Taking Water & Sanitation to the Citywide Scale

by James Tayler

Kisenyi, Kampala

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

Developmental agendas on the global stage generally involve a reliance on statistics. The millennium development goals (MDG’s) provide quantifiable targets for countries to work towards. For example Goal 7, Target 7C aims to halve the global population without access to sustainable drinking water and sanitation.  The official website for the recent Rio+20 conference on sustainable development proudly boasts of USD $513 billion mobilized in commitments focused on transport, green economy, disaster reduction, desertification, water, forests and agriculture.

 Statistics are interesting since they can capture a vastly complex and multi-faceted problem and reduce it into quantifiable terms. This makes sense when speaking to a global audience on a global stage. Results, progress and challenges can be “packaged” into numbers that can be increased or reduced through interventions. The seemingly obvious point worth stressing is that global statistics and the march towards them imply sustainable solutions that can go to citywide scale. Solutions thus need social, political and practical traction to tackle the structural conditions that produce endemic urban poverty. Critically they also need to cater for the poorest of the poor.

While global platforms focus on making sweeping changes and commitments one wonders how deeply below the surface they scratch? Do they begin to unravel the complex relationships between competing politics, history, planning, design, spatial exclusion, policy and practice that are interwoven in defining how cities are and have been shaped? Structural conditions of spatial exclusion are built into the urban fabric and cemented through multiple interwoven processes defining the forms of cities-largely excluding the poor from services and benefits. Proposed solutions on the global stage tend to disaggregate this interconnectivity into different “silos” to be treated as separate difficulties through separate interventions. Furthermore there is a an assumption that solutions, focused on their specific “silos” can be produced by top down interventions at large scales; through adjustments to existing systems of governance and development, through the re-imagination of capital and the introduction of new technologies.  What is missing is recognition of the value of community experience that can engage with decisions as they play out on the ground-a far cry from the podiums of international events

Zim - Dvarisekwa - Skyloo Construction

Constructing an Ecosan sanitation unit in Zimbabwe

The Malawian, Tanzanian, Zimbabwean and Zambian SDI federations are grappling with taking water and sanitation solutions to citywide scale from the bottom up. At a recent meeting hosted by the Malawian team some of the key points raised affirm the complexity of taking sanitation to citywide scale. Examples from the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Pakistan illustrate the potential for communities to take sanitation solutions to scale.

Different technological sanitation options were raised during the meeting in. Communities frame sanitation technology in social, political and financial terms. No “wonder toilet technology,” no matter how touted it is on the international stage can have impact unless it makes sense within the local context.  What becomes clear is that it is not the technology that strictly matters but the processes that exist around it; does it make sense socially, financially and locally?

Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Pakistan is an example of sanitation technology that “fits” into daily life-it makes social as well as technical sense. The system has encouraged informal communities (Katchi Abadis) in Karachi to develop internal sewerage systems (latrines, sanitary lanes and collection sewers) that follow the natural drainage channels of the settlement (nalas). Organised communities finance, manage and build sanitation solutions that they now have ownership of, and a vested interest in maintaining. Sewerage lanes feed into trunk sewers provided by the state-a political partnership is forged.

Holistic approaches that have the buy-in of communities can mobilize political action and momentum. Influencing written policy is not enough. Government needs to be drawn into collaborative partnerships that show how community engagement can enhance and benefit service delivery. For example authorities in Blantyre can assist in linking informal settlements to trunk sewer and water systems. 

In Pakistan the OPP created the political momentum and practical evidence to meaningfully engage the state around an area in which they had previously had little impact. The OPP also showed an alternative solution rather than merely making a call for limited state resources. It made sense for both the poor and the state to invest, at scale, in this model.

In terms of the scale of investments, in Karachi’s katchi abadis, people have invested Rs 180 million (US$ 3 million) and government has invested Rs 531 million (US$ 8.85 million) in sewerage through ad hoc projects.  Similarly, people have invested Rs 154.5 million (US$ 2.58 million) in water lines and government has invested Rs 195.7 million (US$ 3.26 million).  These households have built their neighborhood sanitation systems, and their total investment is around one-sixth of what it would have cost if local government had undertaken the same work. Outside of Orangi, the work has expanded to 419 settlements in Karachi and 23 cities/ towns also in 85 villages (spread over the Sindh and Punjab Provinces) covering a population of more than 2 million”

Eco-San Toilets Malawi

Ecosan toilets in Malawi

If sanitation provision is to go citywide communities are all too aware that a variety of deeply contextualized options must be available in the same city and even the same settlement. Discussions in Malawi emphasized the need for a variety of options and systems that are affordable for the poorest of the poor. Communal financing and management of public toilets, the rehabilitation and revitalization of government toilets, eco-sanitation models and localized communal septic tanks that do not have to be linked to the main sewer system were all discussed. 

Citywide water and sanitation finance models that provide small loans to slum dwellers are already in place in many SDI affiliates (e.g. India and Uganda) and and could provide the financial backing to take such an approach to scale.  To reach a citywide scale financial options for sanitation must cater to the poorest of the poor within a settlement and it is here that the SDI federations have a vital role to play. A citywide model is a model that works because the urban poor wish to invest their finances and can access a service that works for them through this investment. The scale of investment in OPP shows the impact that is possible when sanitation is affordable to all and makes sense locally.

By March 2010, 112,562 households had provided themselves with sanitation through 7,893 collective initiatives organised in lanes, representing 90 per cent of the entire settlement of Orangi. Collectively, communities invested P Rps. 115 million of their own money in their sewerage system, with the government investment being P Rps. 745 million. From 1997, OPP-RTI started to work outside of Orangi by documenting and mapping settlements and infrastructures and drainage system across Karachi; and increasing level of engagement with concerned government departments and agencies such as the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority, as well as Karachi community-based organisations.

Sanitation and water provision are not a distinct “silo” but are part of developing strategies for informal settlement upgrading across the city. Recognition of the multiple factors that affect sanitation were expressed by the federations throughout the meeting. Discussions covered planning standards and regulations being outdated and ill suited to informal settlements, the physical geography of settlements and how this affects sanitation options, the challenges of accessing local funds from government, the fluctuating costs of building materials and what materials are acceptable amidst many other problems. It is clear that all these issues are deeply intertwined but often “housed” in different areas of the state, market and city.

Injections of capital and global political commitments are only as good as their ability to understand and engage with the complexity that is on the ground. At a large scale, on an international podium these grounded details appear far and removed, something that enough money and political maneuvering can sort out “over there”.  However as these ideas and actions move from the international stage they are invariably translated and altered only once again to be re-constituted as coherent and rational at the next meeting. Perhaps it is time for the flow of information to move the other way round? To embrace the complexities, contradictions and details that the Malawians, Tanzanians, Zimbabweans and Zambians are working with, to realize that solutions need to cater to the poorest of the poor, that there is no single technological “silver bullet ” for urban poverty and better understand the ingrained systematic links that perpetuate exclusionary urban forms. OPP shows that grounded community models do work at scale and need to be afforded serious consideration and investment.