The poorest urban residents suffer from extreme inequality in service provision – impacting not just their own health and prosperity, but also that of all city dwellers.

It is the informal and unplanned settlements, often on the edges of cities and towns, that are experiencing significant population growth with new arrivals from rural areas looking for better jobs and living standards. By 2050, there could be as many as three billion people living in informal settlements.

Global data often masks urban inequalities: in many countries, basic services in the most deprived urban communities are actually worse than in rural areas.

These inequalities mean that the poorest bear the brunt of climate change – suffering most when cities face droughts or floods. People living in poverty are more susceptible to the illnesses that many climate hazards help to spread, including malaria, cholera and diarrhoea.

We need to do more to support service providers, governments and regulators to tackle inequality in cities.

Reducing inequality through regulations

Regulators have a vital role in tackling inequality, by incentivising utilities and other service providers to focus on the poorest customers. Regulations are not enough: clear responsibilities and active regulation are essential. WSUP works with regulators in Africa and Asia to help reduce inequality and push towards universal coverage.

Report: June 2020 – Referee! Responsibilities, regulations and regulating for urban sanitation

Blog: June 2018 – Achieving national impact through regulatory improvements

Dirty water_ John Laing

Reducing the exposure of the poorest to climate change

The poorest urban residents are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as erratic rainfall and flooding. WSUP works with utilities and city authorities to improve their resilience to climate change, as well as building post-disaster resilience in areas which have been impacted by extreme weather events.

Learn more about our approach to climate change

Blog: March 2020 – From the front line of climate change

Using data to inform pro-poor planning

Vulnerable, under-served urban communities often live alongside much wealthier enclaves, requiring a mix of services to ensure all needs are provided for. WSUP is supporting policymakers and planners to address this challenge through implementing citywide surveys which help authorities understand needs and develop suitable policies.

Report: October 2018 – Citywide surveys of water and sanitation service levels: design and methodology


Ensuring services cater to different needs

In order to address the poorest urban residents, a mix of services need to be developed – often quite different from the services provided to higher income areas. WSUP is working with service providers such as utilities, municipal authorities and SMEs to build their capacity to serve these new markets.

Report: October 2018 – A journey of institutional change: extending water services to Nairobi’s informal settlements

Report: August 2017 – Balancing financial viability and user affordability