Environment & Urbanization

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Ward diaries: crucial evidence for planning in Mumbai's slums

Jockin Arputham
28 Nov 2016

Jockin Arputham, the president of Slum/Shack Dwellers International and founder of the National Slum Dwellers Federation in India, explains how data from slums, gathered by slum dwellers themselves, is helping to provide vital services where they are needed most.

Informal settlements lining the railway tracks in Mumbai (Photo: gloogun, Creative Commons via Flickr)

To understand slum residents' needs, government agencies need reliable, relevant and up-to-date data. This information must cover the different levels within a city – at city level, for the local government area, right down to the sub-area such as a ward or street.

And it is residents of slums and their federations that are providing government departments with this crucial information.

Through community-led surveys, mapping and settlement profiles, members of Slum/Shack Dwellers International, formed in more than 30 nations, are collecting data on slums not only for hundreds of cities (as in the Know Your City campaign) but also for each slum within these cities and their local government area. 

Power to negotiate at city level

By gathering information at this very local level we, the federations of slum/shack dwellers, provide city governments with essential data about conditions in slums and the priorities of slum dwellers. With this data we have a stronger voice, we are better armed to negotiate what we need from city governments.

Engaging in this way earns us respect and encourages these government agencies to act and take us seriously. It helps change the negative attitudes of city governments towards these settlements and their inhabitants.

Mobilising local action

But getting government agencies to act on what the slum/shack dwellers need means talking to lower levels of government too, down to the ward and sub-ward level. And our slum surveys provide data and maps for each ward and sub-ward. 

So when we talk to government staff at this level, we have the data to show where the problems are most serious. Which wards and which slums have the worst provision for toilets? For water? Which slums have no electricity?

The percentage of people who have to defecate in the open. The slums with no solid waste collection. The slums with deficits in schools and health care. Do the official land use maps include the slums?

Our strong and detailed data enables us to discuss with local government staff and local politicians how we can focus on what needs to be done in each slum. And how we can work together to address the resident's most pressing needs. 

Slum dwellers know best, and needs vary

We know how slum residents and their organisations are best placed to produce data on their daily needs for water, housing, toilets or waste collection. We learn from them by walking with them around each slum, talking to households and community organisations and preparing detailed maps.

We prepare these at ward level and call them ward diaries as they give us data on daily needs. This is information that local governments find difficult to collect themselves.

Priorities also differ a lot from slum to slum. For some, improved sanitation is a must – including community toilets where there is no space for individual toilets in their homes. For others the priority is water or healthcare or avoiding eviction.

The example of our work in P-North Ward in Mumbai

When you talk to senior staff at the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, you go to these meetings with city-level statistics. But when you talk to ward-level staff or ward politicians, you need the statistics for that ward – for the population in their jurisdiction.

But for politicians to address slum dwellers' needs, you also need to work at sub-ward level. To show this, I will describe the slum surveys done in constituency 29 in P-North Ward of Mumbai.

P-North Ward has 173 slums; the government says it has 0.5 million inhabitants but our survey showed 727,570. Constituency 29 within P-Ward North has nine slums with 16,880 inhabitants. From the data collected in these slums, we can produce detailed maps and tables of land use, density, housing quality, provision for water, sanitation and waste management for each slum.

A map showing the constituencies of Ward P-North, Mumbai. In the 2011 census, its population was 941,366 within an area of 46.7 square kilometres. More than 60% of the population live in slums, but they cover only 8.8% of the ward (Photo: Jockin Arputham)

In each slum, residents discussed their settlement's priorities in great detail. The table below shows how much the needs of slums differ – which also means a different government response for each of them.

The priorities of slums in constituency 29, P-North Ward, Mumbai

The priorities of slums in constituency 29, P-North Ward, Mumbai

These slums have been there for decades – the oldest for 70 years, the newest for 20 years. Water and sanitation (including connection to sewers and drainage) are the greatest priorities for most – but not all: 

  • In Manori Gaon the inhabitants have good access to shared taps and most have toilets in their home; their top priorities are health services and education facilities
  • In Pashkalwadi, three quarters of households defecate in the open while two slums record no open defecation
  • Only three of the 10 slums had no issue with waste collection and did not identify management of household wastes among their priorities
  • Most of the slums have door-to-door collection but collection from the slum is irregular, and
  • Some priorities are very specific to a locality – for instance for the inhabitants of Manthan Pada, space for a long-promised cemetery and burial ground. 

Moving forward

More than half of Mumbai's population lives in slums. The reluctance to acknowledge this by city and national government has led to huge deficits in access to water, sanitation and waste collection, schools and health centres, in public space. And as slums become ever more dense with people, so it becomes more difficult to intervene.

The surveys, maps and enumerations of slums that we do have helped stop evictions and encourage municipal and state government to explore new ways of working with slum dwellers.

For instance, where a ward officer has funds for solid waste management interventions, the slum data we collect can guide the officer on how to carry these out. Our slum data can also guide government interventions around other services such as healthcare and education. 

Collecting slum data at the ward and sub-ward level means that their residents can present their priorities to ward and sub-ward officials, backed up by strong, reliable data. The ward diaries provide the basis for evidence-based planning and are available to communities, politicians, planners and activists.

Jockin Arputham founded the first national slum dweller federation (in India) and he has spent the last 20 years supporting slum and shack dwellers federations to form and grow in India and in over 30 other countries. He is president of Slum/Shack Dwellers International. This blog was drawn from conversations with David Satterthwaite from IIED's Human Settlements research group in September 2016.

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