The health of the environment is inextricably linked to the health of the communities that rely on it. An unhealthy environment can cause illness, affect livelihoods and keep people trapped in a cycle of poverty.
In Sohdra, Wazirabad, the local communities are struggling under the burden of environmental instability. A lack of waste management, land damaged by floods and a reliance on unsafe water has meant that illnesses like Diarrhoea are all too common and agricultural livelihoods are hard to maintain. In a survey of 100 households, 60% were found to be experiencing problems with their liver and nearly half of households were not covered by government waste collections and so they were forced to dispose of their waste onto the streets.
In June 2014, MH officially launched a project to engage the people of Sohdra in an environmental conservation and waste management programme. As with all of our projects, we worked closely with local communities to raise awareness of environmental issues and to develop measures to tackle these.
The opening ceremony was attended by a plethora of people, including government officials, community organisations and students and their teachers. Out of this came a burst of local activity. With the help of Muslim Hands staff, six community based organisations were set up.
Meeting on a monthly basis, these organisations worked hard to raise awareness of environmental rights and responsibilities; 10 community meetings were held, attended by almost three hundred people, student councils were set up over 12 different schools and a policy dialogue platform was established between the community representatives and service providing departments in the area.
Thanks to the activism of Sohdra’s people, a total of 400 trees (300 of them fruit trees) were planted all over the area, 50 waste disposal units were installed in sites that were carefully chosen by the CBO members and a clean-up of the local canal was organised.
The project also resulted in the signing of an agreement between government and community organisations, that the local municipality would carry out regular environmental services and undertake the responsibility of safe collection and disposal of solid waste.
Not only has the programme resulted in practical measures being taken to combat the problems that the people of Sohdra face, but it has also empowered local communities to take ownership of their environment. Capacity building sessions with CBOs helped them to learn about everything from organising meetings to preparing and maintaining technical and financial records and documentation and local people were given information and advice on different ways to create and maintain a clean, healthy environment.
By inviting people to be involved in decision making, locals have been given a voice. This has been especially positive for marginalised groups like women. When the project was initiated, the Muslim Hands Vocational Training Centre for Girls, was approached alongside local schools to engage women in the programme’s activities. As a result of these efforts, an all-female Community Based Organisation was formed and women-only consultation meetings took place across Sohdra.
The Youth of Gazi Colony CBO are now planning to open a joint account to deposit monthly amounts to be spent on community projects and they are maintaining regular communication with senior figures of the waste disposal service.
As their hard work continues to show its rewards, the people of Sohdra are hopeful about the future. There is still much work to be done, but now that they are mobilised, they will continue to work together to improve conditions for their communities. As one local explains, ‘The conservation project that Muslim Hands has set up is very important to us. We must care for our environment and our environment will care for us’.