HSPH students create map of toilets in Mumbai slum, aim to improve sanitation

In the Mumbai slum known as Cheeta Camp, there’s a problem with toilets. There aren’t enough; people don’t like the public toilets run by the government because they’re dirty and dark; and little kids mostly don’t use the toilets at all, but do their business in the open, near sewers. On the other hand, people do like the cleaner, well-lit pay toilets run by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

This information and more was gathered by a dozen Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) students who traveled to Mumbai, India in January 2012 to research life in the city’s slums. Working under Richard Cash, senior lecturer on global health, the students also created a map of Cheeta Camp’s toilets because no one knew for sure how many there were. The map included information on the location of toilets, who put them up, how they functioned, and whether or not they were operational. Such information can be used to advocate for better sanitation.

“Poor sanitation is one of the most important underlying causes in the country’s pervasive malnutrition,” said Cash in a July 22, 2012 New York Times article.

The students counted 701 toilets in 46 different facilities to serve Cheeta Camp’s 117,000 people, but only 38 of the facilities were functional, meaning there was one working toilet per 170 people. They forwarded their map to local NGOs, city officials, and to the medical director of Cheeta Camp.

“The first thing we heard when we arrived was that there wasn’t enough space to build new toilets,” HSPH student Jennifer Weaver told the Times. But with the map, she added, they “could show that of the 46 toilet blocs, eight did not work. So why not fix those toilets?”

Read the New York Times article

Learn more

HSPH Researchers Help Boost Public Health in India (HSPH news)

Into India (Harvard Magazine)

photo: Sam Loewenberg