Urban water management and community participation
India is fast urbanizing. Cities are growing bigger and bigger. Towns are becoming cities. With this, the challenge of ensuring everybody’s water and sanitation needs in the urban areas are met is becoming more complex. Our city corporations or town municipal councils have limited capacity to manage these challenges. With growth far outpacing these institutions’ management response to it, much of the urban populace is left to adapt and cope with institutional inadequacies. Markets – both formal and informal – evolve to provide services that urban citizens then rely on to cope with this situation.
The coping mechanisms however, are still dependent on the natural capital of the town or city – its rivers, its tanks & lakes, its groundwater and its rainfall. This natural capital asset base also needs stewardship – instead they become waste sinks & health hazards. Solutions are now necessary that can break this vicious cycle. All stakeholders – public and private – need to become part of these solutions. At Biome we research and develop these solutions. We also catalyse and facilitate co-creation of these solutions working with all these diverse stakeholders. We understand problems as not just technical or environmental problems – but equally as social problems. And in our work we endeavor therefore, that solutions are co-created with potential stake-winners and stake-losers.
Design for accessibility
A sustainable environment will not be achieved by looking solely at the physical world; any true success in this direction must understand and integrate in equal measure the human aspect. We consider social responsibility an imperative component of any project which we approach from two angles: “For whom and where” and “By whom and how”.
“For whom and where” is rooted in the needs of the client and the community in which they live, making them the primary concern in our designs. We give careful thought to accessibility for differently-abled individuals, such as the elderly or those with physical disabilities. We also assign considerable weight to local aesthetic and cultural values.
“By whom and how” gives consideration to the players in the construction process. Workers in India’s construction industry often suffer from a lack of dignity, pay, and even basic training. Frequently migrating from rural areas where they left behind family, land and greater social status, these workers converge upon urban areas with hopes of economic advancing. Our designers are aware of the efforts of these workers, and believe that assuming some responsibility toward due training and proper recognition of good work can go a long way to furthering their lot. Additional responsibilities include ensuring that no child labour is employed at site and that all workers are offered insurance against accident or injury.
Access to water and Inclusive development
Universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation is imperative for inclusive development. In the Indian context, equity in this access is affected by economic (eg: poor), social (eg: caste, gender) and geographic (eg: rural) factors. Biome works with other organizations and communities to help achieve universal access to water and sanitation. The fundamental approach is to work with affected communities or organsiation closely working with affected communities and equip them with ideas, knowledge, information and connections that will help them to respond to their problems in an empowered manner.
When appropriate or where opportunity presents itself, we may also help access small amounts of funding from individual or institutional donors that can help communities implement their solutions. We see ourselves as catalyzers of local problem solving and as incubators of local problem solvers.
Skills development and sustainability
The plumber, the well digger, the mason, the gardener/farmer – whether urban or rural – are perhaps the most important problem solvers in the water and sanitation space everywhere. As our country urbanizes and as rural agriculture adapts itself to new urban consumption patterns, the skills necessary to deal with changing water and sanitation challenges also change. At Biome Environmental Trust, we consider our engagement with these problem solvers as very central to our work. We work with them to develop new solutions and we then help spread the new skills necessary by training and handholding. In our work we also try to ensure their livelihoods are protected and strengthened. We try to ensure that their work is valued and respected. All of them are our partners.
The origins of the Trust lies in the work of more than fifteen years of practice and research of a group of Architecture, Urban Planning, Water & Sanitation, Energy and Information Technology professionals.