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

Section 2

Give the Poor a Voice

Giving the poor the opportunity to participate in planning and design can make the difference between success and failure.


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

Project designers and service providers often assume they know what type of services the poor want and are willing to pay for. It is assumed that the poor cannot pay for services and that these should be provided free of charge.

Politicians exploit the poor by promising free services in exchange for their votes. Such assumptions and practices result in costly and unsustainable supply- driven public programs to provide services. In contrast to common perceptions, evidence collected during the field work for these Guidance Notes shows that it is feasible for many of the poor to be legitimate customers who pay their bills. To promote that objective, it is essential that their opinions be heard.

Promote Meaningful Participation in Planning and Design

Giving the poor the opportunity to participate in planning and design can make the difference between success and failure, so adequate time and resources should be allowed for meaningful consultation during the preparatory phases of projects.

Standard technical solutions are not always appropriate. Consultation with beneficiaries helps to assure that appropriate technological solutions will be selected, but project designers need to be aware that consultation takes time and resources. In their haste to qualify for funding or achieve quick results, local officials and utility managers may bypass the time-consuming and potentially messy participatory process unless it is required as a precondition of funding.5

Project designs sometimes include a requirement that a certain percentage of residents make an initial contribution to capital costs or sign a ‘commitment to connect’ to services as a sign of their interest in the project, but there is a distinct difference between pressurizing residents to sign up for a project as compared to enabling a community to take some initiative and contribute to the project design.

Meaningful consultation involves eliciting ideas from the beneficiaries prior to the design of a project or program. It helps to ensure that the project design is responsive to demand, and that beneficiaries understand and accept their roles and responsibilities. Rallies, essays by school children, drawing and painting competitions, radio talk shows, articles in newspapers, and information posted on a municipal website are good ways to publicize a project and build awareness, but they do not necessarily constitute meaningful consultation per se. Similarly, surveys may provide useful data for assessing demand and attitudes, but do not constitute active collaboration or create community cohesion. Managers of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) have become aware of these distinctions. As a result, JNNURM guidelines are being revised to promote more meaningful participation of beneficiaries in planning. A model of a bottom-up approach that promoted meaningful participation in Brazil is described in Box 1. Another example of effective consultation in the context of the Slum Sanitation Project in Mumbai is described in Box 2.

5  See, for example: Baindur, Vinay. September 5, 2005. ‘For the People, by Diktat.’ India Together op-ed. http://www.indiatogether.org/2005/sep/gov-nurm.htm

Box 1: PROSANEAR Project, Brazil: People Were Asked What They Wanted

Prior to planning water supply and sanitation projects, PROSANEAR teams went into communities to ask what kind of water project the people wanted, if any, and what kind they would be willing to support with their money and labor.

Residents were allowed to talk about the full range of problems they faced, but once the discussion turned to the importance of water supply and sanitation, they were generally eager to hear how PROSANEAR could help them.

Neighborhoods were allowed to choose from a range of simple, innovative systems that made water and sanitation affordable and environmentally appropriate for poor crowded settlements. There were no blueprints. In many places, groups of households were batched together in a creative condominial sewerage system approach that not only made the networks more efficient and affordable but also forged new bonds among neighbors.

PROSANEAR sought to make a permanent impact by mobilizing local clubs, as well as women’s, sports, and religious groups, to educate people about the importance of sanitation and teaching them how to operate and maintain their new systems. The results were powerful, and they went far beyond the better health and greater convenience enjoyed by 1 million people newly connected to water taps and toilets. For example, getting formal postal addresses and water bills in their names meant they had graduated from squatter status to resident—a new status in society.

Source: World Bank. 2006. Community Participation and Low-Cost Technology: Bringing Water Supply and Sanitation to Brazil’s Urban Poor. Water and Sanitation Feature Story #10. See also Case Study 3, accompanying volume.

Box 2: Stakeholder Participation in the Slum Sanitation Program in Mumbai

The Slum Sanitation Program initiated by the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation in 1995 with World Bank support was based on a demand-driven and participatory approach, in which the municipality would provide the initial capital to build community toilet blocks, while community-based organizations (CBOs) or small local business enterprises would take full charge of operation and maintenance (O&M).

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were engaged to mobilize communities, facilitate relationships with the local government, and train the communities in essential skills and attitudes. They initially carried out a general information campaign that assessed the willingness and readiness of the communities to participate in the sanitation scheme. Once communities mobilized and demonstrated an interest, CBOs or local enterprises were created (if not already existing and active). These organizations were then registered to obtain legal status, which allowed them to manage the community sanitation block (that is, obtain water, sewerage and electricity connections, sign a memorandum of understanding with the Corporation, open and maintain a bank account to deposit the maintenance fund and earnings, pay utility bills, and so on). It was only after the CBO or local enterprises had collected at least 50 percent of the expected maintenance fund from prospective users and had developed a technically sound and community-endorsed plan for the toilet block, that the Corporation issued the building permit and the actual construction of the community toilet
block began.

