The issue explained

The world is urbanising. Globally, we have already reached the point at which half of the population lives in towns and cities. In the developing world, urban populations are growing rapidly, and most of these additional people are living in 'unplanned urban settlements' – often referred to simply as shanty towns or slums.

Different challenges are posed in each every urban area, due to factors such as:

  • High population densities
  • Transient populations
  • Differing laws and legal status of slum dwellers
  • Poor infrastructure (water pipes, electricity, sewers, roads, paving)
  • Poor-quality housing built on the land no-one else wants, such as steep slopes

Getting clean water and toilet facilities to these people, who are very poor and often have no ownership of their land and few if any legal rights, is therefore a complex challenge, but a vital one.

Our approach

Because of the complexity, there is no 'one size fits all' approach. However, there is a distinct urban approach that differs from how we work in rural areas.

Our urban work must:

  1. Strive to ensure services are delivered in an inclusive way.
    In urban areas it can be very easy to 'miss' people – the poorest of the poor, the vulnerable, those with no rights, and the most excluded and invisible of all, such as the 'manual scavengers' who have to empty latrines for a living.
  2. Be fit for the context.
    In practice, this means, for example, recognising that water and sanitation services are often already provided, and the challenge is more around bringing down prices or raising the quality and ensuring everyone is allowed to use them.
  3. Focus on building relationships.
    Urban areas, especially the huge mega-cities we now see, are complex and multi-faceted. Our role is to encourage collaboration and co-operation, for example between citizens action groups, local government partners and the local utility company in negotiations over supplying water to a slum area at a fair price.
  4. Give high priority to sanitation and hygiene.
    In urban areas, this has to be the focus. The reality on the ground in most urban settlements is that water is available, even if at a high price from water kiosks. But sanitation remains neglected, and open defecation presents the greatest risk to health in urban areas. Again, local government has a key role to play here.
  5. Closely integrate our influencing and service-delivery work.
    We should demonstrate how we can change things for the better through our practical work on the ground, and use this as powerful evidence to demand that governments provide these services on a national scale.

Read WaterAid's latest research and reports on urban issues >

Find out more about the issues involved in our work:

Children | Financing | Governance | Health | Hygiene | Social exclusion | Sustainability | Women