Water solutions for Slum Dwellers- in Mumbai
During the peak summer months, major Indian cities experience severe water shortages. The per-capita availability of waterhas fallen from 5,177 cubic meters in 1951 to 1,544 cubic meters in 2011. Despite the rainfall during the monsoon months, India has not done enough to conserve water for “off-season,” or dry season, usage. Where middle-income developing nations like China and Mexico have built large water storage facilities that store, on average, 1,000 cubic meters per capita, India’s per-capita storage is no more than 200 cubic meters.
In urban India, the segment of the population that is acutely affected by water shortages is slum-dwellers. When even legal residents of a city can experience infrequent access to water, the non-legitimized status of slum-dwellers worsens their access to the basic services that other urban citizens are privy to. Typically, there is a set time every day when water can be collected by all slum-dwellers, usually in buckets and pots filled from community taps. In 2002, the National Sample Survey Organization conducted a survey and found that in 84% of notified slums, the main water source is tap water supply. Though this statistic seems high, it effectively glosses over the differences in water access from state-to-state: in the state of Bihar, for example, not a single slum accessed water via tap at the time of the survey.
The Government and Urban Water Policy
In 1972, the government launched the Environmental Improvement of Urban Slums program that specifically prioritized potable water and sanitation services. In 1996, the government also established the National Slum Development Program to provide drinking water and community toilet facilities. The latter program persisted for nine years, but after spending INR3,100 crore (~US$560m) and helping approximately 46 million slum-dwellers, it was cancelled, presumably due to limited funding and lack of political support.
As urban borders expand, it becomes very clear that the water issue is one of insufficient water supply and inadequate access, not lack of government awareness of the growing water challenge. With few exceptions, the central government has treated access to water as part of urban infrastructure development; urban water supply has not been treated as a stand-alone issue in past and existing policy. The central government leaves such planning to city-level authorities. Water supply is governed by overworked local agencies that spend most of their budgets on subsidizing users or meeting administrative costs. Once these initial fiscal obligations are met, there is little funding to channel into further investment or maintenance of new or existing water lines. The private sector has played its part to make up for undersupply by bringing water to underserved areas via water tankers and tube wells, but some private sources (i.e., the “water mafia”) have been known to take advantage of undersupplied communities at a significant profit. Even if all private sector efforts were ethical, they are not enough, especially given rapidly depleting water tables.
Water Supply in Mumbai’s Slums
To understand the depth of insufficient water access and undersupply, the city of Mumbai is a prime example of the challenge. Over the last 20 years, rural-to-urban migration has exploded, as has the growth of slum communities. Most of these communities are concentrated in the city’s western suburbs – along main roads, railways, garbage dumps and on crumbling sidewalks. More than 60% of the city lives in slum communities, and less than 20% of slum-dwellers have access to potable water.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) manages the city’s water supply, but it does not have enough resources to meet the city’s demand, quality, access and management needs. Mumbai’s water networks are over 100 years old and poorly maintained. The networks supply water to nearly 88% of the city population, but this statistic is deceiving: water supply is erratic and unreliable, oftentimes available for no more than four hours per day in many areas. It has been reported that the BMC has recovered only 47% of what it spends on supplying water, where losses result from leakages, stolen water (one statistic cites a loss of at least 86 gallons daily), low tariffs and over-staffing.
Access to in-home piped water is a luxury that the middle and upper classes can afford, but is out of reach for low-income households. Approximately 30% of the city’s population does not have access to in-home piped water. There is a high cost associated with in-home water access, thus slum-dwellers rely on getting water from communal or public taps, purchasing BMC water at inflated prices from vendors or illegally procuring water from municipal supply lines. There is a pay-per-use system in place in most Mumbai slums, where slum residents pay US$0.25 (INR14) per liter; however, this is more than what most residents can afford on an ongoing basis.
Quenching the Thirst of Slum-Dwellers
ReachOut Water Solutions (ROWS), a not-for-profit development consultancy, has proposed a new kind of decentralized water infrastructure service in Mumbai’s slums. To understand the solution, though, one needs to probe the problem to grasp its meaning in slum communities.
The average slum household in Mumbai consists of 4.2 people and makes a total monthly income of about US$100 per month, or US$3.32 per day. On average, slum-dwellers spend US$1.50 per month on water. But slum-dwellers need more water: the BMC provides 30 liters per capita every day, but this is not enough to meet daily needs. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends “20 liters of potable water and 30 liters of non-potable treated water per person per day.”
It is not enough to say that slum-dwellers need more water every day, they actually need better access to water of improved quality. Many urban residents may rely on in-house piped connections or bottled water to fulfill their daily needs, but these options are too expensive for the average slum resident. And what water slum residents can access is not clean. According to ROWS’s research, 13% of BMC water reaching slum communities is contaminated with illness-causing bacteria causing more than six million cases of waterborne illness, 6,000 deaths and millions of hours of lost productivity every year.
