Takeaways from New York: Reflecting on the Path to Habitat 3

Upon her return from the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York City, Beth Chitekwe-Biti shared some key takeaways on SDI’s participation in the processes and activities surrounding the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. Beth highlighted in particular the challenges of grassroots organisations operating within such formal systems, the need to target city governments for implementation of the SDGs, and the obvious links between implementation and the work of SDI, particularly around the Know Your City campaign, which calls for community-driven data collection as the basis of active partnerships between organised communities and their city governments in order to co-produce inclusive upgrading and development solutions:

“The SDGs on paper seem an improvement. But of course it’s about how much political will there is on the ground to actually create tangible benefits to the urban poor. There seems to be a commitment to get the urban poor involved, but there is always a chasm between intention and what actually happens.

The systems seem very formal, so you are forcing grassroots people to be quite formal in how they work and engage with each other… I wonder if this really allows for creative engagement between different grassroots organisations and whether this really works with getting the grassroots voice heard in the UN. But at least the space if there for us to use the best way we can…

…Some of these commitments are pitched too much at the national level when it is really city government that will make a difference.  This was emphasised at the Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme event, but is missing in a lot of other discussions. This fits in with SDI’s Know Your City message and hopefully governments who sign on will realise that it is at the city level that things really need to be implemented.”

To read more, and listen to an excerpt from Rose Molokoane’s talk at an even on implementation of the SDGs, click here. 



The Post MDG Debate: “For the Poor,” but no Voice of the Poor


An influential debate is playing out in the proverbial halls of global development decision-making far from the informal settlements in African cities. The basic targets that will drive government decisions around spending and policy priorities, donor areas of focus, and wider perspectives aound development, are under discussion. These are targets that will promise much of what the post-World War II development institutions have long committed to the people who live in the so-called “developing world.” These are targets to “eliminate poverty,” “deliver basic services,” “secure growth” “reduce inequality,” and so on.

Civil society has very little voice in the determination of the next round of development goals, and this is even truer for the people who are the subjects of these promises. For the people who live in slums, who lack access to toilets, water, and economic security and opportunity, abstract commitments to change their conditions mean little. 

 Yet the content of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the prospect of an urban goal, are significant for all of us who work to make cities more inclusive. Much work is to be done, especially to ensure that an urban goal – and indeed all goals – recognises the deep divides of power, finance, and knowledge that characterise the decisions that drive urban development. SDI is one of a number of organisations that is demanding that the urban poor — the current losers but surely the most worthy potential winners of such a debate — be located as central actors in the goals that governments and formal agencies adopt. For the urban poor federations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, that comprise our network, development goals have to be about improving the lives of real people. As such, a goal on cities must be fundamentally oriented around the people who stand to gain — or lose — the most from the success or failure of such a goal.

A target for universal provision of well-located land, shelter,and basic services should be a minimum of an urban goal. Unfortunately, the previous Millennium Development Goals included a goal on slums that was very unclear and very unambitious – only 100 million were to be helped. The Millennium Development Goals also made the commitment to reduce by half those without adequate water and sanitation. An urban goal should encompass a specific focus on inclusion and the rights of the poor in cities through universal access to these amenities (land, services, and shelter).

Last year, SDI began to articulate a set of principles for a global compact on urban development, the Urban Poor DevelopmentGoals. There are four elements:

1. Inclusive Institution Building: State institutions reformed or created to embed partnerships with community organisations, especially at the city level to drive decision making about programmes and ensure adequate financial allocations. 

2. Inclusive Land Managament:  Well located land should be made available to the urban poor, who constitute the majority in most cities in the developing world. Zero forced evictions and security of tenure for slum dweller communities.

3. Inclusive Urban Infrastructure:  Water, sanitation, electricity and transport infrastructure that services the poor so as to acheive zero open defecation in cities globally within 10 years and electrcity for all.

4. Inclusive Community Development:  Programmatic investment by national and local authorities in capacity building of community organisations so as to realise the inclusive development agenda in the above three elements. 


One of the biggest advantages of the emergence of strong support for an urban goal in the post-MDG framework is that it focuses policy-makers on a specific space and a scale of administration in which to make change. In particular, this means a much greater focus on both formal local government and the constellation of actors that drive local governance. Strong local government requires a strong and organised slum dweller organisations to drive both innovation and accountability in our cities.

