Flooding Causes Health and Financial Challenges for Bangalore’s Underserved Neighborhoods
Thulsimma lives with her children, their spouses, and grandchildren in a low-income settlement on the outskirts of Mahalakshmi Layout, a suburb of northwest Bangalore. The Bangalore Development Authority recently formalized Thulsimma’s settlement, giving land tenure and access to piped water to each of the 23 households. While municipal investment in a piped water system has slightly improved life in the settlement, the 65 year old says she and her neighbors “live in fear” during the seven to eight month rainy season because of the economic and health threats that flooding poses. “Sometimes we cannot even sleep at night,” she says. “We have to be very alert.”
During the rainy season, Thulsimma says rains can last up to eight hours a day, disrupting daily routines and her family’s ability to earn a living, which is typically between US $440 and $512 each month. “We protect whatever household items we can, but we can’t remove everything when the rains suddenly come. Some people have built small blocks around their entrance doors or parapet walls around their houses to protect flood waters from entering their homes.”
Sometimes when flooding occurs, the local MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) gives households $15 to $44 from a relief fund. However, the last time this happened, Thulsimma’s family rejected the money in order to protest “stop-gap” support measures like this. “We want the flooding issue to be addressed properly and resolved once and for all.” Thulsimma says that the government should find better, more comprehensive housing solutions, like elevating houses on stilts, in order to adequately address the problem.
In many cities in the Global South, lower-income communities like Thulsimma’s typically form in low-lying areas of the city that are vulnerable to flooding and the health risks and disruption in public services that can accompany flooding. However, given that many of these communities develop quite rapidly, cities often fail to move quickly enough in providing adequate basic services like water, electricity, sewerage and waste systems. Many people turn to self-provision.
Flooding can create chronic financial shocks for these lower-income families. Each year, Thulsimma’s family typically pays one to three months-worth of combined family income to repair household flood damage. When the rains are very heavy, water backflow from nearby sewers inundates the central rajakluve—a central drain connecting the neighborhood network of waterbodies and tanks. Pipes often get blocked by garbage and solid waste dumped into the drain, forcing residents to clean the drain themselves two to three times each year.
This contamination creates health concerns about the quality of drinking water, especially during the rainy season. While there is no cost to dispose of the sewerage overflow, fixed maintenance and operation costs are included as a service charge on the water bill from the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, which can range from $2.20 to $3 each month. The piped supply comes four hours every other day, and is stored in large drums. If this supply runs out, Thulsimma has to recruit help from her sons or neighbors to fetch water from the borewell at the top of flight of stairs. This water is often “blackish, muddy, and has small worms and larvae in it,” she says. As a result, Thulsimma’s family prefers to buy bottled mineral water rather than using Tata Swacch water filters, which must be replaced for $7 to $9 every two months.