Marginalised urban communities are often characterised by three things: complexity, interdependence of challenges, and constant evolution.

The sheer numbers of people living close together in poorly planned communities can make improving the quality of life extremely difficult. The rapid rate of urbanisation – by 2050, the number of people living in African cities will double to 1.5 billion – means that there is no such thing as the status quo. Every month, every year, unplanned urban settlements get larger, and more complex.

In urban environments, issues such as water access, drainage, health, street design and solid waste management are all inextricably linked. Poor drainage leads to flooding, causing damage to flimsy sanitation facilities. Rubbish collected in drainage canals can exacerbate the issue and lead to stagnant water which becomes a breeding ground for disease. Sanitation facilities cannot be safely emptied if poor road access makes it impossible for emptying services to operate.

Tackling these issues in an integrated manner makes intuitive sense – but too often it just doesn’t happen, due to significant barriers such as cost, complexity, and the siloed nature of the development sector.

This report by Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) and Arquitectura sin Fronteras (also known as ASF-España, referred to in the report as ASF-E), examines how to overcome this immense challenge, from the perspective of water and sanitation services.

The report demonstrates why water and sanitation improvements can be more effective when combined with other areas of urban development, and analyses how, in practice, this integration can occur.

Drawing on evidence from cities such as Maputo, Accra, Nairobi and Antananarivo, the report finds that integrating WASH with wider slum development can improve the overall impact, and the ease of delivery, of WASH services.

The stepping stones for sustainable water

For the residents of Soalandy, a commune in Madagascar, a new laundry block with access to clean and drinkable water is bringing enormous value. But ensuring that the service is sustainable is so much more than bricks and mortar. It is about community buy-in, training and community-led management. The theme of this year’s World Water […]


New water systems of enormous value to growing towns in Ghana

A key trend of urbanisation across Africa is villages evolving into small towns but lacking the accompanying investment in basic services. The Ashanti region, Ghana’s most populated region, is an example of this challenge. As a result, whole communities lack access to clean water. To address this issue, WSUP has been working with The One […]


Valuing water: the importance of clean water for garment industry workers

The readymade garment industry is the lifeline of the Bangladesh economy. Yet, the workers in these factories who live in nearby low-income communities lack access to clean water, safe sanitation, and handwashing facilities. Investing in these basic services at the community level can bring clear benefits for businesses – a healthier workforce means better productivity. […]


What does ‘quality’ sanitation mean in low-income urban areas?

By Sam Drabble, Head of Evaluation, Research & Learning Broadly speaking, when we advocate for investment in sanitation, it is because we are trying to achieve two critically important aims: improve human health, and improve wellbeing or quality of life. But to what extent are sanitation interventions actually achieving these aims? In many cases, the […]


This discussion paper explores how high-quality sanitation can be achieved in low-income urban areas in developing contexts. It is based on findings from four research projects conducted under, or in association with, WSUP’s Urban Sanitation Research Initiative 2016–2020 (USRI), funded by DFID.

The four research projects considered here are:

  1. The Faecal Pathogen Flows study in Dhaka, Bangladesh — aiming to track and model how faecal pathogens move through urban low-income communities (LICs), as a tool to support sanitation intervention planning in developing contexts.
  2. The MapSan study carried out in Maputo, Mozambique — one of the largest and most rigorous studies ever conducted of the health impacts of an urban sanitation intervention.
  3. The QUISS study — based on large-scale surveys in Bangladesh, Ghana and Kenya, aiming to identify minimum standards for high-quality shared sanitation in urban contexts, and workable indicators of shared sanitation quality.
  4. The Clean Team evaluation — assessing customer experience among customers of Clean Team Ghana, a container-based sanitation enterprise.

Defending against disease: Improving WASH in Maputo’s schools

Broken sanitation facilities with no access to clean water make it difficult for students to enjoy a clean and safe environment in Maputo’s schools. Following years of working in individual schools, a new strategy developed by WSUP and the city council aims to help schools across the city defend against Covid-19 and other diseases. In […]


CEO message: Adapting our work in the face of unprecedented challenges

WSUP’s Chief Executive, Neil Jeffery, on how we have been adapting to what was a very unusual year. 2020 was a complex and difficult year. However, it was inspiring to see how our global team, supporters and partners pulled together in the face of unprecedented challenges. Given the impact of the worldwide pandemic, the relevance […]