GOAL India: ensuring a better life for children at the city dumps

9 October 2012

GOAL cares for hundreds of thousands of children around the world each year. Sadly, but inevitably, there are many times when we are powerless to prevent loss of life. In these instances, GOAL can play a vital role by helping to investigate the cause of death and putting measures in place to reduce the risk of further fatalities. Following one such tragic case in India, GOAL’s intervention in one community helped to save countless lives. GOAL’s Subhra Mukhopadhyay explains.

 Children working at Belgachia Dump

“Howrah is a neighboring city of Kolkata, India. Its railway station connects Kolkata to all parts of India through its vast network of tracks. As a result, it hosts thousands of migrant workers from all parts of the country.

“The vast majority of these people eventually settle in the numerous slums and settlements in and around Howrah. A significant number end up homeless; living on pavements, in temporary shelters on drains, under bridges, and beside the railway tracks and garbage dumps.

“One of these dumping sites is called Belgachia. It is one of the largest garbage disposal sites in Howrah, removing 687 metric tons of solid waste everyday.

GOAL has been working in this slum since 2009, providing as much healthcare, child protection and livelihoods training as we can to approximately 400 families.

“We do our best to care for the families, but some things are not possible to prevent. In July, two children from Belgachia - Santosh Singh aged eight, and Gautam Paswan aged six - came home from school critically ill. There symptoms were high fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

“GOAL immediately arranged for their hospitalisation, but even by that stage it was too late. Tragically, Santosh died en route to hospital, while Gautam’s fight ended in the emergency care unit the following day.

 GOAL India Programme Officer Subhra & GOAL Global
Technical Advisor (WASH) Mr. Niall Boot, in front of
community toilet at Belgachia Dump

“Watching young children die, and being powerless to prevent it, is a harsh reality for people working in the developing world. What is even worse is that, in many cases, the deaths of poor children like Santosh and Gautam are often quickly forgotten about.

“With our partner organisation, Kotalipara Development Society (KDS), GOAL immediately made touch with our contacts in the Department of Health & Family Welfare, Government of West Bengal, asking that they send a special medical team to investigate these cases. The initial investigation at the hospital found ‘acute encephalitis’, or inflammation of the brain, as the cause of death for Santosh.

“The medical team visited the area on a number of occasions, conducting surveys, collecting blood samples and identifying several species of mosquito.

“Their investigation confirmed the presence of a mosquito that causes encephalitis and several other diseases. Based upon the recommendation of the medical team, the health department has agreed to supply basic medicine kits, help strengthen the local health sub centre, and agree a joint action plan to develop preventive steps to stop future loss of life.

“GOAL’s intervention was crucial. There is no doubt that our presence in the community, our good relationship with the Department of Health & Family Welfare, Government of West Bengal and our prompt action raised awareness of the danger, and prevented other children in the area from dying. Just one week after our initial intervention, Santosh’s brother, Deepak was found with similar symptoms and immediately sent to hospital.

After spending three days in intensive care, he survived.

-    Subhra Mukhopadhyay, GOAL India

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Since 1977, GOAL has spent in excess of €790 million delivering aid to some of the most vulnerable people in the developing world. We have achieved all this on an exceptionally low administration cost base.

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