Participation in the formal process of planning the services, creating a viable business entity, having it registered, opening a bank account, and working with the Corporation provided invaluable experience, created confidence, and inspired further entrepreneurial and community activities on the part of participants. In one case, a local enterprise that operates the toilets has also established a preschool in the new community center that was built adjacent to the toilet block.

Source: Nitti, Rosanna, and Shyamal Sarkar. 2003. Reaching the Poor through Sustainable Partnerships: The Slum Sanitation Program in Mumbai, India. World Bank. Urban Notes No. 7. See also Case Study 2, accompanying volume.

Publish the Stories of the Poor

The stories of the poor themselves give statistics a human side and can be used to improve the impact of research reports and policy papers. Sector actors should capture and enlist the media to disseminate stories that translate service delivery inefficiencies and deficits into their impact on daily life at the personal or household level.

Poignant examples of the contrast between those households without easy access to safe drinking water and  sanitation services, and those with access, can help to create an environment for making politically difficult or unpopular decisions viable, especially when combined with a broader strategic communications campaign to promote the expansion of services and more flexible approaches to serving the urban poor. A few representative examples of the daily impact of poor service provision that were recently collected in India include:6

• In a community where the Corporation does not provide water, most residents pay the plumber and get a water connection at a common point near their homes. The rest get their water from the tanker mafia.
• In one area, there were 28 toilets funded by the World Bank or the state and Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) funds, and eight World Bank-funded toilets especially for children. These toilets are inadequate for the 25,000 people they serve, but at least they have reduced open defecation to some extent.
• One woman said it took her half-an-hour to fill two buckets of water from the hand pump. Each day, her family requires up to 10-15 buckets. In the morning, she fetches water for the morning chores and immediate needs. After returning from work, she fetches water for the rest of the day.
• Women dislike defecating in the open in broad daylight. They go in groups at night.
• Because of the lack of water, the residents do not bathe every day, which causes health problems— skin rashes, boils, and so on. They wash clothes once a fortnight.

6 These and other examples were collected during field work for slum consultations conducted by Geeta Sharma, WSP-SA, along with NGO partners between December 2006 and January 2007 in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Vadodara. For details, see accompanying volume.

Inform and Educate Poor Communities

The poor are often unaware of official policies; and their attitudes and behavior may impede their access to services. Like many users, they may have misperceptions about the need to pay for public services. They may not be fully aware of the health impact of poor sanitation practices. Many are illiterate and unaware of their rights.

Educational programs that give the poor the information and skills they need to participate as well-informed citizens are an essential component of any effort to promote their participation in planning and management of services. Programs to promote constructive attitudes and behavior that will enhance their chances of getting and making effective use of services (for example, regular payment of bills and good hygiene) are also essential. Education that builds such skills and attitudes not only has a positive effect on access to water and sanitation services, it can also help develop basic financial management skills with broader applications and development impact.

Empower the Poor to Act within and beyond Their Own Communities

Community-based organizations and their federations can help the poor take action on their own behalf. All the strategies described above involve some form of outreach to the poor. These are essential to ensure that the formal structures and decisionmaking activities actively seek to serve the poor better.

But it is equally important and effective for the poor to take action for themselves. By doing so, they gain self-respect and important skills, as well as better services. They also dispel commonly held notions that the poor are helpless or lack initiative. Self-help activities can be initiated by a dynamic individual within the community or a nongovernmental organization that is committed to the interests of the community.

However, when an outside organization initiates action, it is essential that the community actively expresses its demand and willingness to pay for services, and that the leadership quickly be assumed by someone in the community.

There is no blueprint for creating such organizations because the social dynamics in each community are often unique—only a savvy resident is likely to appreciate them fully. In fact, initial success often hinges on a single individual’s commitment and leadership skills.
A number of well-documented cases demonstrate the willingness and ability of the poor to create or manage their own services.

The Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi was one of the first to demonstrate that the poor want good quality services and are willing and able to pay for them.

While local community user groups are useful for solving local problems, federations and networks enable poor communities to act beyond their boundaries to influence policies or access sources of development assistance. In Tiruchirapalli city, Tamil Nadu, a network of self-help groups is enabling poor residents get funding and assume responsibility for local sanitation (see Box 3).

Box 3: Community-Based Organizations and Federations (Karachi and Tiruchirapalli)

Two South Asian experiences—the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Karachi, Pakistan, and the activities of self-help groups in Tiruchirapalli city, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu—provide useful lessons about how community involvement can help projects.

