Use GIS & Google Earth® for accurate sanitation mapping

September 06, 2017 04:33 PM
Use GIS & Google Earth® for accurate sanitation mapping logo

Pratima Joshi, an architect by profession, and a social housing & urban sanitation interventionist by choice, chose to bring a paradigm shift in the scenario by using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing technology to map poverty through her NGO titled Shelter Associates. As Founder-Executive Director of Shelter Associates, Joshi has her hands full, working towards a 2018 target of direct implementation of 5,500 toilets in Kolhapur, Thane, Navi Mumbai and Pimpri-Chinchwad. 

By Kavitha Srinivasa


Shelter Associates (SA) a Pune-based NGO has facilitated housing and basic infrastructural services in informal settlements across few cities of Maharashtra. Currently, they are engaged in the facilitation of household sanitation across the cities of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Navi Mumbai Kolhapur and Thane, which has received a great impetus under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). In 2009 Google Earth® recognized SA’s work under its 'Google Earth® Hero' category for its innovative use of Google Earth® as a platform for city-wide urban planning.

In most of the Indian cities, there is an absence of spatial data. Data available with Urban Local Bodies (ULB) is mostly garnered from secondary sources of information and is often inaccurate and fails to serve as a tool for implementing any strategic intervention. This data is also usually scattered across all departments and there is hardly any clarity on its presence and how it needs to be put to use for effective delivery of services.

The absence of spatially accurate and real-time data has been one of the biggest challenges faced by the SA team. Granular spatial data is the need of the hour, which will help pinpoint gaps in the delivery of essential services and infrastructure to the urban poor.

When did the journey begin?

I founded Shelter Associates along with two like-minded architects in 1993 with an aim of making infrastructure and utility services accessible to the urban poor. So we took it upon ourselves to collate data on slums in Pune.

As architects, we view things spatially. My team and I began to identify and map slums in the Pune A-Z (like in London). Around 40% of Pune’s population resides in slums. Our surveys have shown that of this 40 %, 70% slum households lacked household sanitation despite the fact that 90% of the slums were covered by drainage networks across the city. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) couldn’t make informed decisions due to a lack of comprehensive and real-time data. 

Traditionally data on slums has been compiled on spreadsheets manually, which is cumbersome to update. Hence most information is outdated, lacks accuracy and tends to be fragmented. Urban planning has generally been ineffective as it relies on such data.  

Consequently, we felt a digitized documentation is essential to upgrade data and offer real-time information. Technological intervention is required for precision and error-free functioning. With some brainstorming, we arrived at Geographic Information System (GIS) software around 1997-1998. Though GIS is a tool that allows the spatial accuracy of data, at that time, the Defence force and Forest Department were the main consumers of GIS. We gradually tweaked it to map poverty. 

We made a beginning through a pilot project for PMC in 2000. They engaged with us for GIS mapping of all slums across the city of Pune. We in turn, engaged with the communities and trained the youth to gather detailed socioeconomic data from households manually on hard copies. This data was then fed in on computers at the back end and uploaded on spreadsheets. The digitized map data was then integrated with this slum and household data onto the GIS platform to allow it to be spatially queried and analyzed to plan systematic & strategic interventions.

With changing times, SA has gradually refined it’s processes and has been technologically advancing with the use of Google Earth and mobile technology for conducting these surveys within communities. SA has also recently migrated to an open source platform. All these advancements have not only allowed to create precise & accurate spatial data but have also accelerated the processes. It has allowed cities to look at slums holistically in the context of the neighbourhood, demography and visualize land resources as the data has offered insights into various segments in a spatial manner. For instance, in most slums in Pune, data revealed that most households had individual water connections and there was a presence of surplus water stand posts in slums leading to the fact that water, a scarce resource was being abused. When this data was shared with PMC, they started phasing out the excessive water stand posts, thus utilizing the services optimally in a slum and this became a lesson in water management.

After the pilot project, what are the opportunities that helped you hone expertise in GIS technology for mapping poverty?

