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.

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.

This Discussion Paper synthesises experience from Eastern and Southern Africa and Bangladesh to explore the evolving role of regulators in driving urban sanitation service improvements.

The paper argues that effective regulators and regulations are urgently needed to improve urban sanitation services to the poorest, and highlights some ways in which this can be achieved.

The paper features six case studies of diverse regulatory initiatives, ranging from sanitation surcharges and specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to national-level institutional and regulatory frameworks. In each case, the paper aims to document how progress has been made, but also to critically assess future challenges to implementation. Key messages of the paper are:

  • Regulatory effectiveness is a core driver of improved sanitation services. Every football match needs a referee.
  • Regulations are not enough. Clear responsibilities and active regulating are essential.
  • Problems cannot be solved in one bold step. Active regulating involves incremental change, extensive consultation and testing.
  • A Regulating Ladder could support countries in their journey towards active regulating.

This is a joint publication between The Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation Regulators Association (ESAWAS) and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP).

In one in seven countries, access to basic sanitation is decreasing. Even in cities, where access to safely managed sanitation is more prevalent than in rural areas, gaps between the rich and the poor continue to be stark.

But what does this look like at a city level?

This Discussion Paper provides examples of how a systems approach can be applied at a city level by looking at two cities – Lusaka, Zambia and Maputo, Mozambique – that have experienced positive change in their on-site sanitation sector over the last decade.

Each case study contains an in-depth examination of one particular component of the system that was identified by stakeholders as being particularly crucial: a community-based, utility-managed faecal sludge management (FSM) service in Lusaka, and the design of a sanitation tariff in Maputo.

The report identifies four components crucial to bringing change for all urban residents:

  1. Begin by optimising one part of the system, to overcome institutional inertia and secure buy-in for wider change
  2. Embrace the power of process, recognising that simply bringing people together to discuss challenges can help to move change forward
  3. Design investments to address genuine system constraints, rather than purely directing investment towards more tangible infrastructure projects
  4. Anticipate and factor in delays, due to the likelihood of unexpected political, economic or capacity constraints slowing down progress

This Discussion Paper examines the theory and practice of supporting change processes in urban water and sanitation institutions – a chain of actors that includes local governments, water utilities, and a mix of private and public service providers – to help them reach all urban citizens, including the poorest, with water and sanitation services.

The report presents findings from a literature review of institutional change processes in the WASH sector, supplemented by case studies of WSUP’s work and interviews with WSUP staff that explore their personal experiences of participating in institutional change interventions.

This publication presents the results of baseline urban WASH sector functionality assessments in WSUP’s six programme countries. We begin by outlining the rationale and process for creating a framework, the methodology and results from the baseline assessments, and concluding it by exploring potential applications of the framework.

WSUP’s decision to develop a Sector Functionality Framework occurred in parallel with a wider shift towards system strengthening in the global WASH sector: away from a narrow focus on building taps and toilets, and towards an understanding of water and sanitation as a service, whose effectiveness depends on the wider enabling environment.

Download the summary poster.

For any donor, international agency or WASH-implementing organisation, the question of where—in what country, city or community—to focus resource is central to fulfilling their mandate. Organisations dedicated to poverty alleviation and the provision of basic services are likely to focus on what are judged to be the poorest urban and rural areas, choosing to invest their time and resources in low-income communities regarded as having a high incidence of poverty. But how are these judgements made? How is poverty defined and measured, and what other factors must be considered before deciding where to intervene? This Discussion Paper, authored by Partnerships in Practice, explores the many factors involved in determining where WASH organisations focus their interventions. It outlines how such decisions will inevitably be influenced by the organisation’s understanding of poverty, their overarching mandate and the priorities of their local partners. The Paper begins with a theoretical analysis of the definition of urban poverty, before detailing poverty assessment tools and the various ways in which poverty is currently measured. The Paper then examines how organisations such as WSUP choose specific low-income communities in which to work, and how that process could be improved.

As part of its 2012 – 2015 DFID-funded research programme, WSUP commissioned a research project in Dhaka to explore behaviour change strategies to help users keep their toilets clean and functional. This Discussion Paper presents the context, methodology, results and conclusions of the study.

You can also download a two page summary of this report.

This Discussion Paper presents the findings of a modelling study, commissioned as part of WSUP’s 2012-2015 DFID-funded research programme and carried out by the University of Leeds.

This Discussion Paper reports data on municipal public finance for sanitation in three African cities, based on in-country examination of available budget records: Ga West Municipality, part of the Greater Accra conglomeration in Ghana; Maputo, capital of Mozambique; and Nakuru County in Kenya, including the city of Nakuru.