Home » Articles » Improving Water Supply and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor in India

Improving Water Supply and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor in India

Guidance Notes

Improving Water Supply and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor in India

In 2006–07, the Water and Sanitation Program–South Asia (WSP–SA) initiated a research to identify barriers to service delivery for the urban poor. The findings of the research have been presented in the Guidance Notes on Improving Water Supply and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor in India. The Guidance Notes provide a systematic analysis of the barriers to service delivery for the urban poor and recommend practical solutions and strategies for overcoming these barriers.

The Guidance Notes are based on an in-depth research of various initiatives from across the world (including South Asian, African, and Latin American countries) and consultations with urban poor communities across four major Indian cities (Mumbai, Bengaluru, Vadodara, and Delhi). An accompanying volume, Global Experiences on Expanding Services to the Urban Poor, is a documentation of ‘Global and Indian Case Studies’ and ‘Consultations with Urban Poor Communities’.

Acronyms and Abbreviations

ADB Asian Development Bank
BMC BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation
BWSSB Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board
CAESB Water and Sanitation Company of Brasilia
CBO Community-Based Organization
CRC Citizen Report Card
IDA International Development Association
JNNURM Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission
KES Kenyan Shillings
KIWASCO Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company
LWSC Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company
MBK Maji Bora Kibera (Better Water Supply for Kibera)
NGO Nongovernmental Organization
NWSC National Water and Sewerage Corporation of Uganda

MDGs Millennium Development Goals
O&M Operation and Maintenance
OBA Output-Based Aid
OPP Orangi Pilot Project
PERPAMSI Professional Organization of Water Enterprises of Indonesia
PKR Pakistani Rupees
SANAA National Autonomous Water and Sewerage Service of Honduras
SONES National Water Company of Senegal
SPSP Small Private Service Provider
TCC Tiruchirapalli City Corporation
ULB Urban Local Body
WAVE Women’s Action for Village Empowerment
WBI World Bank Institute
WSS Water Supply and Sanitation (or Sewerage)
WUP Water Utility Partnership for Capacity Building

Section 1


These Guidance Notes focus on practical actions - many of which can be implemented at least partially within the existing framework.

Purpose of these Guidance Notes

As policymakers and service providers in India take action to improve water and sanitation services for the poor, they can take advantage of lessons from several experiences in India and elsewhere. There are relevant examples, both within India and throughout the developing world, of initiatives that have led to improvements for both the poor population and the service providers.
India could learn from the lessons of these examples, adapting them as appropriate, as the country addresses the needs of the urban poor and strives to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water supply and sanitation.

The Government of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) provides a framework for this, targeting 63 key cities and urban areas, focusing on services to the poor as one of its explicit missions. These Guidance Notes are aimed primarily at project planners, service providers, and community leaders, but provide some suggestions for policymakers as well.
They have been developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and the Ministry of Urban Development.

The intent is to identify barriers to providing adequate services for the poor and to propose practical solutions based on the experience of a number of relevant cases that have been reviewed for this purpose. These Guidance Notes focus on practical actions—many of which can be implemented at least partially within the existing framework. Promoting policy reform per se is not the primary objective, though more appropriate policy frameworks would ensure an enabling environment and are essential for long-term sustainability of services for the poor, especially for addressing many of the financial barriers discussed in Section 6. For this reason, desirable policy initiatives are listed at the end of each section and a final section summarizes them.

Overview of the Current Situation

The poor in India face severe hardships because they lack convenient access to efficient water supply and sanitation services. According to the 2001 Census of India, more than 28 percent of India’s urban population lives in slums. Attempts to serve them to date have been sporadic and largely based on notions of charity, rather than treating the poor as legitimate customers of the utility. As a result, slum areas receive low-quality services that create a net drain on utility resources. There are increasing calls from the poor and civil society organizations that represent their interests to address this problem and the Government of India is taking important steps in that direction.

A visitor to a poor part of any city in India will see two common scenes: women lining up with pots waiting for water, and men and children defecating in the open. In Mumbai, a city of 15 million people, more than half the population lives in slums. Nearly 30,000 families live on the pavements. The Mumbai water utility produces an average of 158 liters of water per capita per day, but this production figure does not represent consumption by end users. It also conceals the acute inequality in distribution of basic services and the hardships faced by the poor, especially women.

