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News & opinion

7 JAN 2020

Addressing the unaddressed: innovation in India

'With an address I now exist,' confirms Rupa Mondal, a slum dweller in Kolkata, India. 'When I was studying, I found it embarrassing that I didn't have an address and couldn't identify where I lived, like other people in my class. Now I have pride, feel like myself, and my family have a true identity recognised by the government.'

Addressing the Unaddressed (ATU), a not-for profit charity, is well on the way to providing unique addresses for the 1.5m slum dwellers in Kolkata. To achieve this, it follows a well-defined process that has been honed over the past six years.

First, the charity works with the community to explain the benefits, meeting local councillors and the residents themselves – a process it calls sensitisation. Then, to allocate an address to each dwelling, an ATU employee stands in front of a slum with a smartphone and converts a GPS signal into a 12-digit alphanumeric code, such as 7MJCG969+C8Q6. This is printed on a sign that is attached to the individual dwelling.

This open-source plus code – effectively a street address for those people who would otherwise lack them – links directly to Google Maps, making it easy to locate individuals living in a slum. This code is an intelligent address that has official recognition. A household-based survey is then carried out, recording details of the occupiers and their:

  • access to water
  • sanitation
  • healthcare
  • indoor air quality.
slum dwellers in kolkata
Addressing the Unaddressed aims to have provided all slum dwellers in Kolkata with a code equivalent to a house number by the end of 2019. Image credit: Richard Mason

This data is shared with the local authorities and other NGOs working in the slums. Finally, workshops are arranged with organisations such as the post office so slum dwellers can access those services.

With an address, slum dwellers can have post delivered to their home rather than to a table shared by more than 300 families. They can also open a bank account and save money securely, set up a utility account, register for a voter’s card, and more readily obtain an ID card and hence receive social benefits. Emergency services can locate them easily, and children can be included  in immunisation programmes.

With Google’s support, the charity has now provided 100,000 dwellings in Kolkata slums with postal addresses. At €2 per home this offers a new life for more than 400,000 slum dwellers. ATU founders Alex Pigot and Tina Roche say: ‘The success in Kolkata will act as a reference point for our Address Academy, which we will shortly set up in the city. We will freely share our expertise globally with full details on our website, to enable others to copy our work.’

The UN estimates that there are 883m people living in slums around the world. By the end of 2019, at least everyone in the slums of Kolkata should have an address.