An article I wrote for the Thali Cafe published in February’s Bristol 24/7 Magazine.

In 2013 we created Thali Water. 50p from every freshly filtered litre bottle of Thali Water is donated to fund projects that improve access to clean water and sanitation in the urban slums of Agra. So far we have raised £20,000.

During a recent trip to the subcontinent we visited the Thali Water projects in Agra to see how the money had been spent. Home to the Taj Mahal, Agra is a city dominated by tourism and commerce. Huge hotels impress tourists with fancy water features whilst large numbers of people live without clean water to drink.

We met with our partners FRANK Water, a safe water charity based in Bristol, and development organisation CURE who have been working in Agra since 2005. Historically, Agra had a secure water supply with over 400 wells and reservoirs and careful systems to manage the rain that falls naturally in the area. Over time, these systems have fallen into disrepair. Together, these organisations are working with communities to revive some of these sustainable solutions. These will be used as models, which together with the government, can then be scaled up.

CURE’s work with two slum communities in Agra, Ambedkar Nagar and Islam Nagar is in its initial stages. The work addresses the incoherence of the community through simple activities such as cleaning. It might not sound like much, but this basic activity brings isolated individuals out of their homes and participating with neighbours, building a sense of pride.

The western expectation was to see some kind of clean water plant that had been built with the money raised. This, however, was not the case. The work that Thali Water has contributed to is barely visible. Yes, there are a few households who have introduced rainwater harvesting and that has reduced levels of disease in the communities. But the answers are more complicated than we would like.

Water source, Agra Slum

Water source, Agra Slum

CURE and FRANK Water helped us to understand that the communities have to take ownership of change. Individuals have to make changes in their own homes, for example installing a rainwater harvesting system that is paid for, constructed and maintained by the individual, Without this ownership, the work will never be sustainable. Billions have been spent on just installing water points and toilets, which after a few years, inevitably fall into disrepair.

To avoid this, it’s important to mobilise communities from the very beginning and help people to develop their own solutions. We met with women’s groups and youth groups who had already developed plans to install rainwater harvesting and improved waste management, in homes, schools, nurseries and parks. Over the next year, the aim is to start implementing some of this work.

The idea is to show how even in the poorest communities in urban areas, people can work together to live healthily and sustainably. A good example of this came from Harveer and his family whom we met on our trip.

Supporting a family of four and facing daily crisis of dealing with water necessity, Harveer had to face the expensive and unreliable task of purchasing water from the cartelised tankers. His family were dependant on poor quality water located over 40m away from their home. On average, Harveer was spending Rs. 170 to 200 per month on buying water.

Inspired by the local discussion held by the CURE team in Ambedkar Nagar, Harveer was a bit unsure of the viability of rainwater harvesting and did not come forward as a volunteer. But after seeing the progress of neighbours Kishan and Bhangwan who had installed rainwater harvesting in their home, Harveer felt motivated to make a change.

Atomised living, Agra Slum

Atomised living, Agra Slum

Harveer consulted his neighbours, made a list of the materials required and procured them all in a day at his own expense of Rs. 300. On 1st August 2015 Harveer fitted the system onto his roof. A small drum of 50 litres filled with brick ballast, charcoal and gravel filter collected he water from the roof. The water is fit for drinking, if the roof, pipe and filter are maintained.

After installation it rained twice and Harveer was able to collect 150 litres of water. Harveer used this water to demonstrate to his neighbours the quality of the rainwater harvesting system. Harveer is convinced that the quality of the water is exceptional; clothes washed use less detergent, soap is more soluble and the quality of his family’s hair and skin has improved.

Thanks to installing the rainwater harvesting system Harveer has saved time and money not buying from the tanker, has improved his family’s health and has helped to change attitudes within the community.

Help us change more lives like Harveer’s. Bring your friends and family to try our new recipes, enjoy fresh filtered water, and help support the people of Agra.

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