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Challenges Around Water Access

In many low-income urban areas water is not free-flowing. Worth reflecting on for those of us who are used to just turning on a tap.

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I've been observing various practices over the last month in Mumbai slums and last week at Mathare in Nairobi. Access to water poses significant challenges for how we might re-imagine the management of human waste in such areas. Availability of water is often limited to particular times of day. Sometimes the access is semi-legal – either way it's a big business and at times is open to varying degrees of exploitation by street-level vendors. It often needs to be carried from an access point back to the users' dwelling. Hence buyers carefully prioritise what they use water for.

Does this suggest that water-less solutions for waste management are likely to be more popular/effective/sustainable? If water is to be used – is the larger picture of access, distribution and user priorities being considered?

Images: Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya + Dharavi in Mumbai, India


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In areas where rainfall is so extremely seasonal that storage has to be ridiculously large to meet dry season needs, it may seem that the infrastructure costs are too high to make rain water catchment viable. However, the water will always be needed and rain doesn't have to be brought in trucks. If you look at all the current costs of dealing with water delivery and any seasonal floods, I suspect large capacity storage begins to look much more viable. It's definitely a long term investment, no doubt about that. I'd suggest as a first project, creating rainwater diversion and catchment for the landfill area. That reduces pollution at the same time as it provides a new source of clean water to use in waste processing/crop irrigation.

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