One goal in development work is to be sure your projects are reaching and benefiting your target population. For Water 1st, that target population is the poorest individuals, those who are living day-to-day or in a perpetual resource deficit. Access to water and toilets help the poorest achieve a sense of dignity and place them in a position to begin to accumulate an economic buffer to deal with life’s challenges. So our programs are most effective when toilets and water systems are getting to the poorest. In slum settlements, everyone looks poor from our perspective, but there can be people from a wide range of socio-economic statuses in a small area. Our local partner in Bangladesh, DSK, has a system for categorizing the resources available to families to determine who is most in need. They invest the effort to be sure that most of their work impacts the lives of the poorest.
On our most recent trip, we saw a number of examples of DSK’s focus on serving the poorest. We visited what DSK referred to as a “gypsy” community in Kaundia slum. We asked what a gypsy community was. “A group of people who aren’t allowed to own land. They live in boats and make a living trading jewelry, traditional medicines, and other things. Historically, they have been discriminated against in our society.” This group of gypsies had been allowed to settle in homes on dry land, although it isn’t the best location – it’s isolated from the city of Dhaka by a river they have to cross by boat. Living conditions were very poor until DSK came in with their program of water supply, toilets, hygiene education, and community organization.
We also visited the “Snake Charmer” community. Like the gypsies, the Snake Charmers have traditionally been denied the right to own land. They live on boats and make their living entertaining people with circus-like performances. In Demra, a group of Snake Charmers had been allowed to settle on a sliver of land between the main highway south out of Dhaka and a large pond. They had hanging latrines. They bought drinking and cooking water for 5 taka per 3-4 gallons (which converts to $2/month). For cleaning and bathing, they used pond water. DSK approached the community about taking out a loan for their own water system and toilet. For just 3 taka per family per day ($1.25/month), they could have all the water they need right there in their own compound. And it’s better water! The community jumped at the opportunity and they took out a loan for a toilet, too.