Dharavi: Asia's Largest Slum

Dharavi: Asia's Largest Slum

Dharavi is a slum locality in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India and considered to be a one of the largest slum area in the Asia. Dharavi has a population of 10 lakhs and area of just over 2.1 square km. Dharavi has a population density of over 277,136/km.sq with this density, Dharavi is one of the most densly populated area in the world.



The total current population of Dharavi slum is unknown, and estimates vary widely. Some sources suggest it is 300,000 to about a million. With Dharavi spread over 200 hectares (500 acres), it is also estimated to have a population density of 869,565 people per square mile. With a literacy rate of 69%, Dharavi is the most literate slum in India.

About 30% of the population of Dharavi is Muslim, compared to 14% average population of Muslims in India. The Christian population is estimated to be about 6%, while the rest are predominantly Hindus (63%), with some Buddhists and other minority religions. Among the Hindus, about 20% work on animal skin production, tanneries and leather goods. Other Hindus specialise in pottery work, textile goods manufacturing, retail and trade, distilleries and other caste professions – all of these as small-scale household operations. The slum residents are from all over India, people who migrated from rural regions of many different states. The slum has numerous mosques, temples and churches to serve people of Islam, Hindu and Christian faiths; with Badi Masjid, a mosque, as the oldest religious structure in Dharavi.

Location and characteristics

Dharavi is a large area situated between Mumbai's two main suburban railway lines, the Western and Central Railways. It is also adjacent to Bombay Airport. To the west of Dharavi are Mahim and Bandra, and to the north lies the Mithi River. The Mithi River empties into the Arabian Sea through the Mahim Creek. The area of Antop Hill lies to the east while the locality called Matunga is located in the South. Due to its location and poor sewage and drainage systems, Dharavi particularly becomes vulnerable to floods during the wet season.

Slum shacks in Dharavi.

Dharavi is considered one of the largest slums in the world.The low-rise building style and narrow street structure of the area make Dharavi very cramped and confined. Like most slums, it is overpopulated.


An embroidery unit in Dharavi.

In addition to the traditional pottery and textile industries in Dharavi, there is an increasingly large recycling industry, processing recyclable waste from other parts of Mumbai. Recycling in Dharavi is reported to employ approximately 250,000 people.While recycling is a major industry in the neighborhood, it is also reported to be a source of heavy pollution in the area. The district has an estimated 5,000 businessesand 15,000 single-room factories.Two major suburban railways feed into Dharavi, making it an important commuting station for people in the area going to and from work.

Dharavi exports goods around the world. Often these consist of various leather products, jewellery, various accessories, and textiles. Markets for Dharavi's goods include stores in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. The total (and largely informal economy) turnover is estimated to be between US$500 million, and US$650 million per year, to over US$1 billion per year. The per capita income of the residents, depending on estimated population range of 300,000 to about 1 million, ranges between US$500 and US$2,000 per year.

A few travel operators offer guided tours through Dharavi, showing the industrial and the residential part of Dharavi and explaining about the problems and challenges Dharavi is facing. These tours give a deeper insight into a slum in general and Dharavi in particular.

Utility services

Potable water is supplied by the MCGM to Dharavi and the whole of Mumbai. However, a large amount of water is lost due to water thefts, illegal connection and leakage. The community also has a number of water wells that are sources of non-potable water.

Cooking gas is supplied in the form of liquefied petroleum gas cylinders sold by state-owned oil companies,as well as through piped natural gas supplied by Mahanagar Gas Limited.

There are settlement houses that still do not have legal connections to the utility service and thus rely on illegal connection to the water and power supply which means a water and power shortage for the residents in Dharavi.

Sanitation issues

Inside Dharavi
Mosque in Dharavi

Dharavi has severe problems with public health. Water access derives from public standpipes stationed throughout the slum. Additionally, with the limited lavatories they have, they are extremely filthy and broken down to the point of being unsafe. Mahim Creek is a local river that is widely used by local residents for urination and defecation causing the spread of contagious diseases. The open sewers in the city drain to the creek causing a spike in water pollutants, septic conditions, and foul odors. Due to the air pollutants, diseases such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, and asthma are common among residents. There are government proposals in regards to improving Dharavi's sanitation issues. The residents have a section where they wash their clothes in water that people defecate in. This spreads the amount of disease as doctors have to deal with over 4,000 cases of typhoid a day. In a 2006 Human Development Report by the UN, they estimated there was an average of 1 toilet for every 1,440 people.

Epidemics and other disasters

Dharavi has experienced a long history of epidemics and natural disasters, sometimes with significant loss of lives. The first plague to devastate Dharavi, along with other settlements of Mumbai, happened in 1896, when nearly half of the population died. A series of plagues and other epidemics continued to affect Dharavi, and Mumbai in general, for the next 25 years, with high rates of mortality. Dysentery epidemics have been common throughout the years and explained by the high population density of Dharavi. Other reported epidemics include typhoid, cholera, leprosy, amoebiasis and polio.For example, in 1986, a cholera epidemic was reported, where most patients were children of Dharavi. Typical patients to arrive in hospitals were in late and critical care condition, and the mortality rates were abnormally high. In recent years, cases of drug resistant tuberculosis have been reported in Dharavi.

Fires and other disasters are common. For example, in January 2013, a fire destroyed many slum properties and caused injuries. In 2005, massive floods caused deaths and extensive property damage.

The COVID-19 pandemic also affected the slum. The first case was reported in April 2020.