The issues that exist around water supply, quality and access all point to water management deficiencies. Currently, the BMC does not provide in-home water access to more than four million slum residents. Since slums are ever growing and have high population densities, it is difficult for the BMC to provide consistent water services to all slum households. As mentioned above, the BMC has not been able to fully recover its costs due to system inefficiencies that further exacerbate the Corporation’s inability to make sufficient revenues. These inefficiencies include, for example, non-payment of water fees, pipe leakages and water theft. This is a vicious cycle: since the BMC cannot make the revenues it needs to break even, it does not have the resources to improve water services to the city’s slums. What is interesting to note, however, is that slum residents are clearly willing to pay some fee for water access: “illegal water middle men” thrive in slums by selling BMC water at increased rates. These are profits that could potentially go to the BMC or another legal service provider directly, but for the reasons outlined above, this revenue potential is being pocketed by profiteering third party providers.
The Slum Water Program Business Plan
ROWS has presented a slum water solution to the government based on a business model it has already proven in Mumbai with its Slum Sanitation Program (SSP). Through the SSP, ROWS has been able to provide 550 toilet blocks in slum communities, with support from the BMC and other community-based organizations. To date, ROWS claims 800,000 slum customers have paid for access to these community toilet facilities.
The Slum Water Program (SWP) will initially target its 800,000 SSP customers with the goal of meeting the water needs of at least 50% of slum-dwellers who do not have in-home piped water by 2025. ROWS cites four primary components of the SWP:
- To provide 20 liters of treated municipal water and 30 liters of treated groundwater to SWP members, as well as a 10-liter pay-per-use potable option for non-members;
- To remove 99.99% of bacterial contamination in provided water by using a small ultraviolet (UV) treatment device that is already widely used in rural India;
- To set up a delivery system whereby sealed and compressible water containers will be made available to SWP members and pay-per-use customers at designated collection centers or home delivery for a small fee; and
- To enable slum communities to manage the water services solution by working with the existing customer base that already pays for improved infrastructure services like SSP.
On a daily basis, ROWS’s goal is to provide sustainable, low-cost water to 1,500 SSP members and 200 pay-per-use customers. The water will be sourced from the BMC and from a bore well. Since ROWS has been successful in working with slum-dwellers and having them pay a fair price for services, the BMC has confirmed its interest in working with ROWS and is willing to install high-quality water lines in selected SWP locations. This would ensure 20 liters of potable water per person per day. The bore well will provide 30 liters of water per person per day, coming from groundwater that is available from Mumbai’s high groundwater table. Because this water is brackish, it cannot be used as drinking water, but it is safe to use for bathing and cleaning.
Water will be stored in large tanks located at the SSP building site. Each tank will hold enough water to supply daily demand. Municipal and bore well water will be stored separately. Municipal storage will include three 10,000-liter tanks to store 30,000 liters in total at one time. This amounts to approximately five hours of daily municipal supply, meeting the total need of 32,000 liters per day. The bore well storage will also include three 15,000-liter tanks to distribute 45,000 of non-potable water daily.
Both of the water sources, municipal and bore well, will be treated with UV units. Each unit kills 99.99% of disease-causing organisms and can treat 15 liters of water per minute. These treatment units are low-cost, with a capital cost of US$300 and an annual electricity cost of US$14. ROWS intends to use 10 UV devices to treat the 77,000 liters of daily water supply. Because the units are simple to use, staff can be easily trained to use and maintain them.
Once the water is ready for consumption, ROWS will provide a variety of distribution options to meet varied budgets and daily demand. Community customers will be the core of ROWS’s business. They can sign up for a monthly water plan and choose to have water delivered to their home via water taxi (auto-rickshaws ready for water container support) or they can pick up their water from the SWP site in 10- or 20-liter bottles. These customers can receive 50 liters of water per day either by delivery (for a fee) or pick-up.
Another option is to pay per usage. Some slum residents may not be able to afford the upfront monthly fee, but can buy water daily to spread the expense more evenly. Such customers can buy the SWP water from a designated street vendor in 10-liter bottles or directly from SWP locations in 10- or 20-liter bottles. The water bottles can be traded every day so that they can be cleaned by SWP and reused. There will be a US$0.40 deposit on each bottle, which customers will get back when they bring their empty bottle back to be traded in.
Implementing a New Water Strategy
ROWS has clearly identified what issues surround slum water supply and designed a model that incorporates free market economics, as well as a true partnership of players already working on the urban water provision scene. ROWS estimates that the total initial pilot investment of US$37,000 will be recovered over three years. The pilot operating costs will be US$1,300 per month with a total monthly income of US$2,600, translating into a monthly profit of US$1,300.
Upon consultation with the BMC, ROWS will execute a SWP pilot at a selected SSP toilet block to prove its business model. The pilot will help ROWS to further refine its model and strategy to be more efficient so that it can function properly as a franchise. The key here is ensuring consistency in services and to settle on the most appropriate and accessible pricing system. This is what is most remarkable about the ROWS business plan: the idea is to scale this model once it has been perfected and allow it to be owned by members of the slum community. If this model works well, there is vast potential for the same model to be duplicated to provide other services to slum communities, such as waste management.
ROWS is proving that it is possible to work with local authorities in providing tailored solutions for poor communities. Though there is not yet enough public data to shed light on how the project, and partnership, is functioning, the SWP is an example of a new way of approaching access to basic services. Hopefully, other organizations with similarly effective models in other underserved sectors will be able to step forward and prove the potential of innovative approaches implemented by efficient partnerships.