Mumbai: Blue Dogs???

Over the summer, images of dogs in Taloja (an industrial neighbourhood in Mumbai) surfaced online and raised grave concern. Why? Because these dogs had bright blue coloured fur!

blue dog

The Taloja industrial zone employs around 76,000 people and generates billions for the economy, however, the practices of many factories dumping untreated waste into the Kasadi river has created health implications for not only its employees but also the many stray dogs found in the area (Lazarus, 2017). An investigation has been opened by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) after a complaint was filed by activists.

The 30 million dogs in India are protected by its laws and although hated by many members of gated communities, continue to thrive by living in slums where they are an integral part of the community (Gibbens, 2017). However, living so closely with these stray dogs has a huge effect on the health of the population. There is an average of 17.4 million dog bites in India each year which cause an estimated 18-20,000 cases of human rabies (Gogtay et al. 2014). Of these, only 2.7% had been vaccinated against it.

These numbers may be a huge under-estimation as it is the poor who suffer and surveillance in these areas is poor. In Mumbai, 18 municipal hospitals and 31 dispensaries offer the vaccine free of cost (Gogtay et al. 2014), which contradicts our previous discussions on how the poor are treated. These vaccinations tend to be post-bite, however, a MENA report shows the purchase of a new anti-rabies vaccine for Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation Hospitals (2017).



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Mumbai: Water Ration, No Compassion

A reoccurring theme I have encountered so far throughout this investigation into the Urban Political Ecology of Mumbai is the vast difference between the rights to basic amenities given to the urban wealthy and poor by the government. Once again, this is a theme found in this week’s post on the city’s water supply.



Man fills water bottle from a leaky pipe. Photo from Mid-day.


To start with, I want to put into context how important the use of water is. It might sound kind of obvious (everyone knows water is one of the most vital components of human survival – right?), but for people like myself living in western countries such as the UK, it is easy to take our water supply for granted. Some average amounts of water usage in the UK are listed below (Cambridge Water, 2017)

  • on average each person in the UK uses ~150 litres of water each day
  • a full washing machine load uses ~50-100 litres of water
  • a 5-minute shower consumes 45 litres
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    How water is used in the average UK Household. Waterwise, 2012.


Can you imagine not having water to drink from your taps? Or being able to shower in the middle of the night? Or having to wait for a certain time of the day to be able to flush your toilet? This is exactly how people in the slums of Mumbai have access to water: at certain times of the day (Bapat & Agarwal, 2003).

Some interviews conducted by Bapat and Agarwal (2003) with female slum dwellers (who are usually the ones who go to collect water) give insight into their lives. One woman recounts how groups of people in her slum tapped into water pipes, but at least once a month, municipal officials come and shut them down. Another discusses how she doesn’t receive any water for a couple of days, so her and her family have to purchase water which can cost up to 50 rupees if they need to wash bed linen.

Currently, only 10% of Mumbai’s population have uninterrupted access to water and the average household receives only 4 hours of water access each day (Yerunkar, 2017). Upper and middle-class citizens gain this access through property developers that ‘convince’ the government to provide them with a reliable water supply, but as slum settlements are illegal, they do not receive this same formal approval process. Only certain settlers can access the water system legally and to access this water they must produce the pressure required to extract it, in the forms of pumps and pipelines (Anand, 2011). However, hundreds of people that have done this have been arrested and prosecuted under laws such as the Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act (Graham et al, 2013). This has introduced the concept of ‘water theft’, though many may argue that although water is traded like a commodity, it is a natural resource that the entire population has rights over.

There have been plans by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to provide 24/7 water access to people in the city (although these plans have been delayed indefinitely due to problems with private consultants and engineers) (Yerunkar, 2017). Despite this, there are concerns as to who is considered part of the ‘city’ – does the ‘city’ refer to the wealthier population living in high rise apartment buildings and exclude the slum dwellers?


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Copenhagen and Water Waste

It was until the recent fieldtrip to Hogsmill Sewage Treatment Plant that I had never really thought twice about what happens after flushing the toilet, or just quite how much infrastructure is put to use before I turn on the tap in the kitchen. They say that ignorance is bliss, but in this instance, I think it is hugely dangerous for the environment and society!

