Asian Development Bank

Dear Mr. Aabid Surti, 

May we invite you to an online interview on your work in fixing Mumbai’s leaking pipes? This interview will be part of ADB’s water champion series. 

As brief background, our water champions are practitioners who introduce or implement water reforms. We invite them to discuss specific topics on the understanding that other policy and decision makers can learn a lot from their practical insights. Their views are written as interviews, published in ADB’s water website and e-newsletter, Water for All News, which goes to over 10,000 subscribers. 

Please find attached our questions to you as a water champion.  If you agree to this interview, please answer them in any manner comfortable to you, i.e. verbosely, briefly, etc.  Once we receive your written responses, we will reformat them into an online Q and A (about 600 to 800 words) and seek your approval for the final version. Some of the water champions we’ve featured in the past are 

Margaret Catley-Carlson: Willingness to Work with Others for Water 

Bindeshwar Pathak: Crusading for Human and Environmental Dignity 

Maria Lourdes Fernando: Keeping Marikina River in the Pink of Health 

We hope you can join them in our roster of ADB Water Champions. We plan to release the issue by the first week of May. As such, we will appreciate it very much if you can (a) let us know by return email if you agree to the interview by Friday, 19 April; and (b) send us your responses to the attached questions by Friday, 26 April. We would also need high resolution photos of you (profile and in action). 

We recognize your busy schedule and we apologize in advance for the short time frame.  We hope that you will agree to the interview and we look forward to hearing from you on the 19th or earlier. 

Thank you and best regards.

Cezar R. Tigno

Web Writer, Website Manager

Water for All Website

Asian Development Bank

4th Nov 2013

Asian Development Bank

Aabid Surti:

Helping to Fix Mumbai’s Water Supply

27th April 2013

Author Aabid Surti champions water conservation by fixing leaks in Mumbai’s poor households, one pipe at a time.

Bothered by leaking taps at the houses of friends and relatives, Aabid Surti began knocking on neighbors’ doors, accompanied by a plumber, and asking if they have leaking pipes or taps that needed to be fixed. Surti is the founder of Drop Dead Foundation, a non-government organization (NGO) that fixes leaks every Sunday morning.

What inspired you to embark on such a big project as fixing Mumbai’s leaks?

My childhood years were spent in a chawl (a large building divided into many separate tenements, offering cheap, basic accommodation to labourers) and on pavement. To get a bucket full of water from the common tap, my mother had to stand in the queue early in the morning and often she had to fight for her right. This childhood memory kept on haunting me whenever I saw a leaking tap, overflowing building tank, or bursting pipeline.

How bad is Mumbai’s leak problem?

The leak problem in ghettos and lower middle class areas is worst. A plumber’s visit costs a minimum of Rs.100, which poor families cannot afford. Construction companies are also partly responsible for using substandard plumbing.

Tell us about Drop Dead. How does it work?

One Sunday in 2007, I hired a plumber and set out to fix leaking pipes or taps at my neighbors’ homes along Mira Road (Mumbai). I was bothered by a leaking tap at a friend’s house that remained unfixed because it was too minor and too costly. This was the birth of Drop Dead Foundation.

“The response to Drop Dead has been unbelievable. It’s picking up fast like jungle fire, not only in India but all over the globe.”

Since then, we have developed a process which we follow like clockwork. On Mondays, the plumber, a volunteer, and I approach the building secretary for permission. If the secretary agrees, then we put up a poster on the housing society’s notice board on the ground floor or near the lift, with our tagline “Save Every Drop or Drop Dead.” The words “Drop Dead” have a great impact on the tenants. On Saturdays, we send pamphlets that explain what Drop Dead is to every home, so when we arrive on Sunday morning, we get a warm welcome from the members of the housing society.

We cover a 6 story building in about 3 hours. We spend only 10 to 15 minutes travelling by car to reach a targetted building, but the rest of the time, we go house to house correcting leaky taps.

What are Drop Dead’s accomplishments so far?

I’ve kept the record of our first year, February 2007 to February 2008 — incidentally 2007 was the International Year of Water. During that period, we visited 1,666 houses on Mira Road, fixed 414 leaking taps free of charge, and saved about 4.14 lakh (414,000) liters of water.

What about financing? How are you able to sustain Drop Dead’s activities?

When you honestly set out to do good for others, the whole universe is there to back you. Not only that, God becomes your fund raiser. When my finances are about to dwindle, God pokes the right person and I receive a check without asking. This year, God poked Wipro which gave the Sparrow Award worth Rs.50, 000 to Drop Dead. Of course, contributions from anyone with no strings attached are always welcome.

How has your work in water with Drop Dead affected your creative work?

So far it has not interfered with my work in any way. But it has certainly inspired me to write a novel based on a fictitious river.

I’m giving my Sunday mornings for this cause. It’s so simple, so easy for anyone to do it. And that is what I want to convey to all, especially to senior citizens: come out of the retirement cocoon, spend a couple of hours, just do it. If I can, you can.

What are your plans for Drop Dead?

I’ve already started motivating children. The Cosmopolitan School of Mira Road and its staff members are committed to conserve water. Its 1000+ students are my angels who are carrying forward the message to save water by undertaking campaigns and putting up Drop Dead posters in their buildings.

What are the most important insights or lessons that you can share from your experience in Drop Dead and your work in water?

By working to save every drop, the pure love you get from door to door is indescribable. People are waiting to see an angel and to them, you are one.

The Water Champions series was developed to showcase individual leadership and initiative in implementing water sector reforms and good practices in Asia and the Pacific. The champions, representing ADB’s developing member countries, are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries or communities. The series is regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.