage collection and disposal systems. The government struggles to provide these basic hygiene and sanitation services effectively in slums because it has poor data about the needs and habits of the residents and very little information on the existing infrastructure such as plumbing and sewage lines in and around the slums. This lack of relevant data forces one-size-fits-all policies like building community toilets irrespective of ground realities. This leads to poor maintenance, and becomes an inconvenience to slum dwellers and a financial burden on the city.

Innovative Approach

Shelter Associates distinguishes itself in its use of GIS mapping of slums for prerequisite planning of sanitation projects and creating an accurate profile of the surveyed area. The data is organized into a searchable spatial database and presented on Google Earth as a base map, allowing for easy accessibility and user-friendly functionality. This provides both a “bird’s-eye” and “worm’s-eye” view of urban planning and can facilitate optimal use of resources. Combined with their community-centric approach to sanitation projects, this mapping program helps ensure appropriate uptake and demand for toilets in the slum setting.

Google Earth Hero: Shelter Associates

Program Solution

Shelter Associates promotes the vision of “one house, one toilet” as a solution to the problem of urban sanitation in India. It takes a methodical, community-based, technology-led approach to this vision. They work to design well informed, customized solutions to the problem using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing technology like Google Earth. Shelter works closely with local ward officers and the community to facilitate their entry into new slum areas.

The program intervention is done in a few steps. The first step in a new area is data collection. A rapid appraisal involves mapping the slum boundaries, understanding existing infrastructure, numbering of houses, identifying open defecation fields, etc. A survey of around 300 households is carried out over 5-7 days with a team of 3-4 field workers. This data is then incorporated onto the GIS Platform which is used to create detailed reports for each slum, which helps stakeholders understand the present infrastructure and sanitation situation, and then design solutions. Shelter has recently added a step known as ‘Master listing’ which includes a quick household level survey with a short questionnaire and mapping of every house which is ultimately integrated on the GIS platform. This allows for spatial querying across tenements in a given settlement and accurately pinpoints households that lack sanitation or other services.

The next step is community mobilization, workshops and toilet construction. Once the reports are generated, the findings of the household level survey are presented to the administrative ward, councilors and community. The reports are then used to identify the gaps in services and develop resource optimization strategies. Simultaneously, Shelter runs workshops for women and children on sanitation and solid waste management and begins identifying local contractors for building toilets. The materials for construction are provided on site to prevent misuse.

The last step is solid waste management and advocacy. After the toilets are built, a door-to-door garbage collection program commences. The program is run in collaboration with rag-pickers, which helps improve community hygiene. Shelter also drives similar projects in other areas by conducting workshops for senior bureaucrats and media.

Within the Pune context, in the recent months Shelter has worked out a partnership model with the Pune Municipal Council (PMC) which helped them utilize their funds that had been earmarked for individual sanitation. It has been so successful that they are planning to scale this model to reach at least 30000 households in the next two years. The Shelter model is also being replicated in 4 cities of Maharashtra: Pimpri, Chinchwad, Sangli and Kolhapur.