Sharad Gaur, CEECities in the National Capital Region (NCR) of India are undergoing extremely rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, and the situation has become particularly alarming over the last decade. A whole range of environmental issues linked to this growth process have emerged – loss of natural habitats and native species; waste management problems; scarcity of water; pollution of water, land, air and other resources; and several other pressures linked to this exponential spurt in the human population of the region. In recent years, two issues among these have become most visible – those of water and waste management.
The problems have manifested themselves in repeated episodes of water scarcity, contamination, failure of waste management systems, and so on. At the same time, there is a felt need for re-orienting public attitudes and behaviour relating to the use and conservation of water, and disposal and management of wastes, especially domestic/municipal solid wastes. The general public perception appears to be that the solutions should be found by the government/ civic/ municipal agencies, and people, while they are aware of the issues, by and large do not identify their own role in this.
In this context, an ‘Environment Education and Action Programme for Schools in the National Capital Region’ was supported by the India-Canada Environment Facility (ICEF) and implemented by the Delhi office of CEE from March 2005 to March 2007. The project aimed at creating awareness and building capacity of teachers and students, on water conservation and solid waste management in 60 schools from 6 selected cities in Delhi.
The project activities included setting up of
- rainwater harvesting systems
- facilities for waste paper recycling
- solid waste management through composting
- installation of looms for weaving and producing useful material from used polybags
A total of 60 schools from six NCR cities (10 each from Delhi, Ghaziabad, Sahibabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon and NOIDA) were taken up.
This project was an attempt to provide the school communities a hands-on opportunity for putting good environmental practices into place, and to practise in real life at least a part of what the students are taught in theory related to environmental studies. The idea was born out of the belief that schools are not just places for academic pursuit; they are also living communities of people that have the potential to influence thousands of families, neighbourhoods, and society at large.
The work components were carefully designed to ensure that each partner school would in the long run become a nucleus of public awareness about water conservation and waste management issues. At the same time, long-term assets would accrue to each school, and would be instrumental in water conservation and waste minimization.
This project has also led the CEE team to a fairly good understanding of various requirements in the school system related to environmental services, namely:
sanitation (in particular for girls, which is a critical area and accounts for the large-scale dropout of girl students around the 10-12 year age bracket); water supplies, management, and conservation;
energy resources and management; waste management, minimization, and disposal.
Rainwater harvesting structures, handmade paper units, and composting units have been set up at 58 partner sites (of the 60 sites) and are functioning. Waste-polybag weaving looms have been set up and made operational at 5 sites, and user groups have been trained.
A bank of resource material has been produced in Hindi and English, and disseminated among partner institutions and others users.
Teachers in many schools are using the learnings from the project to enrich their classroom teaching.
Partner schools have begun more active efforts in minimizing waste, segregating wastes at source, recovering resources from waste through recycling and composting, and harvesting rainwater.
The facilities created under this project are now long-term assets of the schools and are also visible to the general public through signage set up at the sites.
The project has had a direct outreach to approximately 15,000 students in 60 partner schools, spread over 6 cities in the NCR. Core groups of approximately 20 to 50 students per school have been set up to continue the activities. Similarly, 120 to 150 teachers, and maintenance staff of the 60 schools have been covered directly (2-3 nodal teachers per school), and several hundred more teachers and school staff indirectly.
Families of the teachers and students, and communities in the neighbourhoods of the 60 schools have benefited indirectly through visiting and observing the facilities and the practices under the project.
Linkage with Government
The Departments of Education in the three States involved (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana) have been involved right from the beginning of the project, by way of assistance in school selection, issue of necessary permissions, instructions to Principals for ensuring participation, and so on. Project staff have periodically gone and briefed them about the progress in various towns, and some of them have informally visited the project sites at the partner schools in their respective towns.
In Delhi, the Department of Environment has taken active interest by way of advising their Eco Club member schools to get involved with the CEE-ICEF project, and inviting CEE to various Eco Club events in Delhi.
The National Bal Bhavan, New Delhi, an institution under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has partnered actively with the project. Apart from becoming a project site, it also hosted the Eco Fair (Eco Mela) in November 2006.
Sustainability and Replication
All the facilities created under the project are now assets of the partner schools, and are being managed by them. Almost all the facilities are free of recurring expenses and would need only minimal damage repair, which is to be borne by the partner schools.
CEE has already been receiving numerous requests from schools for starting similar units and education programmes there. Most of these requests come as a result of visits made to the CEE-ICEF partner schools and learning about the project. CEE is assisting such institutions with its own resources.
The project experience on the whole is eminently replicable and can be either scaled up in the same institutions, or carried out to new areas. CEE has been working towards this and has initiated dialogues with a few agencies to explore the way forward.
There is an urgent need for the education departments at city/ state level to incorporate good environmental practices into their design, planning, construction, and estate management. It is evident that even small interventions such as this project can help achieve major improvements in environmental conditions, while at the same time resulting in cost savings for the institutions, departments, and governments concerned. The project has also helped highlight the need for an integrated approach to these issues, instead of the current policy and practice of tackling each issue in a piecemeal manner and more in an emergency-response fashion rather than a long-term, vision-based planning process.
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