(See this Thames Water piece about ‘What Happens When You Flush the Loo’ to save your own ignorance!)

Living in South London, I am completely used to passing the sloshing brown, sludge-ridden waters of the Thames everyday. I used to think that perhaps this is what every capital city ends up with after hundreds of years of vast population increase and failure to improve infrastructure. That was until I visited Copenhagen.

You wouldn’t dare take a post-dinner dip in The Thames, but in Copenhagen there are numerous sites for this type of activity popping up all over the city. The city is crisscrossed by canals and practically surrounded by water, but how is it kept so clean? The best way to understand the current sewage system, is to look back through time at the developments made by the government in order to clean up the water surrounding the city.

This year, the Copenhagen sewerage system celebrates its 160th Anniversary! Until 1857 when the first sophisticated forms of sewer networks were established by the new constitution, the contents of latrines were collected and driven to the countryside for fertilization purposes. The remaining sewage was lead to the harbour which caused extreme odours and hazardous sedimentation of bacteria-ridden sludge. Since then, the extension of the Copenhagen sewer system has taken place in clearly defined stages, which are explained here. The current system includes a range of technologies such as underground water storage vessels, overflow barriers, and wastewater pipes.

Whilst the infrastructure plays an integral role in keeping the city and its water clean, public awareness has played a role too! Public awareness for water usage has resulted in Copenhageners using significantly less water than other city-dwellers across the globe. The idea behind sustainable water usage being that, if the population wishes to maintain clean water for the future, they need to use less water. The average Copenhagener only uses about 26 gallons of water a day, compared to the 80-100 gallons used by the average citizen of the United States.

The high importance of safe water in every dwelling should surround everyone’s thoughts. It is something that everyone should acknowledge on a daily basis in order to maintain quality of life for future generations. After learning what I have learnt, I will certainly start to change my water-usage ways accordingly!


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Re: Singapore’s bad air

In my first blog post, I described the transboundary haze crisis in Southeast Asia that Singapore faces annually. This year, the haze came back but it was different from that of past for two main reasons: it was not as severe, lasting only for a few days; and the usual main suspects were completely innocent. Indonesia has taken many steps to reduce the number of hotspots, thus forest fires within that country has significantly reduced this year.

So the haze this year in Singapore cannot be contributed to Indonesia, instead, as Tania suggested in the comments for my post, the haze was from within Singapore. The air quality on “good days” have a median PM2.5 level at 17 micrograms per cubic metre (mcg/m3), which exceeds the acceptable threshold defined by the WHO at 10mcg/m3. The main pollutants within the country are the many petroleum refinery plants and power generators on the fringe of the country, alongside the typical exhaust fumes from transport.

I just thought that this would be interesting to share, as it is pretty rare that news media puts the blame of poor air quality on Singapore itself. Though, this article could have been a lot more investigative, than merely highlighting the issue and suggest solutions.

Irony of Water Catchment and Flooding

I previously mentioned in my other blogpost about Singapore’s water insecurity. In this blogpost, I want to delve further into the water catchment efforts Singapore has undertaken, and the tension between the built urban environment with water runoffs.

Singapore makes a concerted effort to increase the water catchment areas within the country to maximise the amount of drinking water — virtually the entire country is a water catchment area. What this means is that the rainwater collected in the drains all flow towards reservoirs or canals through a comprehensive network of drains, with little water lost.


Singapore PUB (protected means within nature reserves, unprotected being exposed to urban/human elements)


We have a lot of reservoirs for such a small country.

Water catchment has become an almost innovative endeavour in Singapore as well. If you look closely at the image above, most of the reservoirs are a network of rivers. Most notably, reservoir #13 includes our very own Singapore River! This reservoir is one of the newest, with a barrage built across the Marina Channel, separating rainwater from seawater. This reservoir opened in 2008 and only started properly functioning as a freshwater reservoir in 2010.

Yet, despite this extensive water collection network, Singapore still faces an increasing amount of flooding in recent years. One of the biggest factors is urban runoff, whereby rainwater is no longer retained in the ground before slowly being released into water bodies. The rapid increase in impermeable infrastructure around the city has led to costly floods, with the main shopping district in Singapore, Orchard Road, being a hotspot for floods.


