Today was by far, the most interesting day we have spent in the city. With Mr.Anand Jagtap, we visited some slums and facilities that gave us deep insights into the workings of the water supply system in Mumbai, and succesful community strategies that adapt and make provisions for drinking water.

The first slum we visited had managed their unique condition of being located on a steep hill, with limited access to municipal pipelines, by establishing a series of water tanks and distribution pipes along the slope (photo right). Each of these tanks (1,000-4,000 liters each) collected water from an individual municipal connection with each connection/tank serving a group of 10-15 families (50-75 people) by distributing the water to a single community tap located uphill within the community. At the base of each tank was a pump to force the water up the line. This was the first community-based initiative we encountered in Mumbai that collectively undertook the collection, storage and distribution of water. During our visit, men were cleaning the open sewage drains of garbage, which was also organized by the CBO. Following the visit to the slum and meeting with the leader of the community-based organization who helps to organize the local infrastructure, we visited the Councillor of the ward, Clive Dias, an elected official from the city ward in which the slum we visited is located. It was interesting to see from his perspective the problems in the slums and how community-based solutions could function successfully within more slum communities.

The next slum we visited could be considered a model slum, where strong comunitity initiative, adequate political and institutional support and the required funding came together to create exemplary water supply and sanitation facilities for a slum in one of the more secluded and hillier parts of the city (which made for a great view as seen in the second photo). This was certainly the most amazing slum visit to date. During the visit, we met with the leaders of several CBOs as well as the elected official for these communities (third photo). We spent several hours meeting with the community leaders and toured one of the communities to learn how their water system functioned.

Organized into groups of 6,000 residents each, these communities had built communal tanks (200,000 liters each, one of which was being constructed during the visit!!) that stored water from the BMC line, which in turn was pumped to the top of the hill in one main line and then distributed to taps through 6 main lines that split into smaller lines as they made their way through the community. The pipes and were carefully located to ensure an even distribution throughout the community. Each area of the community received 2 hours of water per day (which community controlled) with approximately 150 liters of water per family. In addition to the incredible self-designed and constructed water infrastructure, the community had functioning sewage drains under the very clean sidewalks. The entire area of 25,000 residents share 21 Slum Sanitation Program buildings installed in cooperation with the BMC, which 90% of the population pays for and uses every day. This community’s pride and enthusiasm in their efforts was infectious, and to see such a successful community-based initiative was indeed a heartwarming experience!

To travel to this slum we drove on the BMC’s private road flanked on both sides by miles of several 10′ pipelines, which brought water to the city from the lakes beyond, the nearest being Vihar Lake. The massiveness and extent of these facilities gave us insight into the problem from the perspective of infrastructure systems . . . and brought forth questions and concerns, some of which were echoed by the city Councillor we had met with earlier. He attributed the problems of low water supply largely to the aging infrastructure system, compounded by poor maintenance and careless installation. Many of the large pipelines (as seen in photo right) were constructed by the British 100 years ago. Many of the smaller connecting community pipes are 25+ years old.

The problem of water supply, we realize as each day reveals a new layer, runs deep. But along the way, as on this day, we also come across some innovative solutions that open up new possibilites for exploration . . .

Photos: Left plan layout of the slum located in the CBO’s office (they also had a scale model of the storage tank now under construction); center is photo during our tour with the community leaders and it shows a view of a central corridor in the slum through which the main pipe line runs up the hill; right is the person who controls the water distribution network explaining the system to Karthik and our team.