Waterborne Diseases in Mumbai

Mumbai Water Supply

With a team of 5 others, we tried to examine the problem of water contamination in Mumbai for a class, Solving Big Problems. As we had learnt in this class, it was more important for us to understand the problem before jumping to a solution. We tried to map out the problem of waterborne diseases through two ways: supply chain contamination and end-user contamination.

Supply Chain Contamination:

Pipe burst in Mumbai

We mapped out the supply chain from the natural source of water, to the treatment plant and pipelines to end users. We discovered that even though the quality of the water from the treatment plant matched the international standards set by the WHO, the water reaching the end-user was contaminated due to pipe bursts.

Through some secondary research and an interview with an employee in the water department at the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. Through further research, we found that the water mafia were responsible for several of the pipe bursts as they broke the pipes to reduce supply in certain regions and supplied water themselves at higher prices to the same regions. Not only did these leakages lead to contamination of water, but they also widened the poverty gap, by making a necessity like water expensive for the poor.

End-user contamination:

After an interview with a doctor of Communicable Diseases, and a patient of a waterborne disease, we also realized that there was limited hygiene education in poverty stricken areas in Mumbai. Thus, those who were educated and wealthy could afford their personal electronic water filters. However, there were several poor communities that did not have the knowledge of how the waterborne diseases spread and the good and bad practices of consuming water and food. Again

Recommended Solution:

After discovering that the problem had dual sources, we recommended a two-pronged solution, starting with a hygiene education program in primary municipal schools. We also recommended structuring pipelines underground, and adding pressure monitors to detect leakages in water. This way, the source of water would be pure, while ensuring that the consumption was hygienic too.

Learning from the waterborne disease project:

Through this project, I understood how a statistic saying that more than 80% of diseases in Mumbai were waterborne, could be true. I understood how there are multiple sources to a problem, and hence, finding only one solution might not be ideal. I also learnt that even though we had found solutions, their implementation would be very difficult considering that there is lack of funding for such initiatives in government schools and municipal corporations. Factors such as cost, corruption, lack of good teachers in public schools, were the first of many factors that would prevent these solutions from being effective.

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