The worst flood on June 16, 2010 

One of the most recent floods, a mere month ago, disrupted the underground train network forcing transport services down for over two days. Investigations are currently in process to understand the multiple causes for this incident, but one thing is certain: the frequency of flooding has increased drastically recently, and it seems to be related to the urban development in the city.


Picture of train flooding shared on social media

True, there are solutions that can be undertaken. The idea of sponge cities have recently gained traction in the field of urban planning, with many solutions such as: rooftops covered by plants, scenic wetlands for rainwater storage, and permeable pavements that store excess runoff water and allow evaporation for temperature moderation. However, Singapore has already made use of all these supposedly innovative measures that temperate cities are employing. What more, then, could the tropical city do? Especially with the more extreme weathers that climate change is bringing about, this becomes even more concerning.

There is currently a residential area under construction in Singapore that tries to build housing and recreational facilities into a very natural environment, aptly named the “Forest Town“. This town promises to have better water and energy conservation features, like a forest fringe and more plant/natural features to absorb water runoff. Perhaps this could be a future solution? How well it runs is still unknown though, since it is still a work-in-process.


Tengah: Singapore’s new Forest Town

3 Billion Plastic Bags

That’s the number of plastic bags 5.5 million Singaporeans use a year, and it averages to about 545 plastic bags used per person every year. This insanely high amount of plastics consumed has led to the leading supermarkets in Singapore coming together to discuss the possibility of charging shoppers for each plastic bag.

Looking at the success that the UK, Hong Kong and other countries/cities has experienced with the plastic bag charges, many proponents in Singapore are looking forward to this change, exclaiming that it is “about time” for such taxes to be introduced. Yet, debate has ensued in whether it wise to mindlessly import successful strategies from abroad into Singapore without considering the numerous contextual differences:

The climate in Singapore is a big factor. The hot and humid weather in Singapore means that hygiene standards have to be held higher, as diseases grow and spread much faster. The use of plastic bags in supermarkets serve to ensure that the food products people buy are not easily contaminated. The disposability of these plastic bags also mean that once the bags are dirtied, it can be quickly gotten rid of.

Further, it is an almost-Singaporean culture to reuse the plastic bags from supermarkets to line bins with, and household trash have to be tied up before disposal for similar sanitary reasons. I’ve noticed in my few months of staying in London that people here purchase special garbage bags to line their bins, suggesting that despite the use of plastic shopping bags have reduced, the total use of plastic bags may not necessarily have decreased. Another consequence of these extra charges is the increase in total expenditure per household (since now even bagging trash would cost money, estimated by an NGO to be SGD37 per year*), which could prove burdensome to the lower-income households.

What seems like a very simple solution to reducing the use of plastic bags actually turns out to be a multi-faceted issue. Perhaps alternative and multi-pronged solutions should be considered, for example:

  • classification of products at supermarkets such that most easily contaminated will have to be plastic-bagged
  • supermarkets change the plastic bags they give out to bio-degradeable plastics
  • encourage recycling more, such that the total amount of trash produced is decreased and therefore, a decrease in demand for plastic bags to bag trash in
  • a major supermarket is currently carrying out a rewards system whereby shoppers can collect points for every 1 less plastic bag they use each time they shop. Once enough points are accumulated, they get to enjoy a small discount in their next purchase. (The benefit of this is that Singaporeans LOVE rewards systems.)

* to put this amount into context: SGD37 is approximately GBP20, which might not seem like much. But to a lower-income Singaporean household, it could mean a month’s worth of pocket-money for a primary school student. You could also buy 12 plates of chicken rice (and one plate is a very substantial meal).

Glasgow: A Circular City?

Glasgow, with a population of roughly 600,000 is Scotland’s largest city. With a pioneering industrial past, Glasgow is now a modern and cultural city. It is in this pioneering spirit that Glasgow aims to develop a circular economy.

What is the circular economy?

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle” is the holy trinity when it comes to minimising waste. Like many other people, I am guilty of only considering recycling, and if it can’t be recycled, it tends to be thrown away.

The circular economy is an economic model that directly challenges the current “take, make and dispose” model of our throwaway society. Coined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is described as “restorative and regenerative by design” and is built around  3 main principles:

  1. To preserve and enhance natural capital
  2. To optimise resource yields
  3. To foster system effectiveness

Outline of a Circular Economy. Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The saying is that one man’s trash is another’s treasure; the circular economy extrapolates this idea, and it can be applied on much larger, city wide scales, allowing for the promotion of resource minimisation and the adoption of cleaner technologies (Andersen, 1999). 

