Today we were back to work on the Slum Water Program after the day sight seeing yesterday. We spent the day with important “social engineers” from the BMC. The BMC, or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, is the name of the municipality in charge of providing water and sanitation services, among others, to the residents of Mumbai. Over the past 4 months we have been working in cooperation with Mr. Anand Jagtap of the BMC’s Mumbai Sewage and Disposal Program (MSDP) and Officer on Special Duty for the Slum Sanitation Program (SSP) in Mumbai to understand how the SSP has developed based on its unique demand-driven, community-based approach to sanitation provision. We hope the SSP will serve as a stepping stone for developing similarly managed, community-based water provision for slum communities. Mr. Jagtap has worked to establish the Slum Sanitation Program since it’s initiation in 1995 and has seen hundreds of programs implemented in the last 15 years. Our team has gain valuable learning from him over the last several months, and most recently today in our visits to SSP installations.

We began the day meeting Mr. Jagtap and his colleagues at the MSDP headquarter office in Mumbai. We reviewed how the SSP works, from conception to implementation to more large scale development and function (top photo). We learned in detail how all parties, like the BMC, the community, the contractor, the NGO, etc., are involved. We then proceeded to visit three Slum Sanitation Program locations in various slums.

The first SSP was located next to a school and a communal area for festivals. The first and second floors were designated for toilets, while the third floor was both a management office and a roof top garden where the water tanks are located. The facility was very clean and well-managed. After speaking with the manager of the toilet block as well as a handful of community members, we moved on to the second SSP located in Dharavi, Mumbai and Asia’s largest slum community. The SSP facility in Dharavi was also clean and pretty large-scale. Each SSP serves between 1,000-2,000+ community residents and pay-per-use users, and everyone pays for using the sanitation services. The most interesting part of the visit to the second SSP was the community-based organization (CBO) that manages the toilet block and represents the community. The CBO plays an instrumental role in maintaining a relationship between the BMC and community, and also provides other resources to the community. When we visited, a group of 10 women (middle photo) were taking English classes in the building next to the SSP. As seen in the photo, Erin Binder (Acara Institute’s Executive Director) met with the women’s group during our visit. On the second floor kids were taking a computer class. All SSP locations require a CBO to demand sanitation services from the BMC before the any SSP is constructed for the community. This community involvement and demand has played a key role in the development and success of the SSP. The final slum we visited was located in the Mumbai garbage dump, where the roads through the slum are made of piles of trash (bottom photo) and the houses are actually built on the old part of the dump. This slum was the most impoverished we’ve seen to date, but the SSP located within was comparable with the first two. Delegations interested in community sanitation programs from 57 nations have visited the slum, with representatives from places like Kenya to Japan. In a community with so little infrastructure and resources, it was great to see the SSP and to meet the CBO helping to provide quality of life resources to people in need. We enjoyed learning about the program from the manager, who lives on the second floor of the building with his family. We finished off our visits with a wrap up discussion with Mr. Jagtap at a local restaurant specializing in North Indian cuisine.

Overall, it was a great day and the visits to the SSP locations have really helped our team to understand how a Slum Water Program could fit into the existing framework for community based development projects in the slums of Mumbai. Most importantly, every community is extremely different. Therefore we realize the need to provide a dynamic water solution that can be adapted to each individual community. For instance, in the last community we visited, the slum is built on a garbage dump where many of the people are waste pickers. Other slums we have visited have been on steep hills or have had torn up roads. A system of water delivery must be tailored to each community in a way that makes sense for how the slum is structured and the community must play a large role in the development of their water solution. We believe a water program can work in many slum communities if the community is involved with developing the solution and the distribution and payment systems work for the users. We now will be working to determine the best way forward.