SA proved to be a pioneer in India, by conducting city wide mapping with the help of GIS technology & Google Earth of all slums in Pune back in the year 2000. This data aided us to locate gaps in the system and analyze this granular data to plan our interventions in a focused manner.

We began to develop an inclusive & an interactive model for greater impact, beginning in 2000 by engaging with municipal corporations of Pune and Sangli-Miraj to provide community led sanitation solutions using an inclusive approach. In 2000, SA undertook facilitation of 13 Community Toilet Blocks (CTB) in Pune & on a pilot basis facilitated 2 CTBs in 2 slums of Sangli, Miraj, Kupwad Municipal Corporation. (1-connected to drainage network & the other connected to a biogas plant).

Another breakthrough came in 2009 when we were approached as consultants under the GoI’s Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP) to rehabilitate almost half of the slum population in Sangli-Miraj-Kupwad region of Maharashtra. We were chosen because we use GIS-Google Earth® methodology. The data is the backbone of slums and helps generate ward-wise information for the administrative wards of each city. A scalable blueprint was developed which can be scaled across Maharashtra.

Over the years we have been advocating a citywide approach towards planning for the poor, based on the findings of spatial data. Our approach towards using GIS as a tool for mapping sanitation has been adopted by the Government of India (GoI) in their national policy governing urban poverty.

Sanitation mapping of slums is inclusive in nature and requires a flexible top-down approach. We facilitate successful community and household sanitation projects in the informal settlements of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Navi Mumbai, Kolhapur, and Sangli of Maharashtra. We have signed a MoU with various municipal corporations of Maharashtra to link their website with ours in order to allow open viewership of the spatial data that we gather.

Please run me through the GIS mapping process

GIS and remote sensing technology offer the possibilities of granular spatial data. The Google Earth® image is used as a base map for digitizing slum boundaries. The data (which is now captured using mobile apps) and maps are integrated on to the GIS platform and outcomes of each slum are made available on a fact sheet, which is attached on to the slum boundary on Google Earth®. All settlement and household data are inter-connected, so by clicking on a house, a dialogue box appears and it showcases information about that particular settlement or house respectively.

This forms the core of the system upon which additional information such as roads, gutter lines, and water stand posts are added.

The GIS based master listing of slums depends on data collection. This involves a three-pronged strategy, beginning with Rapid Infrastructure Mapping (RIM) which includes marking sewage network, gutters, community toilet blocks (CTB) solid waste management systems like open dumping spots and waste containers, water stand posts, roads etc.

Rapid Household Survey (RHS) which is the second aspect reflects the infrastructure related to homes and family details. In the concluding step, all this information is integrated on to a GIS Platform using Google Earth® as the base map. The analysis of the GIS based master listing of slums is shared with the government, followed by community mobilization. 

The GIS mapping programme is an inclusive stakeholder approach, complete with community mobilization through workshops and awareness campaigns. It engages with communities, creates a demand for household toilets and handholds them through Shelter Associates.

What were the initial stumbling blocks and how were they overcome?

Initially, when we mapped poverty, we were subjected to use the available Development Plan (DP) maps that the cities could offer. While mapping on ground, we would use these DPs as base maps and map individual structures, slum infrastructural systems like drainage networks, water supply, waste management systems, electrical supply etc. on them, which often failed to match and showed disparity. With the launch of Google Earth (GE) in 2005, we could marry GIS technology with remote sensing technology (Google Earth®). While doing so, we started using GE satellite images as base maps on which mapping on the field is carried out. Plane-table surveyors drew the detailed maps of the settlements which helped include salient features like the infrastructural systems in a settlement like-drainage networks, water connections, roads, waste management systems etc. on different layers as well as all mapped and numbered structures. Then household surveys were separately conducted to gather all the socioeconomic data of each household and then this data along with the plane table survey data would be integrated into the GIS platform. All these were then superimposed on the map.

Since the last three-four years, SA has been using a web-based open source android application called Kobo Collect for collecting slum level and household level data. Data collection is an ongoing process. With the expansion of our operations in new cities, the survey forms and data collection systems need a continuous update. To satisfy the real time needs we have started using an OS platform called KoBo Toolbox for defining and deploying surveys for collecting data.

