Today we held our first networking event at the Sixth World Urban Forum (WUF6), “The Role of the Informal Economy in Cities: Current Realities and Future Prospects.”
Katihar, with a city population of 300,000, had a trash problem. Only 40 per cent of the city’s trash was being removed on a daily basis. This was a public health threat and the government’s responsibility to create more sanitary conditions.
Mayor Singh was approached by Dr. Kumar, who proposed a plan to help with the city’s trash removal. In March 2012, SEWA Bharat signed a contract with the Katihar Municipal Corporation. The plan was to start with trash removal from nine wards with a total combined population of 50,000.
Less than six months later, much has changed for the better. One hundred percent of the trash is collected now in the nine wards where SEWA is contracted to work. SEWA Bharat recruited, hired and trained 150 people within the community as waste collectors. Kumar noted that the workers have an improved quality of life; drawing from their wages, they are eating better food and are able to send their children to school. They also felt more valued by the community for the work they were doing.
Currently the service is financed from three sources: the municipality corporation of Katihar, a SEWA project grant, and monthly fees paid by half the population at 20 rupees/month.
Sonia Dias, with years of experience in solid waste management, waste picker cooperatives and governance in Brazil, jumped at the opportunity to share her insights, emphasizing the value of a mass campaign to educate residents that urban services need to be paid for, by them, for sustainability. She also noted the importance of having a clear vision, with long-term, mid-term and short-term goals, in order to experience success incrementally.
Kumar’s vision for Katihar is to establish a viable waste pickers’ cooperative, managing waste collection as a sustainable enterprise for the entire city of 300,000, expanding its services to landfill management and recycling. Employment would grow for the community as well, bringing jobs to the people of the community rather than bringing in large sanitation companies to manage the collection of waste.
Mayor Singh’s vision is to have a clean city, free from garbage, with clean drinking ware for all, and more employment opportunities for the community.
They agree with Dias to take small steps toward short-term goals as they reach for longer term goals to realize their vision.