Revisiting Kanpur: one year on

Claire Pearson, HSBC Water Programme Manager at WaterAid, writes about revisiting a community in northern India. 

What a week it has been in wonderful India. We have witnessed hope, pride and evidence of sustainability in the five communities we visited, and met inspirational agents of change – young, old, male and female.

I’d like to focus on one community for this post, a slum called Rakhi Mandi in Kanpur, the most populous city in Uttar Pradesh.

Rakhi Mandi has some of the worst living conditions I have ever seen, owing to the extreme lack of sanitation and waste water management. I visited here last year and the experience will forever stay in my mind.

As it is unrecognised by the government, its 3,393 residents are unable to demand their rights to water and sanitation services.

The nearby railway tracks serve as the main ‘open defecation site’. We heard awful stories about people who, while trying to find somewhere to go to the toilet, had been fined or arrested by railway staff, injured by passing trains, or sexually assaulted.

This was my second visit to Kanpur with Sue Alexander from HSBC’s global sustainability team, together with a new group of HSBC Water Programme representatives from other areas of the bank.

It took WaterAid and our partner Shramik Bharti five months to win the community’s confidence and trust. Seema Pandey, from Shramik Bharti, told us: “Last time you visited, people were surprised that you didn’t have a hidden agenda.” 

Change doesn't happen overnight in slums like Rakhi Mandi but small, significant, steps have been made. In the last six months, three hand pumps have been restored, with raised platforms and soak pits to ensure that waste water is managed effectively.

A further 72 household soak pits have been constructed to prevent water-logging and seepage, thanks to a female mason, and around 47 families have built household toilets.

I spoke with a lady called Rabia about her new soak pit installed at her home, allowing water to slowly soak into the ground. She told me: "It’s very helpful. It’s much easier to bathe and get rid of waste water.”

She said that, for her, the soak pit is the "first step on ladder”. Now she would like a household toilet and a hand pump nearby.

I hope that our work in Rakhi Mandi continues to build momentum and encourage people to strive for better living conditions, starting with improved drainage, access to a toilet and safe drinking water. But we have lots more to do with a further 680 families still going to the toilet outside.

As the leader of this programme at WaterAid, I want the sustainability of our projects across all six countries to result in lifelong change for individuals and communities. This for me will be the legacy of the five-year HSBC Water Programme, of which I am incredibly proud to work on.

To revisit these communities is such an honour, and we felt that our local partners and the community appreciated it too. Seema told us that it can be inspiring for a community, especially ones like Rakhi Mandi, to know that people are taking an interest in their situation.

Now that we have come to the end of the visit, the HSBC team is tasked with sharing their experience in their countries and regions to spread our HSBC Water Programme message even further.

I hope they got as much out of this visit as I did. I believe they have.

I quote Annalisa Heath, HSBC UK, reflecting on a visit to Manoharnagar community in Kanpur, where we had seen huge progress take place:

"It really makes you understand the word ‘sustainable’.”


The opinions expressed in this blog are the writer’s own.

Find out more about the HSBC Water Programme visit to WaterAid and WWF projects in India:

India visit 2014 in pictures

Day six - Hope springs in Rasoolpur: a community in action - 5 April 2014

Day five - Making room for taps and toilets is schools - 4 April 2014

Day four - Can this man make a difference? - 3 April 2014

Day three - Kanpur slum: hope for the future  - 2 April 2014

Day two - Inspiring change: Pooja's journey - 1 April 2014

Day one - Welcome to WaterAid India! - 31 March 2014

One size doesn’t fit all in India - 24 February 2014


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