How is Glasgow aiming to become one?

In 2016 a “Circle City Scan” was commissioned to analyse Glasgow’s material flows, and look at how the city could become more circular in its economy. Whilst the report analysed three of the major economic sectors, the sector that was found to have the largest potential in terms of circularity was the food and drink sub-sector of manufacturing. This industry uses over 51% of the total resources consumed by all three sectors, so is a logical place to start in Glasgow’s effort to become a circular city.

One of the more novel solutions to make this sub-sector more circular is the “Bread to Beer” strategy. Glasgow is famous for its breweries (and their smell!), so it seems fitting that it is an industry that can be a major driving force in the city’s aspiration to become circular.

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Flow diagram showing how bread waste can be utilised in the production of beer in the “Beer to Bread” circular strategy. Source: Circle Economy.

This strategy sees unsold, waste bread being used to brew beer. If implemented fully, this would save using (and the cost of using) 1/3 of the raw material currently being used.  This idea, known as industrial symbiosis, sees two separate industries in a mutually beneficial relationship where resource utilisation is improved, therefore reducing waste production (Jacobsen, 2006).

Whilst this solution seems unusual, I think that it considers waste in a way that most people are unaccustomed to. By viewing waste as a commodity, the city’s environmental impact, not only just in terms of waste to landfill, will be reduced,  while economic growth would be boosted and society would benefit (Prendeville et al., 2017). Having said this, in order to work effectively it needs the general public to change their attitudes in the role of the consumer, and be more open to purchasing “waste” products.



Andersen MS (1999) Governance by green taxes: implementing clean water policies in Europe 1970–1990. Environ Econ Policy Stud 2(1):39–63

Jacobsen NB (2006) Industrial symbiosis in Kalundborg Denmark: a quantitative assessment of economic and environmental aspects. J Ind Ecol 10(1–2):239–256

Prendeville, S., Cherim, E. and Bocken, N. (2017). Circular Cities: Mapping Six Cities in Transition. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].

Istanbul: Sewage and the city

It is a human to need the toilet. Yet we rarely talk about the role of waste management in our daily lives. I certainly had never had such a conversation, until last week when I visited Hogsmill Sewage Plant, London. Our bodies are supported by a mass of unseen infrastructure that sits concealed beneath our feet. We have an intimate and vital connection to something completely invisible. What does this connection to our sewers tell us about ourselves? And is Victor Hugo right when he said ‘the history of men is reflected in the history of sewers?’ (Hugo, 1892).


Artwork from the 2016 Are We Human? The Design of the Species, the third edition of the Istanbul Design Biennial

Empire and toilets

The Ottoman empire was a global power in the 16th and 17th century. Istanbul developed one of the first sewage systems in the world. Indeed, sewage systems have been cited as a significant part of colonial development, and historically important to the ‘modernist ideal’ of integrated equality of services. Mumbai for example has used the development of its sanitation practices to highlight its shift to bourgeois environmentalism in the process of becoming a ‘world city’.

The left hand image shows the first major water supply lines that were built during the Roman period by the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D). To the right is a map of modern day sewage systems in Istanbul (3 being the newest development and 1 being the oldest in age).

Modern Istanbul

Istanbul developed the Terkos company in 1868, in response to water shortages and began to invest in waste disposal as it modernised. However, with insufficient infrastructure, people contaminated their own drinking water supplies. In 1926 the first water purification plant was built, marking a shift to the 20th century. Yet issues became apparent in the 1940s as social unrest in Turkey caused the urban population to swell, bringing with it a deluge of waste from the erupting shanty town developments. The city’s infrastructure in some ways mirrored the political atmosphere of the time. Water demand was outstripped, waste removal was insufficient, and people felt their government was inadequate.

Was Hugo right?

Not only are our political and social activities reflected in the cycle of waste and water around the city, but these substances tell a darker tale of our more intimate health. Endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) have been found in Istanbul’s water supply. These substances are placed into our city water systems through our consumption, industry and agriculture. Other substances, such as BPA, were recorded. Through our relationship to waste and water, we are increasing our risk of prostate cancer, reproductive issues and disease like diarrhoea.

