Water bodies


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Are Waterbodies the poor man’s sewage sinks? And are the city’s poor doomed to live in areas prone to chronic sanitation, drainage and water logging problems?

The results of a GIS mapping based study done by FORCE[1] and funded by GIZ[2] as a part of its ICPP program, certainly seems to say so. This study was done to explore the linkages between water bodies in Delhi and resettlement colonies.

In terms of the status of sanitation in resettlement colonies, the study echoed the observations often voiced by Non-profits – that those are not substantially better than the conditions in unauthorized slums. The alarming fact revealed by the study is that prima facie, it seems that the poor sanitation condition has a far more basic genesis than was earlier assumed.

So far, social workers have assumed that the poor sanitation conditions are only because of a lack of co-ordination between the multiple authorities involved in rehabilitation of the poor. Delhi has a unique problem in this respect owing to the duality in its governance by both the central and state governments. Our detailed case studies verified this fact but also revealed another shocking fact.

Our detailed case studies revealed that it took a minimum of 10 years and upto 26 years from the time of construction to bring sewer lines into a resettlement colony! Organized garbage disposal systems seemed to be last on the priority list of the planners since it is not present even after 26 years in some areas. This means that for atleast 10 years, the residents of a resettlement colony live without any access to sewage and garbage disposal systems.

The resultant unscientific, unplanned and unhygienic coping up methods followed by residents are largely responsible for the horrible state of sanitation in these areas.

The most critical revelation of our study was, however, was that the Resettlement colonies were doomed to be plagued by sanitation problems from the day they were conceptualized. The reason is that there seems to be a clear tendency of Resettlements to be located within the core catchment of one or more water bodies.

jyoti-fig-1In 90% cases, water bodies[3] are located either within the boundaries of the resettlements or within a 1.5 km buffer zone. Thus, the land selected for the resettlements was topographically placed in a depressed zone. As a result there was an inherent tendency of the area to be waterlogged – an observation that was verified by the interviews conducted with residents of those areas. More importantly, the negative slope would make it difficult or very expensive to link the area’s internal sewerage and drainage with the peripheral trunk lines.

The fact that after 1990, there seems to be a clear trend towards locating the resettlements in the northern peripheral wards of Delhi, further writes the obituary of sanitation. Being the outermost, least developed parts of Delhi, there are no sewer trunk lines or garbage disposal points in the vicinity of any of the new resettlements. Hence, even if internal sewer lines are laid, there is no planned outfall for the sewage. The high water table in these areas makes the situation worse, as it not only makes sewage disposal difficult but also makes the groundwater more susceptible to contamination due to sewage seeping from internal drains and water bodies.

Thus the study unfolded a dual tragedy – the institutionalization of the neglect of Water Bodies and the neglect of the poor. It has shown a deliberate act of the government in choosing to make resettlement colonies within the core catchments of water bodies. Not only is this disastrous in terms of sanitation provisions for the resettlements, it sounds the death knell for water bodies too.

The key conclusion that emerges from this study is that, water bodies are playing the role of sanitation waste sinks even for planned resettlement colonies. In view of this and the fact that the choice of location makes the resettlements vulnerable to failure of sanitation systems, the policies governing Resettlement Planning need to be re-examined.

(Excerpt from a working paper on Delhi’s Water Bodies and Sanitation[4])

For more information on the topic or for discussion, you are welcome to email to jyoti@force.org.in


Jyoti Sharma, President FORCE and PJRM FORCE Trust. Also Taubman Fellow & SEIR at Brown University, USA


  1. [1] Forum for Organized Resource Conservation and Enhancement (FORCE) www.force.org.in
  2. [2] https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/368.html
  3. [3] Detailed GIS map of Water Bodies in Delhi – http://force.org.in/achievements/policy-research-innovations/water-bodies-delhi/
  4. [4] Paper Authors: Jyoti Sharma (FORCE), Aparna Das(GIZ) and Shubham Mishr(GIS Consultant)

Drought in the toilets

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This summer, while travelling to some of the worst drought affected rural areas of Odisha and Chhattisgarh, I bumped into about three broad scenarios as far as ‘toilet use’ is concerned.  First, many villages – especially the remote ones majorly inhabited by indigenous communities – had no toilet at all; second, a few villagers had toilets but most remained unused; and third, where there were a few toilets, only the aged and ailing were using them. Of the approximately 20 villages I visited, I could safely say that 99 per cent of the people practiced open defecation, even though toilets were available for about 10 per cent of the population visited, and a few more were under construction.

The 2014-2016 drought period has had a phenomenal impact on use of toilets in rural areas as these villages have been afflicted with severest of water crises in their lifetime.  The world is getting hotter by the day and India’s water resources are declining in a fast pace owing to the growing temperature and related impacts. 2014 was the hottest year in the history of meteorological records, that was broken by 2015 and now with 2016 all set to break that record.

Climate change is to blame for this. Just consider the decrease in water availability of Mahanadi river, India’s sixth largest and lifeline of both the states mentioned in this article and it is clear that mere possession of toilets would not mean that people would use it.  The river has deficit in water yield by as huge as 10 per cent in recent decades owing to decreasing monsoon rainfall due to climate change.

In normal times too people don’t use toilets because of lack of water supply.  In times of drought, when people have to travel more and spend up to 300 to 400 per cent more time in collecting water – as observed during my study in these villages – people would for sure abandon the toilets. This exactly what they relayed to me.

For toilets to be used, besides many other factors, water security is a must. Or else, we need to invent effective dry toilets, which currently seems to be a distant dream.

Ranjan Kishor Panda is a known expert on water, sanitation, disasters and climate change in India. Awarded as the first ‘Green Hero’ by NDTV-Toyota in 2010 from the Honorable President of India for his contribution to water issues, he has more than 25 years of experience as a practitioner of sustainable water harvesting and management, researcher and writer.  He has also received several other awards and has been felicitated by many organisations starting from grassroots organisations to UN houses. Currently he leads several regional and national advocacy networks on these issues. Two prominent of them are the “Water Initiatives Odisha” and “Combat Climate Change Network.” He has also worked at the international level on water management research and advocacy, has been invited to various foreign countries/institutions including universities to speak on these issues. He contributes to various media publications and is a global award winning photographer. Contact: ranjanpanda@gmail.com