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Water & Sanitation

Mumbai women create affordable toilet program

Flickr: Gates Foundation

India’s slum dwellers have made sanitation affordable. It all started in central Mumbai with a single toilet block in 1993. A group of women living on the streets convinced the city authorities to provide funding so they could build a community bathroom with four toilets, a water tank and a room for the caretaker.

This one toilet block (toilet blocks are what they call public restrooms), became a model for other women’s groups to base their own community toilets off of.

Next thing you know, there are 366 toilet blocks with 6,952 toilets have been built in Mumbai that serve more than 350,000 people.

Building a public restroom may seem like common practice in many parts of the world, but this is monumental and extremely challenging to accomplish in India. It costs about $50,000 USD to build a toilet block big enough for ten seats on the women’s side and ten on the men’s. The land space must be found--which in Indian cities can be difficult--and detailed contracts and designs must be written up.

It is also quite tricky for a slum dweller to become a contractor, like these women have. It’s risky to open a bank account because banks do not have regulations in favor of slum dweller women.

Even once the toilet block is built, maintaining requires a whole other set of challenges. It needs intensive cleaning, and water and electricity bills need to be kept up to date. Not to mention that funding comes from those that use the toilets, who are often poor themselves. Therefore the fee for use has to be cheap enough for slum dwellers to afford multiple times a day, but enough to cover the costs of the block’s upkeep.

But the model has proven effective and these women have made toilets work in Mumbai. The awesome track record gives local governments reason to invest in the project in other parts of the city if they’ve seen it work already. Some parts of the city face political interference and hit dead ends when local government officials refuse to work with slum organizations. But the program speaks for itself and shows that sanitation can be implemented and maintained by those that need it the most.

TAKE ACTION NOW and sign the petition to prioritize sanitation for women everywhere.