Just like our bodies, everything that goes into supporting the city, must come out. I believe Hugo was right; our sewage systems are a reflection of ourselves.

This idea is a fully fledged theory. If you are interested, see Gandy’s writings.


Mumbai: What a waste!

As a country develops economically, there is expected to be an increase in solid waste associated with the increasingly affluent lifestyle led by its population (Rathi 2006). India is no exception. In September 2017, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) released its latest Environmental Status Report (ESR).

Here is a list of its main findings (compiled from Hindustan Times 2017):

  • 9,400 tonnes of rubbish a day is sent to Mumbai dumps (only 95% of total waste, as the other 5% is not collected)
  • 73% of this is food waste; 17% is construction debris; 3% is plastic; 3% is organic dry waste; other recyclables make up the remaining 4%
  • Only 8% is recycled and 5% composted by private companies

mumbai waste

I found these results rather peculiar, as the majority of the waste produced by Mumbai is recyclable, yet not even a significant amount is reused! Although I was not surprised by the large amount of construction debris (after all, India is a developing country), I was rather shocked at the amount of food that is wasted – around 6800 tonnes a day! For a city with a large part of its population living in poverty, it’s disheartening. Initially, it brought me back to my thoughts from last week’s post – do the lives of the poor simply not matter to the wealthy? But then another thought occurred to me: what if the population simply does not know about waste and recycling?

In Rathi’s 2006 paper, two solutions for alternative waste management are given after recognition that the increasing quantities of waste are becoming unmanageable by municipal corporations:

  1. Community participation in waste management – After initial contributions from the local government, a committee composing of both government officials and community leaders is set up that is responsible for planning, implementing and inspecting various aspects of locality development.
  2. Cooperation between the local government and the private sector – Governments give waste to private companies for free, which they then sort and recycle for profit from the recycled materials

It is concluded that option 1 is the best solution as it produces efficient results as well as being cost-effective. Examples of community participation have been seen in the Dharavi slum, however not exactly following the model proposed by Rathi. Residents have been picking up waste that is found in the streets of Mumbai (a lot of people do not want to deal with waste as it is seen as lowly in the caste system), taking it back to the slums, sorting it and selling it to small recycling plants.

However, although the work is successful, very few of these units adhere to any form of regulation, making it extremely hazardous, especially as many of these ‘rag workers’ are women and children. Perhaps, alongside community participation, it is important for the Indian government to provide education on the matter and encourage recycling by creating incentives for waste management, or even implementing recycling initiatives into domestic law.

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Recycling Sewage Water

This sounds terribly revolting, but Singaporeans actually drink toilet water. And as a Singaporean, I can tell you that it tastes really sweet.

NEWater bottles(S).jpg

Newater bottled water! (aren’t they cute?)

As a resource-scarce city-state, Singapore depends very heavily on imported water from her closest neighbour, Malaysia. Such reliance is both unsustainable and weakens national security (the agreements on water imports expired in 2011, and another will expire in 2061), so ensuring diverse and sustainable sources of water is of significant national importance. Singapore has 4 national taps: imported water from Malaysia, desalinated water, rainwater catchment, and Newater (recycled waste water).

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Singapore’s 4 national taps

Newater makes use of membrane technology to clean waste water from industries, as well as domestic sewage. The result of a 3-step treatment (see infographic) is water so pure that it is used mainly by wafer fabrication plants, which require water quality more stringent than for drinking.


Newater treatment process

Recycled water now provides up to 30% of the water supply in Singapore, and is expected to increase to 40% with the opening of a fifth plant earlier this year. The aim of the country is to increase the production capacity to meet 90% of the demand before the agreement with Malaysia expires.

The innovation driving Newater is motivated simply by scarcity, and trying to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population. Yet, this technology brings about lots of new possibilities through diversifies water sources and making waste water into potable water again. Further, it resolves the issue of waste water management, reducing the amount of waste the nation generates. This reverse metabolism in the city-state could be a solution to wastewater treatment and water provision to other countries too!

Click here to see a video by CNN, it shows you the insides of a Newater plant — I’ve been on school tours inside before and it is so exciting!

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