Delhi: Life in the Slums
We headed to a slum in Delhi because access to safe drinking water is a constant source of stress for its residents, as it is for 900 million people around the world. Unsafe water leads to health problems from waterborne diseases, which are the second largest cause of death for children under five globally. And with growing numbers of people everywhere migrating from the countryside to cities, where many of them end up living in slums, the problem—from India to Brazil to Nigeria—is only getting worse.
All around us, the one to two-story concrete structures were in decay, stacked precariously one on top of the other. On the flat rooftops, people had built more housing from corrugated tin and leftover remnants of drywall. There were children, women wrapped in bright saris, and men of all ages, from teenagers to the elderly, squeezed into every microspace available.
A kindly woman dressed in sparkling greens and yellows gently pushed her way up to Alexandra’s side. She appeared to be in her mid-40s, deep laugh lines creasing her cheeks. You can’t help but like her at once. Alexandra asked the woman, Raj, questions about water access.
Raj pointed to a lonely spigot rising out of the pavement. “This was one of the only places in our village to get water,” she explained. “Further in, there is no water at all. But you can’t even drink this water. It is only good for washing.” The tap, she said, runs only from 6-9 am and 6-9 pm. Lines begin forming at 5:30 pm every day. To make matters worse, there are only ten toilets for the 2,000 people living in this slum, and all of them are broken. Raj wants the government to fix the slum’s toilets. Unfortunately, she is not alone. Only 33% of India’s population has access to sanitation. 670 million people are in need of a latrine.
The contrast between the place and its people was striking. The conditions might have be unsanitary and overcrowded, but we felt no sense of danger, only friendliness and, from the eager children who crowded us begging for their photos to be taken, joy. This impression was only reinforced when, just before we left, a sprightly middle-aged man walked up and handed us three mugs of hot coffee, milky and sugary sweet. Here we are in a place where people exist on next to nothing, yet they treated us as guests and offered us gifts.
Raj took Alexandra’s hand as we prepared to leave and asked if she will visit her again. “We would love to Raj. I sincerely hope we can” Alexandra responded. We all felt that way. Somehow, the people of the New Delhi slums had touched us deeply.