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Urban sanitation in India

Bangalore, India, is expanding so rapidly that many people live in informal settlements or slums with inadequate access to water and sanitation.

Identity and cultural diversity, Sustainable futures

Unpaved roads in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, frequently flooded houses before they were sealed.

Unpaved roads in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, frequently flooded houses before they were sealed. Photo by AusAID

Expanding needs for water

Bangalore is the capital of Karnataka, a state in India’s south-west. It has an estimated population of 7 million making it India’s third most populous city. The population is growing rapidly as workers are attracted to the employment possibilities. The rapid growth results in overcrowding, pollution, inadequate infrastructure and loss of open space. Poor people are generally unable to find affordable housing near places of work and have settled in slums in open areas such as along railway lines or in informal settlements scattered across the city.

Water services

Responsibility for the delivery of services to the slums is determined by location, land ownership and whether an area is a ‘declared slum’. Water is expensive as most of Bangalore’s piped water is pumped from the Kaveri (or Cauvery) River, 100 kilometres away and 500 metres below city level. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sanitation Board (BWSSB) and private companies also extract groundwater faster than it is replenished and the water tables are sinking.

AusAID funded a project to develop a master plan for water services. It included a program to develop water and sanitation solutions for low-income groups in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India.

Cement Huts

Before new taps were installed, dirty water filled the pit of this public tap in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, contaminating the water supply. The sewer connection in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, was broken, so before it was repaired, waste spread over the road. Before the project in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, the entire population of 626 people relied on four latrines and two bathing cubicles. Cement Huts is a declared slum on a small pocket of land in the city centre, which contains 106 households of 626 people, including 256 children. The people work to collect rubbish and sort it for sale, a practice known as ‘rag picking’.

Before the project, the two roads in Cement Huts were unpaved and open to frequent flooding. Houses, which are built at street level, flooded even during low rainfall.

A drain running through the centre of each street was covered by stone slabs and was often clogged with waste, flooding the street with faecal matter.

Residents were not eligible for piped water services because they could not prove land ownership. Water was delivered every third day to the four public taps in the slum. This supply would last about seven hours during the rainy season and four hours during the dry season. Residents were forced to pay high prices, walk to other areas of the city to use bore wells or illegal taps, or go without water until the next delivery.

Participating in change

WATSAN Committee members played a key role in sharing information about the project with other householders. Residents of the Cement Huts community were invited to participate in planning the most effective and sustainable means of meeting their water, sanitation and waste clearance needs. A water and sanitation committee (WATSAN) was established. Initially its members were predominantly women – those most affected by the poor water and sanitation services. Later the committee became more reflective of the community, with equal participation of men and women and the representation of various castes, community and economic groups. The members played a key role in sharing information about the project with other householders. They fulfilled their responsibilities voluntarily, which earned them respect.

A ‘willingness-to-pay study’ found that about 80% of people were willing to pay for shared connections: between Rs20 and Rs30 per household per month for shared water connections and Rs15 per month for the toilet facility. The very low-income households were not willing to pay more than 1% of their household income.

Improved water and sanitation

Drains were cleared and roads sealed, creating a safer and cleaner environment in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India. The new community toilet block in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, has separate sections for men and women. Without a land title and a property tax receipt, most slum dwellers could not qualify for individual water and sanitation connections. Alternative recognition of residence such as identity and election cards, or electricity bills stating an address, were acceptable. Group connections were allowed for clusters of families where tenure status was highly unstable, no documentation was available, and the ability to pay was low.

A community workshop explored the advantages and disadvantages of the options for sanitation facilities. Sketches, maps, photographs and samples of materials were used extensively to enable participants to gain familiarity and to make informed decisions. A scale model of the proposed toilet complex was prepared and the community assisted in re-organising the cubicles for the most appropriate design.

New taps connected to the water pipe network provided clean water for households to share in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India. The box drains inside and outside the settlement were opened and cleared, removing over a metre of accumulated silt. They were embedded in the new concrete roads and are easy to maintain. The sealed roads now offer the residents a clean surface for household activities and social events.

Nine metered taps were installed and connected to a pipe network ensuring a regular supply of water. Each tap is shared among 10 to 12 households.

The new community toilet block has separate sections for men and women. It has eight latrines and three bathrooms. It continues to be managed by the WATSAN Committee. A caretaker, who has a room on the first floor, is employed to maintain the toilet and collect the user charges.

Changing attitudes

The pilot project in Cement Huts helped set several important precedents for connecting slums sustainably to water and sanitation. It demonstrated that slum dwellers could make a valuable contribution to planning the changes to the delivery of services, that they are willing to pay for services, and that group connections in dense, insecure and poor areas are a viable option.

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Before new taps were installed, dirty water filled the pit of this public tap in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, contaminating the water supply.
Photo by AusAID
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Before new taps were installed, dirty water filled the pit of this public tap in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, contaminating the water supply. Photo by AusAID
The sewer connection in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, was broken, so before it was repaired, waste spread over the road.
Photo by AusAID
Print | Save
The sewer connection in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, was broken, so before it was repaired, waste spread over the road. Photo by AusAID
Before the project in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, the entire population of 626 people relied on four latrines and two bathing cubicles.
Photo by AusAID
Print | Save
Before the project in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, the entire population of 626 people relied on four latrines and two bathing cubicles. Photo by AusAID
WATSAN Committee members played a key role in sharing information about the project with other householders.
Photo by AusAID
Print | Save
WATSAN Committee members played a key role in sharing information about the project with other householders. Photo by AusAID
Drains were cleared and roads sealed, creating a safer and cleaner environment in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India.
Photo by AusAID
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Drains were cleared and roads sealed, creating a safer and cleaner environment in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India. Photo by AusAID
The new community toilet block in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, has separate sections for men and women.
Photo by AusAID
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The new community toilet block in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, has separate sections for men and women. Photo by AusAID
New taps connected to the water pipe network provided clean water for households to share in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India.
Photo by AusAID
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New taps connected to the water pipe network provided clean water for households to share in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India. Photo by AusAID
Unpaved roads in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, frequently flooded houses before they were sealed.
Photo by AusAID
Print | Save
Unpaved roads in Cement Huts, Bangalore, India, frequently flooded houses before they were sealed. Photo by AusAID