Buying expensive water from street vendors, defecating in a bag (‘flying toilet’), open sewage and waste in the backyard: this is the sanitation reality for many poor people living in urban areas.

Of people living in urban areas globally, 1 billion reside in informal settlements. WSSCC advocates for improved urban WASH services specifically targeted for the poor.

Informal urban settings pose several challenges to health and well-being, among them, extreme poverty, high population densities, ineffective urban planning mechanisms, lack of legal land-tenure, and poor governance. The majority of the urban poor suffer the extensive consequences of poorly accessible and unaffordable options for water supply, sanitation and solid waste management. Densely populated urban areas often do not have sufficient space (or financial resources) to construct private sanitation facilities.

Paradoxically the urban poor often pay higher prices for the services of water delivery (sold by vendors) and sanitation (public latrines) than the rich, who are connected to a central water / wastewater systems.

Supporting the providers of urban services to improve their service delivery can be a very effective way to increase access to water and sanitation among the poor. Some providers are large-scale, formal, public or private (or partnerships of both) utilities. However, the greater majority of operators in the sector are small-scale providers, which in most cases are informal (independent).

From a marketing perspective, the large number of consumers in informal settlements can actually outweigh individual limitations in financial spending – a fact not lost on providers. Unfortunately however, urban service providers often struggle with institutional weaknesses that prevent them from capitalizing on this: notably lack of infrastructure / physical coverage, poorly trained staff, inadequate cost recovery and high levels of water loss.

WSSCC stresses making mainstream approaches that address the (urban) poor. Strengthening small-scale service providers of water and sanitation services in urban settings is a part of this approach.

On this topic, WSSCC and the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) sponsored a seminar during World Water Week 2009: Sanitation for the Urban Poor: Exploring New Pathways.

Last updated: Tue, 11/16/2010 - 12:07