Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the RWTH Aachen University

Field work in Chennai

The biggest challenge we had was to take the surveys in the slums. Because there is nobody able to speak English like in the middle and upper class. So it was very important to find a good translator and in particular a translator who is able to get in touch with the people in the slums, so that they open their mind. After a few days of searching and meeting a lot of potential translators we found such a person and our efforts were rewarded.

 

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Canal next to a slum

When we entered the slums for the first time, it was like entering another world and nothing seems real. But it was a friendly and warm hearted world and the people there are quiet amazing. Although the people don`t have much here they share everything. After our guide explained that we come from Germany and we are doing a survey about water use and water consumption, the ice was broken and they were very happy to see us. Fast we gained the attraction of the people since in this areas they don`t know white people but because of this attraction we had a big problem. We had to ask everyone separately elsewise everyone wants to say something to the questions and we were not able to get correct ans
wers. The people were mostly open minded and gave willingly answers to the questions although usually the first question was whether we are from the government or if we want to build new houses for them.  As such, once can say the slums that we have visited have water the whole day. Mostly it is tank water which is delivered by water transporters from metro water or the cooperation. The water for this tanks is delivered daily. In addition, pipes are present that ensure a constant supply of water and also groundwater pumps. One of the biggest problems is that the groundwater is salty, so it can`t be used for many things. This happened due to the fast population growth in Chennai and also because of the tsunami in 2004. This problem can be found everywhere in Chennai and there is no solution.It is important to say that all people in Chennai have electricity and that they have to pay for this. In the slums nobody has to pay water taxes but in the middle and upper class they have to do it. In the slums they have only to pay for the can water which is mostly used as drinking water. If they don`t want to pay for it they drink the tank water, which is boiled for partial advance or is drunk directly without boiling. We were told by the people form the middle and upper class that the water supply is better in some cases in the slums than in this classes because there is permanent availability of water especially in summer.  In the slums you can find a catastrophically waste management because most of the trash is thrown in the river and also the swage is directed there. So it looks like there is no waste management in the slums. In the middle and upper class this gets better and you can find sewage canals and also the garbage disposal. Nevertheless it is important to mention that the understanding of cleanliness and sustainability exists but is not implemented in Chennai. Forty years ago the rivers where clean here and could be used as an drinking water source, the most of the slums where build next to the rivers because of that. But when the industrialization starts the water gets so heavily polluted that one further use is inconceivable. In our discussions with the people we got to know that the government hospitals are free to use for everyone but it is not well known in the slums. Chennai has no school fees, so that everyone can get education for free.

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trash thrown into the river

All in all I can say that in Chennai a lot of education work needs to be done to strengthen people’s awareness of the handling with water. The population of Chennai has to learn that water is an important and infinite commodity and not to be regarded as self-evident.

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