Climate Change and Urban Poor: Bengaluru Case Study

By Abhinandan Khajuria and Anshul Rai Sharma

This article highlights the dissonance between the macro-climate change policies with respect to Goal 6 of the SDGs and the on-ground realities of its implementation in informal settlements.

Source: Deccan Herald

Urban poor have been characterized among the most vulnerable communities to climate change related risks in our cities (Baker and World Bank 2012). These risks vary across cities (like urban flooding, heat-island effects, health-hazards) despite being rooted in most cases with the common issues of local governance and capacity building. While local governance models have been studied in case of climate change, there has been relatively little work in linking these models with the broader national commitments. This article seeks to fill this gap, by highlighting the relationship between macro Climate Change policies articulated in SDGs as general principles and its micro impact (or lack thereof) on people who inhabit informal settlements.

To make our inquiry policy relevant, we focus on SDGs and chart out its implication from National level policies to daily-lives of slum-dwellers by providing a critical analysis of Goal 6 aimed at 'Clean water and sanitation for all' as a macro policy and its bearing on informal settlements in Bengaluru.

India’s national policies on SDGs: Analysis

Decision-level texts are important in understanding a country’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goals and the key indicators it uses to operationalise these goals (Genovese 2014). We use the ‘SDG India: Partnerships in the Decade of Action’ published by Niti Aayog as the key text in understanding India’s commitments under Goal 6. The choice of this document is grounded in the Government of India’s endorsement of this text as the main report that collates all the state efforts in achieving SDGs.

The report shows that federal policies regarding fulfilling the objectives of SDG 6 are dependent on the various central schemes which are targeted towards specific outcomes. In the below table we show larger objectives of Goal 6 along with the corresponding National commitments.

Objectives in Goal 6

Corresponding National Commitments

6.1 Achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

Jal Jeevan Mission

6.2 Achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all. Special attention to women and girl children.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan National Urban Sanitation policy

6.3 Improve water quality by reducing pollution.

Namami Gange programme

6.4 Substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors. Targets water scarcity.

National Water Mission

6.6 Protect and restore water-related ecosystems.

National Plan for conservation of aquatic ecosystem (NPCA)

Issues with India’s SDG scores

Overall score of India in SDG 2021 was 66, an improvement of 6 points from the previous year. According to the Niti Aayog’s response report, this was a ‘significant improvement’ in-line with the achievement of 2030 targets. Goal 6 was especially lauded due to the maximum number of states being in the ‘frontrunner’ category of this goal, with the total score an impressive 85. Based on these figures, a researcher would expect work on Goal 6 to be robust and streamlined. However, in our review of this literature we encountered some issues with this data compilation and the corresponding figures used to justify this target. It seems likely that the goals and indicators of SDGs and corresponding indicators set by the Indian government are misaligned.

Indicators for Goal 6 as per United Nations

Indicators as per India’s report

Goal 6.2: Proportion of population using safely managed services of safe sanitation

To achieve ‘improved sanitation facilities’

Goal 6.2 Women using sanitation services and access to clean water

Percentage of schools with separate toilets for girls

Goal 6.4 Reduce number of people suffering from water scarcity

Eliminate ‘over exploitation’ of blocks/mandals/talukas

Even before Goal 6 was articulated, there has been evidence-based consensus for shifting of water policy from supply side to demand side (Thomas ). This will involve looking at the interlinkages and creating sustainable distributional networks. In this view of water-management being a demand-side issue, the above indicators by the Government seem only supply side oriented (Goswami and Sarkar 2021). Indeed, from the above table we see terms such as ‘percentage’, ‘improved’ and we see this trend in the government’s approach.

Outcomes on slums of the India’s climate policies

The dissonance shown above has led to informal settlements being increasingly neglected in climate change debates (Baker and World Bank 2012). With no emphasis on demand-side reorganization, most of the informal settlements in India have been designed, developed and expanded in an unplanned manner that congests urban poor into densely populated areas lacking basic civil infrastructure and amenities. The income level of these communities and their inability to keep up with the expenses needed to keep up with the climatic conditions and changes have made these communities particularly vulnerable. Based on our review of the SDG report, it seems that India’s climate policies are largely based on achieving macro-targets with no special focus on any particular communities or welfare orientation. The commitments that India has made at the Paris and Glasgow conference of parties are also strategic and macro in nature, reflecting national ideas with little regard given to the effect that climate change has on poor urban communities.

Climate change as a gendered issue in Slums

The intersectionality of various issues in the slums is the key concern here. Goal 6.2 aims to address gender disparities with respect to access to water and lack of sanitation. To address this, indicators set by the government are inadequate as highlighted in the previous section. Gender relations within Bengaluru slums must be contextualized in order to understand this issue. Based on a 2019 door-to-door survey, women in slums have lower incomes and significantly higher unemployment rates (George et al. 2019). This highlights the domestic role that women tend to adopt in these slums, key part of this role being water and hygiene of the household. Lack of purchasing power (refer figure 2) creates budget constraints for urban poor households who wish to repair basic facilities in their homes (Baker and World Bank 2012). Such constraints are amplified due to lack of housing rights that lead to dissociation with one’s own surroundings and disincentives capacity building. Since the slum-residents know their stay is precarious and impermanent, they do not invest in infrastructure that would help offset, if not eliminate these risks. Infrastructural issues also tend to be systemic and go beyond individual household connections, for example proper sewage facilities play a key role in health and proper sanitation. In some settlements, collective issues have hindered individual actions, creating a vicious cycle. Studies have shown how sub-par sewage facilities have discouraged women from seeking repairs that will not be robust (Manasi and Latha 2017). This hints at an increasing need to think of issues that slum-dwellers face as collective capacity building issues rather than issues of individual households that need to be addressed discreetly.