We cannot ignore this debate because it will define our work for years to come. Now is the time to do what previous development agendas have conspicuously avoided doing: putting the voices and tools of the informal majority of our cities at the centre of how we work. This is the real promise of an urban goal in the SDGs.

Check out SDI’s 2013 – 2014 Annual Report for more on the Post MDG Debate 

A People-Centred Approach to Citywide Sanitation

Construction in Nakawa

As the global development discourse formulates the post-MDG agenda, sanitation is a core area that demands attention. Having for too long been neglected by governments, as is reflected by sporadic service and dilapidated infrastructure for the urban poor, it is one of the MDG’s that will not be met by 2015. Sanitation provision has a key role to play in creating the political and legislative conditions for well-located land to be made available to the urban poor. The work of the urban poor in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, India and many other countries across the SDI network demonstrates explicitly that sanitation is not just about toilets. It speaks to issues of equitable access and tenure security. If governments and urban poor communities provide sanitation facilities in partnership (as has been the case in countries like India and Uganda), then an in situ political and financial investment has been made in slum areas and, as a result, eviction (or relocation) become far less likely. Additionally, sanitation provision implies discussions around water provision, drainage, solid waste management and connections to bulk city infrastructure. 

Alongside evictions, inadequate sanitation is a central crisis in slums. For several decades the sanitation development framework was driven vertically by engineers, with those in greatest need of sanitation facilities given the least in terms of access, design, usage and management. SDI federations have begun serious local and national discourses exploring all elements involved in ensuring that slums are initially open defecation free, and subsequently, have adequate sanitation for all.

Debates about whether toilets should be located at the household or community level continue worldwide. Within SDI, the pragmatic sequence is as follows. 

  • For slum dwellers, sanitation is a governance issue. It is the duty and obligation of cities to ensure all fecal matter is collected and disposed of hygienically in a manner that is non-threatening for citizens and the city.
  • The present deficit is huge and cities having ignored the issue for many decades, which now makes initiating solutions very difficult.
  • Cities have to participate in the challenge of ensuring universally available sanitation. It is an essential contribution of community networks to document lack of facilities and engage the city to ensure sanitation access.
  • Infrastructure (water sewer lines), density, finances (of communities and the city) and available technologies are key factors in the choices that cities and communities make about the best approaches to sanitation provision.
  • In old, densely populated slums where houses are very small and sewerage access does not exist to clear fecal matter away, community toilets with safety tanks remain an imperfect solution. 

An incremental approach to informal settlement upgrading remains key to a long-term process that develops community capacity alongside infrastructure. Toilet construction and management has the potential to bring organized communities and local governments together in partnerships that have the possibility for replication in other settlements across the city. 

In addition, making a citywide impact through sanitation opens up the space for other relationships with government to be developed around associated services and infrastructure (e.g. solid waste management, grey water recycling or the provision of water).  Communities are also able to access upgrading funds and, as in India and Uganda, become the contractors who build, maintain and manage sanitation infrastructure. The momentum this generates has potential for both local and national policy reforms and articulations.  It is becoming increasingly clear that sanitation interventions and the partnerships that they create can lay the groundwork for partnerships and outcomes at a citywide scale. 


To read more about SDI affiliates’ work creating people-centred sanitation solutions at the citywide scale, check out the following blog posts & our Annual Report


Taking Water & Sanitation to the Citywide Scale


Project Diary: Kalimali Sanitation Unit, Uganda 

Improving Sanitation in Kinawataka Market, Uganda

Financing Sanitation Solutions in Uganda

Uganda Loses USD $177m Annually Due to Poor Sanitation: What is the Federation Doing?


In Tanzania, Scaling Up Sanitation for the Urban Poor 

In Tanzania, Reaching the Wider Community Through Improved Sanitation 

 Slum Dweller Federation of Tanzania Leads Construction of Public Toilet


In a Risky Place: Women & Sanitation in Nairobi’s Slums


SPARC’s Strategy for Community Toilet Block Construction & Maintenance in India

South Africa: 

Partnerships through Upgrading: 5 Cities Delegation Visits Langrug Settlement

Waterborne | Water & Sanitation in Slovo Park, South Africa