By Neil Jeffery, CEO, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor and Dr. Susan Mboya, President, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation

This article was first published in the Huffington Post.

Urbanisation is a global trend – one with opportunities or complex challenges, depending on where in the world it is taking place.

Every day across Africa, economic, climatic, and political factors force migration from traditional rural dwellings to makeshift urban neighbourhoods. These urban settlements often lack access to basic water and sanitation services, leading to health issues for residents and trapping them in a cycle of illness and poverty.

Each year, World Cities Day aims to raise awareness of the challenges as well as highlight success stories of global urbanisation.

This World Cities Day, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) and The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (TCCAF) would like to share the story of our partnership with African cities to address their urban water challenges – and particularly the successes achieved in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Antananarivo city landscape
Antananarivo is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Credit: Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) // Tsilavo Rapiera.

Antananarivo is the rapidly growing, sprawling capital of Madagascar. Each month, the population swells by an estimated 25,000 people. Most of the individuals and families arriving in the capital have no alternatives to living in poorly-built housing with limited access to water and sanitation services.

Like virtually all cities, inequality exists across Antananarivo. The buildings in the central business district may have reliable access to water; but just a few blocks away where a low-income community of the city is housed, access can be a daily struggle.

Residents without a reliable connection to the city’s water network often queue for hours to buy potentially unsafe water from an illegal water vendor or from a neighbour’s hand-dug well.

Traditional well in Antananarivo
A young girl in the Faravohitra Commune of Anosy Avaratra collects water for her family from a traditional well. Water sources like these are often unsafe and contain high levels of pathogens, leading to recurring illnesses. Credit: Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) // Tsilavo Rapiera.

A challenge for all African cities

As the world’s population becomes increasingly urbanised, water and sanitation challenges are emerging as some of the most critical urban issues of modern times.

In Antananarivo, rapid urbanisation has stretched the need for water and sanitation beyond local authorities’ capacities. As the population steadily grows, city leaders are battling to adapt their services to provide safe water and adequate sanitation for every resident of the city, including the most marginalised residents living in informal settlements, all while maintaining sustainable finance and supply models.

These challenges are faced by cities across Africa. As urbanisation gathers pace across sub-Saharan Africa, city leaders throughout the continent are grappling with its effects in their communities. According to The Brookings Institution, infrastructure and service delivery have not kept pace with urbanization – over 50% percent of urban dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums and only 40% of the urban population has access to improved sanitation facilities.

A changing climate and an increasing number of extreme weather events add even more complexity to an already multi-faceted problem.

Flooding from events such as Cyclone Enawo, which hit Antananarivo in March 2017, can cause pit latrines and septic tanks to overflow, flushing pathogens and pollutants into the streets and surface water sources, ultimately into human contact. In densely populated cities with poorly designed sanitation infrastructure, floods can quickly result in the spread of diseases like cholera.

Pollution in Antananarivo
Untreated sewage mixes with runoff water in the Antohomadinika community of Antananarivo and flows within meters of housing residences. Credit: Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) // Tsilavo Rapiera.

Similarly, drought, which has affected much of eastern Africa this year, places even greater stress on the already limited ability that water utilities have to meet demand. As water becomes more scarce, low-income residents are increasingly forced to rely on unsafe water sources like polluted rivers, or to illegally dig up and tap in to utility-owned water pipes, to meet their daily needs.

Helping city authorities drive the change

The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor have been working together since 2011 to address urban water and sanitation challenges such as those described here – and to enable cities like Antananarivo to provide safer and more reliable services to low-income residents.

To date, our partnership has operated in six countries: Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zambia. Together, we plan to reach more than 1.5 million people with access to safe water, ultimately accounting for one quarter of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) goal to reach at least 6 million people with improved water access, sanitation and hygiene by the end of 2020. RAIN is Coca-Cola’s contribution to helping Africa achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals on clean water and sanitation access. To date, RAIN has reached more than 2.6 million people with improved water access, sanitation and hygiene across 38 countries.

Achieving universal water access will be a massive challenge, but we believe that it is possible to achieve this through collaborative efforts – such as this partnership. We are determined to support progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal number 6 and contribute towards safe, affordable water and sanitation access for even the poorest city residents.

Stronger utility providers – stronger cities

Central to our partnership model is the belief that creating high-capacity citywide service providers will create stronger and more resilient cities. In Madagascar, this has meant forging a deep relationship with the national water utility, JIRAMA, to strengthen its ability to reliably and safely serve low-income customers.

