An evaluative study on the informal water distribution system in Kaula Bandar slum in Mumbai- A paper in BioMed Central Public Health Journal

The paper evaluates an informal water distribution system in Kaula Bandar(KB), slum in Mumbai.

As a result of rapid urbanisation, majority of migrated population is forced to settle in places which are not legally recognised by state authorities. These areas thus lack in basic services like water supply and sewerage. Consequently, the slum dwellers often resort to illegal methods to avail these services. Such practices in these overcrowded slums are not only poor in terms of quantity supplied but the quality is also a major problem.

The paper in its background states that in Mumbai only notified slums are ensured security of residential tenure and access to water, sanitation, and electricity. In non-notified slums there exists a complex informal system for procuring, distributing and storing water. The authors define non-notified slums as “community-created or private systems that are outside of the purview of government regulation”. Such distribution systems adversely affect health and social equity of the people.

The authors evaluate such a distribution system using commonly accepted health and social equity indicators: cost of water, quantity of water consumed at the household level, microbiological and chemical quality of water, and residents’ opinions of hardships associated with water access. For this purpose the authors have used data from the 2008 KB Baseline Needs Assessment (BNA) and the 2011 KB Seasonal Water Assessment (SWA).

The paper after setting the background of the study goes on to describe the study area where:

  • Almost everyone purchases water via an informal distribution system run by private vendors.
  • Water vendors have created entry points in the fire brigade pipes from which water is extracted using motorized pumps.
  • Underground piping infrastructure is absent.
  • Large plastic drums are used for storing water, which is used for bathing, toileting, and washing clothes.

An analysis on this system shows:

  • That it is vulnerable to widespread failure. This is so because whenever the local government official’s raid and confiscate motors that tap water from fire brigade pipes, access to water to KB’s residents is cut. Such episodes of “system failure” occur a few times a year.
  • Water vendors incur significant costs to maintain such a system, all of which are passed on to community residents who purchase this water.
  •  Water vendors pay bribes of INR 500 to 1000 (USD 9 to 18) to get motorized pumps back.

The paper then goes on to elaborate on the study design for the 2008 Baseline Needs Assessment (BNA) and study design for the 2011 Seasonal Water Assessment. The findings of these studies are as follows:

  • Majority of households paid a monthly base fee to water vendors of Indian rupees (INR) 150 to 400 per month for water during all study periods.
  • The residents spend 52 to 206 times more than residents of slums with legal water access, depending on the season.
  • Residents spend 5.9% to 15.9% of their monthly household income on buying water in different seasons.
  • An Excess amount of INR 13,087,458 (USD 237,954.00) was incurred yearly on water in the current informal system. This could pay for entirely new water infrastructure in KB more than five times every year.
  • The households do not meet the WHO recommendation that all human beings use a minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.
  • Most households, 568 (59.2%), do not use any method of water purification. They consume it in its raw form.
  • There is significant contamination of drinking water and storage water at the household level.
  • Most of the residents identify complications with land ownership and the slum’s unauthorized (i.e., non-notified) status as the main reasons for lack of formal water access.
The authors conclude that though the paper sheds light on the quality, quantity and reliability of water supplied in a single slum, such will be the situation faced by a significant proportion of urban dwellers in India. In such circumstances the quality of water supplied will be poor and will have a severe impact on the health os the slum dwellers. Thus it is important to ensure that there is safe storage of water and chlorination of water is done prior to consumption.  There should be equitable access to water and efforst should be made to connect the slum locality with formal water distribution network.

Click here to read the full paper.

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