Access to Improved Water Supply

Despite the expansion of water supply infrastructure, those who have access to infrastructure do not necessarily get adequate services, and the poor continue to rely on alternative sources that are often very costly to the consumer and incur hidden costs to society. India has successfully expanded water supply infrastructure in cities, but this has not necessarily translated into improved service to the poor. Figure 1 shows the percentage of households that had access to a source of safe water (that is, piped water supply, tankers, hand pumps, and so on) versus the percentage of households that actually had a household connection to the piped system.2

The graph shows that more than 95 percent of urban households had access to safe water sources. However, having access is not the equivalent of receiving adequate service. Only 74 percent of the population had access to piped water supply and 55 percent of households had household connections. The remainder, primarily poor households, must rely on standpipes, neighbors’ connections or alternative sources. Women, especially, spend hours and adjust their work schedules and sleeping patterns to stay up late at night to fetch water. Recent research shows that standpipe users are not satisfied with the hours of supply or the quality of water provided.

2 World Bank. January 2006. India Water Supply and Sanitation: Bridging the Gap between Infrastructure and Service. Background Paper, Urban Water Supply and Sanitation, p. 12.

Guidance Notes: Improving Water Supply and Sanitation Services for the Urban Poor in India

Intermittent supply, which results in unreliable and inadequate quantity and contaminated water, affects the rich and poor alike. As a result, large numbers of households rely on expensive tanker supplies and water vendors. With over 13,000 tankers, the tanker industry in Chennai mines the surrounding farmland for water, using government-subsidized power intended for agriculture purposes. In Delhi, about 1,400 water tankers supply water to residents. Half are privately controlled, and it is alleged that the owners are allowed to flout rules, pilfer water or extract it illegally. They then sell it at predatory prices.

Access to Safe Sanitation

The health and environmental costs of inadequate sanitation in slums are huge. It is estimated that only about 28 percent of the urban population has sewerage connections and only about 63 to 73 percent has a household toilet connected to a sewer or onsite disposal.3

Figure 2 shows that there is a wide difference in rates of access to sewerage infrastructure among the 13 states for which access rates are shown. However, as in the case of water supply, access to infrastructure does not necessarily translate into adequate service. Often public toilets are not maintained and cannot be considered safe and sanitary. In many cases, sewers are not really a viable option: they do not function properly due to inadequate water for flushing, blockages, and the frequent failure of pumping stations. Disposal of sewage is frequently neglected. Many residents of slums defecate in the open and, even when they use toilets, most of the human waste goes into open drains. According to the 10th Five Year Plan, ‘Three-fourths of surface water resources are polluted and 80 percent of the pollution is due to sewage alone.’

The lack of viable sanitation solutions in slums contributes to serious health and environmental risks for the entire population of Indian cities, not just those living in slums; the poor are, however, particularly vulnerable to infection from contaminated water. The health impact of unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation facilities are well documented.

3 See Footnote 2.

Obstacles to Improving Service for the Poor

Why do poor people not get access to services? Consultations with a broad range of stakeholders in India resulted in the identification of obstacles to improving service to the poor. These obstacles have been grouped under six proposed action areas as follows:

1.Give the poor a voice.

• The voice of the poor, too often, is not heard and misperceptions about them persist.

2.Neutralize vested interests.

• Water vendors, organized crime, corrupt public officials, and dishonest utility staff may have a vested interest in preventing better services for the poor.

3.Eliminate administrative and legal barriers.

• Land ownership and tenure issues often create a barrier to the provision of service to the poor.
• The poor may be unaware of administrative and legal requirements, or find it difficult to understand them and comply.

4.Strengthen capacity, autonomy, and accountability of service providers and provide incentives to serve the poor.

• Public service providers sometimes lack the autonomy, as well as financial and human resources and incentives required to provide services to the urban poor.
• Municipalities and utilities are not held accountable for the provision of satisfactory water supply and sanitation services.
• The services provided by small private service providers (SPSPs) are not recognized, encouraged, and regulated.

5. Adopt appropriate financial policies.

• Tariffs do not cover the full cost of efficient services.
• Poor households find it difficult to pay connection fees upfront.
• Poor households find it difficult to pay monthly bills.
• Increasing block tariffs penalize households that share a single connection.
• Small-scale service providers lack adequate finance to extend networks into peri-urban informal settlements.

6.Overcome physical and technical barriers.

• The overexploitation and degradation of water resources affects the poor disproportionately.
• Physical and technical challenges make extending formal piped water supply and sewerage networks into informal and unplanned settlements more difficult.

What can be done to remove these barriers? Practical strategies are proposed in the following six sections of this document. These are illustrated by case examples of initiatives to deal with the obstacles.4 Each section ends with suggestions for getting started. There is (a) a list of relevant actions and strategies that the key players (policymakers/project planners, governance bodies/service providers, and community leaders/ advocates) can implement; and (b) a list of the relevant cases included in the accompanying volume. The final section lists the policy reforms that would help to enhance and consolidate the success of these efforts.

Resources, including publications and organizations, are listed at the end of these Guidance Notes.
4 Detailed case studies are presented in the accompanying volume.

1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 10
← Previous   Next →