Orangi is Karachi’s largest katchi abadi (informal settlement) and has a population of 1.2 million. The OPP was established in 1980 by Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, the renowned Pakistani social scientist. The OPP provided social and technical guidance to enable low income families to construct and maintain an underground sewerage system with their own funds and under their own management. The project has shown that poor people can finance and build sewers in their communities.

Working together internally as well as with the government to achieve their objectives has given community members dignity as well as confidence in themselves. To date, the people of Orangi have laid down 1.3 million feet of sewer line and invested about PKR 57.2 million (US$700,000).7

About 900,000 people in 94,122 houses have benefited. The average cost of the system is very low—about PKR 1,000 (US$13) per household. The residents of Orangi maintain the system themselves at no cost to the government. The OPP Research and Training Institute is currently assisting initiatives in a number of other areas in Pakistan and other countries. Training in the OPP model has been provided to groups from Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Philippines, Central Asia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

In Tiruchirapalli city, about half the 339 community toilets in the city are being managed by community-based organizations and half are managed by the city corporation. Since 2000, 41 of the community-managed toilets have been managed by local Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SHE) teams supported by the nongovernmental organization Gramalaya and the Women’s Action for Village Empowerment (WAVE), a federation of SHE teams. In each community, the SHE team organizes its members (all women) into two to seven self-help groups with 15 to 20 members each. Each self-help group takes responsibility for managing the community toilets—collecting user fees, keeping accounts, and depositing the income in a bank account—for a month at a time. During that month, members of the responsible self-help group rotate as caretaker and fee collector for a day at a time. In addition, most SHE teams employ two cleaners and a watchwoman. User fees are used to cover operation and maintenance expenses. Each SHE team elects two members as team leaders who are responsible for operating the bank account and represent the SHE team at WAVE meetings. When a major expenditure on toilets is required, SHE teams can take a loan from the WAVE federation. For slum communities, the primary benefit of the community-managed toilet complexes has been access to clean and safe sanitation facilities and a decrease in water-borne diseases. The women who participate have gained new skills and confidence, which they often apply to other arenas in their communities and households. From the city corporation’s perspective, one of the major benefits is that this arrangement reduces costs as a result of community-managed toilets. While some of the smaller toilet blocks require subsidies, these can be justified by the overall benefits.

Source: Case Studies 5 and 7, accompanying volume.

Existing community development societies, neighborhood groups, and neighborhood committees of women (that have been functioning since they were formed under the Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rojgar Yojana8  of the Government of India in 1998), are well placed to play a meaningful role in articulating the concerns of the poor and playing a role in planning, designing, and managing services.

7 US$1 = PKR 78 (as of September 30, 2008). Conversion rates are from www.exchange-rates.org/history/PKR/USD/T; all conversions in the text are approximations.
8 Literally, the Golden Jubilee Urban Employment Scheme.

Getting Started: Actions and Resources

This section suggests the following actions for sector actors.

Policymakers and Project Planners

• Avoid top-down planning.
• Make meaningful participation by project beneficiaries mandatory.Facilitate beneficiary involvement in project design and development of proposed solutions.
• Allow adequate time for consultation and participation by beneficiaries.
• Hire qualified NGOs to facilitate mobilization of poor communities.
• Publish information for the general public about the living conditions and accomplishments of the urban poor, and about strategies to improve access to services.
• Make information available in formats that are accessible to the poor.
• Plan for an effective interface between community-managed services and the formal service provider. Governance Bodies and Service Providers
• Create a specialized unit within the utility to communicate with poor communities and facilitate access to services.
• Develop a client-oriented culture within the utility.
• Train staff in effective client relations skills, particularly for serving the poor.
• Develop a supportive framework for interfacing with community- managed services.

Advocates and Civil Society Organizations

• Act as intermediaries between service providers and poor communities.
• Deliver educational and awareness programs aimed at enabling the poor to act on their own behalf.
• Identify and work with dynamic individuals in the community to provide leadership for self-help initiatives.
• Encourage participation in political processes.
• Promote networks among community organizations with common interests.

 Table 1: Relevant Case Studies in Accompanying Volume

Case Study

PROSANEAR Project, Brazil (Case Study 3)

Community participation in project planning

Orangi Pilot Project, Karachi, Pakistan (Case Study 5) Self-help organizations, self provision of services
Temeke District, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Case Study 14) Federation of water user associations
Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, India (Case Study 7) Community-managed toilets
Federation of Water Associations: Giving the Poor a Voice, Manila, Philippines (Case Study 4) Federation of water associations

Mumbai Slum Sanitation Program, Maharashtra, India (Case Study 2)

Community and local enterprise operation of toilets

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ... 10
← Previous   Next →