Monday, 22 March 2010

UK aid for toilets in Mumbai?

The BBC News website had an interesting piece last week: Should the UK fund toilets in Mumbai slums? You would hopefully say Yes, but after reading the article you might not be so sure, you might have a doubt or two. Why? Well, the article makes two points: (1) India has a USD 1 billion space programme; and (2), quoting Prasad Shetty, a local urban planning consultant, “ The Mumbai government does not require British taxpayers’ money. It has money. The government institutions are loaded with money.”

The article also quotes Gareth Thomas, the UK Government’s Minister of State for International Development as saying: “ Look behind the glitter because there are very different Indias with many poor people living in the slums in Mumbai. We believe that some of our aid should be used to help build up institutions and try and get more effective state more able to protect its citizens, and more able to invest in its own basic services as well. I also think it’s in Britain’s interest that we help developing countries improve the situation for their poorest people because that in turn helps in range of other ways that makes a difference in the UK.”

I’d agree with the Minister – we definitely should do our bit to help poor Indians living in urban slums to gain access to good sanitation, but we shouldn’t forget (and I’m sure DFID isn’t forgetting) about the rural areas where a staggering 69% of the population has to defecate in the open, as opposed to “just” 18% in urban areas [figures on open defecation in India are in the 2010 JMP report].