In the growing number of large and mega-cities in the developing world, an adequate supply of potable water to the urban poor living in slums and squatter settlements is a serious problem, with important health, economic and social implications. This study explores the factors that limit the accessibility of potable water supply to the urban poor in these cities, focusing on an examination of Dhaka, Bangladesh. It provides practical guidelines for improving the situation in Dhaka City that may be applicable to large and mega-cities in other developing countries.
In order to evaluate performance, the study identifies six dimensions of urban water supply (UWS) through an intensive international literature review. These factors are technical, biophysical, political, institutional, economic and social. The study also identifies the principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers of each factor. These factors were evaluated in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Information regarding the verifiers of the indicators was collected at the community level by way of a household survey in the form of a questionnaire conducted amongst those dwelling in the slums and squatter settlements (SSS) in Dhaka City. The study also conducted focus group discussion and stakeholder (key informant) interviews to triangulate the findings in order to increase the validity and reliability of the information. It used several qualitative (e.g., discourse analysis, content analysis), quantitative (e.g., tables and graphs, Spearman Rank Correlation, weighted average (WA) and ordered weighted average (OWA) operators) and spatial techniques (e.g., maps showing the urban water supply condition by the values of WA and OWA operators) to analyse the factor and indicators. Aggregated values of the indicators from WA and OWA operators were used in an overall performance evaluation. It is proposed that planners, managers and providers could make decisions for improving the present water supply situation by obtaining these values.
The study finds that all the factors interact with each other, and are responsible for UWS inadequacy, but some factors have greater influence than others. In most cases, water is available locally, and people have the ability and willingness to pay, but they do not have much willingness to pay a large amount of money as a one-off payment. Political participation is seriously neglected and institutions have not yet developed sufficiently to support different options for water supply development in these settlements. Social and technical factors can still operate to establish and maintain potable water supply in the SSS. However, social motivation is working well to increase community participation and capacity. Community involvement is working as a key factor in good water supply in some communities, such as through the organisation Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK). Although this model (the DSK model) has some limitations, it shows how political and institutional barriers can be overcome to establish formal water supply system in informal settlements.
Finally the study proposes a model referred to as the 'Community Mixed Water Supply' (CMWS) model for water supply accessibility to the SSS dwellers of Dhaka City, which could be applicable to other large and mega-cities in developing countries, where there is no crisis in terms of water availability but there are political and institutional problems. This model indicates how the SSS community could mobilise in order to overcome or reduce the political, institutional and economic barriers for establishing a small-scale potable water supply system at the community level. However, the identified principles, criteria and indicators of urban water supply should not be considered as the end product. Further research needs to be done to articulate the principles, criteria and indicators more precisely, and to identify user-friendly tools and techniques that could aggregate all dimensions in order to understand better the overall performance of the UWS system at the local level.