Climate change as a public health hazard in Slums

Grappling with water and sanitation has bearing on various health-related issues that slum dwellers tend to face (refer figure 2). Lack of basic civic amenities coupled with overcrowded neighbourhoods leads to proliferation of infections, flooding, heat-strokers and other issues. In our own fieldwork in Rajendra Nagar, we witnessed how a heavy downpour led to flooding of houses due to lack of municipal amenities like drainage in these localities. Occupational hazard and lowered productivity of slum dwellers due to climate change related changes and outdoor work. Further, their ability to practise rational decision-making is also impacted.

Figure 1 : Policy Cycle concerning Goal 6

Bureaucratic policy gaps

Lack of proper housing and policy provision for housing rights to slum inhabitants has led to substandard, poor housing infrastructure in most settlements. Relationships with the state-institutions tend to be precarious, with various intermediaries who influence who gets basic identity documents (Aadhar, ration) and can interact formally with the state. Lack of proper documents is another key reason why most houses do not have water connections. Thereby making these houses dependent on parastatal agencies for water which are marred by local political agents and rent seeking tendencies of the overall ecosystem(refer to figure 1).

Climate Finance and the urban poor

Finance targeting the SDG’s and its access to the urban poor is an identified policy gap which has led to sub par implementation of welfare schemes. A breakdown of funds shows that concerning typical financing of slums, 40-50% funds come from the central government in the form of grants and loans. 40% is typically from foreign loans/ grants/ collaborations, 10% from the beneficiaries and communities and just 3% from the cities themselves (Baker and World Bank 2012). The ability of localities, whose basic unit can be taken as wards, are disempowered to raise viable taxes such as property tax. Additionally, incremental costs associated with climate change are not accounted for in the public budgets. Bengaluru, being a city in expansion, has the potential to leverage both Climate and development finance for climate action. Financial provisioning for SDG 6 related projects in Bengaluru such as that of Solid Waste Management (SWM), Lake development, Stormwater drains (SWDs), Public Toilets, Cauvery Water Supply Scheme, Greater Bengaluru Water Supply & Sanitation Project (GBWASP) should be increased and funds should be targeted towards urban poor under the aegis of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB ).

Innovative Financial models such as concessional finance have an important role to play in improving the access to services for the urban poor. A model such as “combined fund ” pooling different public and private resources can be set by Bengaluru specifically targeting urban poor and slums. Multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund can also come in with concessional grants and technical assistance. Instruments such as Land based finance, micro-insurance and community savings fund can be used to capacitate the urban poor so that they have the credit to avail public services and infrastructure related to clean water and sanitation. To the effect of above observations, policy recommendations have been provided.

Policy Recommendations

  1. Transitioning from an output oriented approach towards an outcome oriented approach vis a vis achieving the desired results related to access to clean water and sanitation. This includes gauging the success on the basis of real impact on urban communities and the benefits they have accrued.

  2. Reducing the financing gaps that exist between the planned expenditure and the implemented expenditure. The design of grassroots programmes has to be more efficient with particular emphasis on municipal financing options. These financing tools can be used for efficient delivery of goal 6 related municipal services.

  3. Encouraging private investments in poor urban areas to upgrade the civic amenities at par with efficiently serviced areas. A combined fund or investment in a public private partnership model can also be used to fund the upgradation (Baker and World Bank 2012).

Figure 2: Policy Window Concerning Goal 6


  1. Baker, Judy L., and World Bank, eds. 2012. Climate Change, Disaster Risk, and the Urban Poor: Cities Building Resilience for a Changing World. Urban Development. Washington, D.C: World Bank.

  2. Genovese, Federica. 2014. ‘States’ Interests at International Climate Negotiations: New Measures of Bargaining Positions’. Environmental Politics 23 (4): 610–31.

  3. Goswami, Mausumi, and Dhrubasish Sarkar. 2021. ‘A Comparative Analysis of Opinions and Sentiments on Clean India Campaign and Sustainability Goals of 2030’. In , 030001. Thrissur, India.

  4. George, C.E., Norman, G., Wadugodapitya, A. et al. Health issues in a Bangalore slum: findings from a household survey using a mobile screening toolkit in Devarajeevanahalli.BMC Public Health 19, 456 (2019).

  5. Manasi, S., and N. Latha. 2017. Toilet Access among the Urban Poor: Challenges and Concerns in Bengaluru City Slums. Working Paper / Institute for Social and Economic Change 383. Bangalore: Institute for Social and Economic Change.


Abhinandan Khajuria and Anshul Rai Sharma are masters' students of public policy at National Law School of India, University.

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