KoBo at a glance:

  • KoBo Toolbox, a set of open source software tools, seems quite suitable for our requirements. It is very user-friendly and an efficient system to work with.
  • The KoboCollect application is freely available on Play store on an Android operating system.
  • The surveys can be deployed on mobile devices with Android system very easily further enabling community level engagement- this allows for tapping community dwellers possessing smart phones and the interest to work for their community, who are involved in the data collection processes along with SA’s data collection/survey team members.
  • Data collection and data entry does not need an internet connection.
  • The entered data can be edited.
  • Uploading of data is more user-friendly.
  • Data can be viewed and edited in code or label format.
  • Data downloading in various formats is possible. We can also view and download photos captured using the mobile app.
  • Data cleaning and analysis is made easier.

The app enables users to run the survey questions. As it has a drop down menu, users can choose responses, thereby reducing spelling mistakes and other errors.

Please throw light on the One Home One Toilet initiative

Over the last 24 years, SA has facilitated successful social housing projects and community sanitation. However, based on the data that was collected for slums across cities, it was evident that access to safe sanitation was acutely missing. Also, the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014, gave impetus to our work and hence SA focused attention to household sanitation in slums by launching its ‘One Home One Toilet’ (OHOT) model in 2013, having been tried and tested for over a decade.

This OHOT model is a result of experimentation & continuous refinement over a period of time & developed from the observation that the provision of sanitation on a household basis is more impactful & sustainable as compared to the provision of Community Sanitation facilities.

This model provides a holistic sanitation solution that is very data and technology driven, community centric and integrates urban local bodies (ULB) and other stakeholders to ensure sustainability & scalability. OHOT leverages technology to map slum sanitation services.

OHOT model is a cost-sharing model wherein construction material is provided at the doorstep of each household & each family bears the cost of toilet construction, creating a sense of ownership and pride. This also proves to be a great incentive to not only build their toilet but often leads to up-gradation of their homes. It also allows to bring in a huge buy in from the families; both financial as well as ownership which accelerates the construction process & allows customization of the toilet to suit the needs and demands of the families allowing flexibility.

Around 70% of the construction cost is borne by SA which is raised through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding. SA provides technical support, and acts as a link between communities and the government by engaging with communities to create awareness about health and hygiene, bring about behavioural change and creates demand for household toilets.

Since the implementation of OHOT model has been very well aligned with Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission, OHOT has received a boost; every city has the flexibility to decide the amount of subsidy to be awarded to families for getting individual household toilets constructed. Cities provide subsidies ranging from Rs. 12,000 to Rs 18,000 for toilet construction.

As of August 2017, SA has facilitated over 10,000 household toilets in Pune, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Kolhapur, Sangli and Pimpri-Chinchwad.

What are your future plans?

We have already been appointed as the ‘Nodal Agency’ by the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) in helping them achieve Open Defecation Free city. PCMC has adopted SA’s OHOT model and is scaling the same. SA has shared the city-wide granular spatial data with PCMC and we want to institutionalize this data in at least two more municipal corporations in Maharashtra. An intensive training programme for ULB officials has been conducted to demonstrate the process of mapping on ground and impart a practical training on the use and implementation of spatial data in PCMC. We look forward to doing the same with more ULBs as they could then be able to hold the spatial data to deliver not just sanitation but also other infrastructural systems.

While we are aiming at a direct implementation of 5,500 toilets in Kolhapur, Thane, Navi Mumbai and Pimpri-Chinchwad by 2018, our ultimate vision is to create 1 lakh toilets in Maharashtra by 2020 through direct and indirect impact.

  • Use GIS & Google Earth® for accurate sanitation mapping  logo
  • Use GIS & Google Earth® for accurate sanitation mapping  logo
  • Use GIS & Google Earth® for accurate sanitation mapping  logo
  • Use GIS & Google Earth® for accurate sanitation mapping  logo
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