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Urban Poor Youth Lead the Charge to Ensure Sanitation

Keeping India’s cities clean cannot merely be the responsibility of municipalities. It is critical that all residents of a city engage in this endeavour. Urban poor youth in Ajmer, Jhansi and Muzaffarpur show the way in leading the charge to ensure sanitation services in their communities. These youth have learnt to become change agents through PRIA's Engaged Citizens, Responsive City initiative.



The 2017 Economic Survey of the Government of India pegged the country’s urban population at 62%. Such rapid urbanisation has led to strain on civic services, in particular sanitation demands. It is also important to realise that a significant proportion (nearly 20%) of India’s urban population lives in informal settlements (commonly called slums). Such settlements within our cities are devoid of basic services, adding to the problem of poor sanitation conditions in urban India. As per Census 2011, 34% slum households do not have latrine facility (of these 18.9% defecate in the open) and 18.8% have no drainage connectivity. NSSO, 69th Round (2012) revealed that 27% slums have no garbage disposal arrangement.

Keeping India’s cities clean cannot merely be the responsibility of municipalities. It is critical that all residents of a city and their civil society associations actively engage in this endeavour. This is also essential if India is to meet its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 6 ensures access to water and sanitation for all and SDG 11 delineates the importance of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

India’s young (35% of our population) is enthusiastic and responsive, ready to participate in bringing about social change. A large number of such youth live in slums in our cities. Involving them in finding solutions and demanding change becomes critical. To ensure sustainability of efforts, it is not only important to ensure participation of youth, but to inculcate in them leadership and consciousness about their rights and responsibilities. They also need to learn to demand their rights respectfully, to be heard and be included.

Through its Engaged Citizens-Responsive City program, PRIA mobilises and organises youth from marginalised, urban poor communities so that they can meaningfully participate in the planning and monitoring of sanitation services in Indian cities, and get access to basic services. In Ajmer, Jhansi and Muzaffarpur, the three cities in which the program is currently operational, these youth are engaged in different ways to bring improved cleanliness and sanitation in their communities and in their city. Engaged Citizens-Responsive City provides opportunities to these youth to develop knowledge, skills and confidence as enumerators, animators, and members of Settlement Improvement Committees (SICs). SICs are representative bodies established with nominated residents from informal settlements. They act as a bridge between service providers and the community, and work as organisations that speak in unison about their communities’ needs and rights. SICs are the focal points through which external stakeholders can connect with communities. Youth and women participation is integral for effective and sustained functioning of SICs.

Special attention has been given to nurture leadership of youth in SIC meetings, and in negotiations with city planners and city administrators. In these meetings, youth are given the opportunity to express themselves in free and persuasive dialogues with various stakeholders. Capacitated to collect and compile data about their communities and (lack of) services available in them, they use data to negotiate their demands. The youth participate in Participatory Urban Appraisals (PUAs) through transect walks, resource and social mapping exercises. They are also being linked to various skill building programs of the government, and for entrepreneurship opportunities through CSR outreach of banks (Table 1).


Table 1: Number of youth participating in Engaged Citizens-Responsive City

 

 

Project City

As animators

As enumerators

As SIC Members

Attended skill building program

Total

M

F

Total

M

F

Total

M

F

Total

M

F

Ajmer

16

8

8

23

14

9

637

391

246

30

7

23

Jhansi

10

7

3

19

12

7

302

141

161

65

15

50

Muzaffarpur

11

6

5

18

12

6

408

207

201

85

20

65

Total

37

21

16

60

38

22

1347

739

608

180

42

138


With new confidence and skills, the youth from various settlements rally together to organise meetings with their elected representatives (such as ward councillors), in which they speak up to demand improvement in the quality of civic services that are being provided in their localities.

The youth also use media to put forth their demands and bring attention to their issues. An encouraging indicator is the increasing number of youth from the urban poor in these three cities who have started using Facebook and Twitter to post information on the successes of their SICs, the trainings and community meetings they attend, and the survey data that they share with municipal authorities.

Over 18 months, more than 1,500 youth have become involved in Engaged Citizens-Responsive City, and played a contributory role in ensuring:
- 20 community toilets and more than 500 household toilets have been constructed
- Waste management initiatives in more than 150 slum settlements have been undertaken
- Drainage lines have been constructed in more than 50 slum settlements
- 61 slum settlements in 169 wards of the three cities have been declared ODF.

As more youth begin to take on responsibilities towards their settlements, Engaged Citizens-Responsive City is fast emerging as a model of youth engagement for inclusive and participatory development of our cities.

 

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