Seema Gosain, a resident of the Goswami Nagal slum in Kanpur, India, washes her face. Before WaterAid began work here, the slum was awash in solid waste and waste water. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

Stagnant water near the Rajapurwa slum in Kanpur, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. In the rainy season, levels rise and the water often enters nearby homes. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

The troubles besetting India’s water ecosystem are as complex and intertwined as the arms of its infamous Ganges River.

In a country that records some of the world’s heaviest annual rainfall totals, severe drought still affects wide swaths of the landscape from November through March, leaving people in some rural areas dependent on the monsoon season for relief. Much of the water collected this way is contaminated by toxic bacteria and sewage. Parallel to the concerns about contamination, India is facing increasing pressure to double its water supply by 2030 to meet the demands of a growing population.

These interrelated problems have been attributed to myriad factors that include, but are not limited to, increased industrialization, geographic factors, mismanagement of water resources and inadequate plumbing and other water infrastructure in the cities.


A worker clears a filter at a sewage plant in Kanpur. As part of the government’s “Last Mile Projects” initiative to clean up the Ganges River, all major cities in Uttar Pradesh will receive new sewage treatment plants. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

Samarjeet, a resident of the Sanjay Nagar slum in Kanpur, pictured last year. Samarjeet works in a clock factory, earning about $55 a month, His son was suffering from diarrhea. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

Polluted water flows from the Kanpur sewage treatment plant into the drainage channel, where it meets the polluted waste water from the city’s tanneries. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

As part of a wide-ranging series of images titled “Water,” documentary photographer Mustafah Abdulaziz traveled last year to the industrial city of Kanpur, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 1.8 million people – half the city’s population – have no access to a toilet. Initiatives have been launched to address this critical sanitation issue, which affects many parts of the country; they include the Clean India Mission, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship programs, which has as a goal the installation of toilets in every Indian household and school by 2019. Abdulaziz’s study of a resource in crisis also depicts the way leather tanneries and polluted waterways have restricted Kanpur residents’ access to sufficient drinking water.

“Water” spans nearly every continent, but Abdulaziz shared his photographs from Kanpur exclusively with In Sight. The series, mounted in collaboration with the HSBC Water Program, WWF, WaterAid and Earthwatch, is on exhibit in Stockholm, Sweden, through the end of August and will travel to New York later this year.


Raju Slumområdet, 45, works as a laundry man, cleaning and ironing clothes for a living. He lost his daughter to an illness that the doctors attributed to drinking contaminated water. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

Leather tannery fields in Kanpur, which has some of the largest tanneries in the world. The chemical waste water from the plants passes into run-off streams, which meet with other open water sources and eventually flow into the Ganges. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

Poisoned marigold flowers in Jana village, near Kanpur. Before the tanneries were built, marigold fields dominated the area around the village. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

The interior of the Kanpur sewage treatment plant. The treated water flows into an irrigation channel, which is used to feed the crops in the agricultural belt surrounding the city’s industrial heart. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

Rajju, a resident of Jana village, shows inflammation on his back that he attributes to contaminated water. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

Kalavati, 50, of Kanpur, has made it her mission to build toilets in the slum of Rakhi Mandi, as she did in her own slum. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)

The Rakhi Mandi slum is located on a landfill site next to a busy railway line. Residents of informal settlements like this often lack the legal right to build permanent structures such as toilets, even if they have the means and ability to do so. (Mustafah Abdulaziz/WaterAid)