Improving water equity in India: Research team one of 17 to receive support from U of T's Data Sciences Institute

Water barrels outside a building in India.

(Photo by Atul Loke via Getty Images)

A multidisciplinary team at the University of Toronto is developing tools and metrics to improve water equity in India by empowering water planners, communities and activists.

While India has made gains in expanding access to water distribution networks, rapid urbanization and inadequate infrastructure have resulted in systems that provide water for less than four hours per day in some regions, impacting 390 million people.  

To cope, residents invest in water storage infrastructure and seek alternative water sources, imposing significant financial, environmental, educational, health and time costs, especially on women and girls. 

“The level of complexity and inequality is staggering,” says David Meyer, an assistant professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Since 2018, I have been exploring options for visualizing and learning from water supply schedules.” 

Meyer is leading the project alongside Nidhi Subramanyam, an assistant professor in the department of geography and planning in the Faculty of Arts & Science, and Carmen Logie, an associate professor in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

 It is one of 17 projects receive Research Catalyst Funding Grants through U of T’s Data Sciences Institute

With their project, “Harnessing Data to Visualize and Mitigate Urban Water Inequities within the Cauvery River Basin, India,” Meyer, Subramanyam and Logie bring together diverse disciplinary perspectives on water and data – including a deep understanding of water engineering, water governance and equity.  

“Water is a cross-cutting theme that flows through so many disciplines, geographies, technologies and aspects of our lives,” says Subramanyam. “Any study about water must engage different kinds of data, expertise and knowledge systems.”  

“Professor Subramanyam has helped me realize that data cannot be interpreted properly without considering the data generation process and the data generators themselves,” adds Meyer. “Understanding the context and incentives for water utilities to report and curate data will prove key to leveraging it on an ongoing basis.”  

All projects supported by the Catalyst Grants fund multidisciplinary research teams focused on using the development of new data science methodology or the innovative use of data science to address questions of major societal importance. 

“The Data Sciences Institute is committed to fostering new opportunities to cultivate multi-disciplinary collaborations between data science methodologists and researchers in various application domains,” says Timothy Chan, a professor in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering who is the Data Sciences Institute’s associate director of research and thematic programming. “This is just the beginning. With this inaugural round, we received 70 highly competitive proposals, which were carefully assessed by a multidisciplinary review panel.” 

The Data Sciences Institute Catalyst Grants are supported by the U of T Institutional Strategic Initiatives program and external funding partners, with two of the 2022 Catalyst Grants co-funded by Medicine by Design directed to finding solutions to challenges in regenerative medicine. 

See the full list of grant recipients at the Data Sciences Institute