Hope in the City of Tombs

On World Water Day 2015, our India Coordinator Praveena Sridhar visits Agra and takes FRANK look at what it takes to ensure safe water and sanitation in the slums around the Taj Mahal.   

Agra is perhaps best known as the home of the Taj Mahal, a beautiful marble tomb built in the 1600s by the emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

What is less well known is that there are hundreds of extraordinary smaller tombs and monuments across the city, 265 in total. 

Boys play cricket in front of Taj    Credit: Sarika Seshadri 

Boys play cricket in front of Taj

Credit: Sarika Seshadri 

Many of these sites are located in one of Agra’s 432 slums, and these slums are facing a serious water and sanitation crisis.

People in these slums have no water supply. They either pump water from under the ground, or buy water from private water tankers, which bring in water from outside the city. This water is expensive, unsafe and there are serious shortages, especially in the summer. At the same time, there is a lack of sanitation and drainage, which leads to a high risk of waterborne disease.

Poor drainage in Agra slum  Credit: Sarika Seshadri

Poor drainage in Agra slum

Credit: Sarika Seshadri

Water Tankers   Credit: sarika seshadri 

Water Tankers 

Credit: sarika seshadri 

What does it take to solve this problem?

The first, most important step is to understand the context. Cities are different to rural areas and every city is different.

To show you what I mean, here are two clips from communities in Agra where we are working with our partner CURE (the Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence).

The first clip is from Islam Nagar. This settlement is only 10 years old. This means that people in this area are not well rooted into the local political system or the fabric of the city. If we want to work on issues of water and sanitation in such a vulnerable community we need to take these issues into consideration. For example, they may not be able to speak openly about issues that are affecting them for fear of how local political leaders will react.

The second clip shows the sanitation and hygiene situation in Ambedkar Nagar slum. This shows why it is important to work on water and sanitation together. Without working on sanitation, all of the health benefits of clean water can be undone. 

As our work in Agra progresses, we will be learning about urban contexts and documenting our experiences along the way.  In this way we can provide greater support to the communities we work with and help build up knowledge on how to make sure that everyone, including people in urban slums, have access to safe water and sanitation.

ACTION World Water Day

Here are some ideas for how you can get involved in World Water Day this year:

·      SUPPORT our work with communities such as Islam Nagar and Ambedkar Nagar by hosting a Karma Korma party 

 ·      JOIN the global conversation: Take a picture of what water means to you and tweet it to #wateris 

 ·      Walk for Water. Join a local walk or take a virtual trip to demand that world leaders take action on water and sanitation