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Habitat Observatory

    Capacity Building: Wielding Miracles in Lives of People
  Shelgaon, a small village in the state of Maharashtra received the Nirmal Gram Puraskar (Clean Village award) from the Government of India for achieving total sanitation.

A year back there was a culture of open defecation; there was no place for disposing of the garbage properly and there were high incidence of water-borne diseases.

Shelgaon achieved total sanitation within a year’s time. The percentage of homes with access to a toilet has increased from 25% to 100%. The village school and the Integrated Child Development Services centre have also got new toilets. The village is garbage-free now; four garbage dumps have been built on the outskirts of the village and the community volunteers ensure that the people dispose of their garbage in the dumps. The people have now access to clean drinking water and the cases of water-borne diseases have drastically reduced in their village.

All this has been achieved by the efforts of Pramila Maruti Sulke, a government appointed Gram Sevak (village worker). Pramila has been a Gram Sevak for six years; but she admits that for the first few years, she had treated it like "just another job".

In 2007, Pramila attended a training course supported by aid from the Department for International Development, UK for Gram Sevaks, where she learnt skills that helped her recognise the pivotal role that a Gram Sevak plays in implementing and monitoring government schemes and extending services to the rural poor. This training changed her attitude towards her work completely.

After her training, Pramila was keen to put her new skills to practice; to motivate and encourage the community to take responsibility for themselves and their problems. In the beginning, she faced problems as people were not ready to help her. But seeing her leadership skills and sincere efforts, people began to respond to her work and volunteered to help her.

Pramila enlisted a group of volunteers - who called themselves the Good Morning Squad - to educate the villagers on the need for toilets and hygienic practices. She cleaned the village tank with the help of volunteers so that people could have access to safe and clean drinking water. She tirelessly helped the villagers apply for government funds to construct toilets. She convinced the villagers to clean up the village and dig pits where they could safely dispose of their garbage.

In 2008, the President of India, Pratibha Patil, announced that Shelgaon was one of the proud recipients of the Nirmal Gram Puraskar.

Shortly after that Pramila was transferred to another village, Solu where she wielded her magic wand again. In Solu, the percentage of houses with toilets rose from 20% to 100% in just one year and Solu went on to win the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in 2009.

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    Cluster Approach: Habitat Solutions that Last
  Bangladeshi people affected by flooding lose more than houses: they are uprooted from their communities, social networks and livelihoods. Crisscrossed by 230 of the most unstable river systems in the world, rural Bangladesh is plagued by riverbank erosion, destruction of property and chronic forced migration. Nazmul Islam Chowdhury, project manager and vulnerability reduction specialist for Practical Action (PA), Bangladesh, advocates holistic, cluster-based habitat development as a lasting solution to these problems. Numerous rebuilding initiatives in Bangladesh cannot halt outmigration due to their focus on housing alone. The Disappearing Lands (DL) Project implemented by PA in the Gaibandha region (North-east Bangladesh) with support of the Big Lottery Fund was not only successful in retaining population levels in the four villages and 342 households resettled between 2004 and 2009, but has actually seen growth and prosperity over four years after the project’s completion. Presently, the Asian Development Bank is assessing the feasibility of replicating this highly effective approach for the resettlement of people soon to be displaced by the construction of a PADMA multi-purpose bridge in the Mawa region of South-east Bangladesh.

The uniqueness of the Disappearing Lands strategy lies in addressing a cluster of 42 key problems identified and ranked through in-depth participatory consultations. The DL Project broke the mould of “barrack-style” housing by asking the people how their homes looked prior to having been damaged by flooding and erosion. Disaster-safety specialists also tapped into community wisdom to predict the future course of the riverbed, choosing sites least likely to be affected by later flooding. Homes were built in clusters of six to create a sense of organic social cohesion within the village as well as to reduce the impact of settlement on local ecosystems. Modernised vernacular architecture, coupling the use of bamboo with tin roofing and reinforced concrete basements, made homes resistant to water damage and winds of up to 150 km per hour.

The DL project enabled access to medical clinics, schools for the children, livelihood training and linkage with markets. Capacity building introduced the local people to innovative agricultural techniques such as semi-hydroponic floating gardens and a seemingly miraculous sandbar cropping approach formulated by Mr. Chowdhury that has made formerly barren sandy riverbeds produce rich pumpkin crops by planting seeds deep inside compost-filled pits. Skill training in weaving, light-engineering, livestock rearing, food processing, cage fisheries and small enterprise development remove the need for migration in search of work. Thanks to this complete package, inhabitants continue systematically to address their own needs. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and donor communities funding resettlement will participate in replicating this approach, and Mr. Chowdhury is convinced of its potential for transforming the habitat development landscape. For further information, please contact Mr. Nazmul I. Chowdhury at Practical Action, Bangladesh: Nazmul.Chowdhury@practicalaction.org.bd