In collaboration with JIRAMA, we have focused on two key areas: increasing the volume of water and amount of pressure available across JIRAMA’s network – through repairing leaking pipes and preventing illegal connections; and extending access into Antananarivo’s low-income communities – through engagement with the communities and local governments.

We are committed to building the resilience of JIRAMA and every other community and service provider we work with – to withstand the stresses caused by floods, droughts, and other climate change-induced challenges, as well as economic issues, political unrest, and public health crises.

Water kiosk customer Antananarivo
Water kiosks like this one in Andidina, Commune of Sabotsy Namehana enable residents like Randrianarimanana Volatiana to purchase safe water directly from JIRAMA’s network at a nominal fee. Kiosks create employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for community members and allow JIRAMA to operate in a financially sustainable manner. Credit: Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) // Tsilavo Rapiera.


Laundry kiosk Antananarivo
Laundry blocks like this one in Andrefantsena Commune of Sabotsy Namehana provide a clean and safe environment for washing clothes – keeping soap residue out of local streams and rivers and providing many women with entrepreneurial opportunities in the form of laundry service small businesses. Credit: Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) // Tsilavo Rapiera.


Leak reduction in Antananarivo
Building the capacity of JIRAMA to detect, repair, and altogether prevent leaks enables the water provider to reduce the volume of non-revenue water lost, and in turn increases the volume available for the city of Antananarivo. Credit: Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) // Tsilavo Rapiera.

Measurably impacting lives

To date, our partnership in Madagascar has constructed 210 communal water kiosks and laundry blocks, repaired critical water infrastructure, and ultimately improved water access for nearly 400,000 individuals – more than 25% of Antananarivo’s population.

Local heroes – local resilience

Our experience has shown that change on this scale can only be achieved, and be sustainable, if it is driven and owned by the cities themselves.

While we are pleased to have played a role in making a positive difference across urban Africa – the real heroes are the cities’ leaders. In Antananarivo, change has come from the Ministry of Water, Energy, and Hydrocarbon, which sets the policies needed to realize a healthier future; from the utility JIRAMA, which has shown itself to be dedicated to serving all of Antananarivo’s residents; and from the Mayors of the city’s districts, who understand that improved water access is fundamental to their constituencies’ health, dignity, and prosperity.

Without clean, safe water, no city can develop sustainably. Without resilient service delivery, no city can withstand the stress of natural disasters. Without access to water and sanitation, no individual can reach their economic or social potential.

At the time of writing, there is an outbreak of the plague in Antananarivo, the spread of which has been linked to poor water and sanitation in cities. Our partnership, and others like it, plays a critical role in building cities’ resiliency to withstand and thrive in the face of such challenges. In fact, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation is making investments across the continent to address critical development challenges to community resiliency.

WSUP and The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation are proud of what we have accomplished to date and look forward to working together further – supporting city leaders in providing one of the most important building blocks of equitable urban life: clean, safe water that is affordable to all.


About The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation

The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation (TCCAF) is an entity funded through Coca-Cola that implements community development programs throughout Africa. TCCAF has committed resources and is collaborating with partners to provide communities with improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation through the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), to contribute to strengthening Africa’s health systems through Project Last Mile, and to create opportunities for youth empowerment through the Youth Empowered for Success (YES) program.

The Foundation’s community activities focus on three key areas central to life in Africa: water, health systems strengthening and empowerment. By providing assistance in the most critical areas of need, TCCAF strives to improve the quality of life for communities in Africa and expand the opportunities for those who live there. Additionally, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation is involved in humanitarian assistance in Africa, for disaster relief and emergency assistance.

About Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) is a not-for-profit company that helps transform cities to benefit the millions who lack access to water and sanitation. We were created in 2005 as a response to the unprecedented urban explosion that has left cities unable to provide basic services, such as access to a toilet or drinking water, to low-income communities.

We work alongside local providers, enabling them to develop services, build infrastructure and attract funding so that they can reach low-income communities. To ensure that services can reach as many people as possible, and will exist over the long-term, we have a strong focus on financial viability. This means working with utilities and businesses to build services which generate revenue whilst reaching the most vulnerable urban residents, and advising regulators and governments on how to create an environment which enables businesses to succeed.

We are based in the UK with offices in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Since inception we have helped nearly 15 million people access improved water and sanitation services.


Read more about WSUP's work in Madagascar.