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Smart water: the experience of utilities in adopting digital solutions

11 May 2022 at 12:26

Across 2021 and 2022 the GSMA’s Digital Utilities programme and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) collaborated on research exploring four Kenyan water utilities experience of adopting digital solutions and their digitalisation journey more broadly. This blog, co-written by Eden Mati (WSUP) and Zach White (GSMA), summarises the report’s key findings and messages. You can read the full report here

Digital solutions for water utilities

Digital solutions are equipping utility managers with new tools to meet the coming challenges of rapid urbanisation and climate change while also tackling long-standing sector challenges related to water losses and financial stability. These challenges, and an indication of their extent, are summarised in the table below.

Digital solutions in water are transforming how utilities and customers interact. Mobile money is a game-changer for revenue collection while IoT (internet of things) devices have created new ways to monitor water services and automate processes. Combined with mobile payments, IoT devices enable pay-as-you-go (PAYG) service models, and smart metering has become a clear use case. Finally, digital platforms and enterprise resource planning (ERP) apps are supporting more effective utility management and providing a foundation for digitalisation across utility operations.

Mobile services are critical to many of these services thus making mobile operators a natural partner for utility services. Utilities verticals have emerged as a key use case for IoT devices, and many mobile operators are looking beyond integrations to become more active players as part of their revenue diversification strategies.

Key digital solutions in urban water in Kenya

Our research

In the water sector, to date, most research on digitalisation has focused on high-income country contexts and solutions. This bias in focus overlooks important differences in the complexity of water systems, digital payments architecture, availability of finance inherent in serving dense low-income neighbourhoods. In addition, it draws attention away from where digital solutions could have the greatest impact.

One of the aims for the research we conducted was to address part of the evidence gap. We took this on through examining the digitalisation journeys of four Kenyan water utilities and engaging the regulator (WASREB) for a sector-wide perspective. The four utilities in this research serve three of Kenya’s four largest cities. Combined, they are responsible for the water services of more than six million people, employ over 4,000 people and have an annual turnover of 11 billion Kenyan Shillings (about USD 104 million). In short, they are some of the larger and better-performing water utilities in Kenya, which is important context for the findings. Through detailed case studies and interviews with key players in the water sector, we identify important lessons and opportunities.

Street in Nairobi. Credit: Brian Otieno

Key findings on digitisation journeys

We looked at the use of digital technology across a set of ‘domains’ that related to different digital/utility functions. Within these domains, we focused on mapping the use of some of the prominent technologies and solutions used in the sector. The figure below outlines a high-level mapping of where the different utilities were using key technologies.Key findings on digitisation journeys


The other aspect we looked at was the sequencing of the digitalisation efforts for the last ten or so years. Though the pattern broadly changed between utilities, we found there was a common progression at different points in time:

  • Pre-2015 – The initial stages of digitalisation generally focused on payments, meter reading and billing.
  • 2015–2019 – There was a focus on overhauling customer relationships and engagement, including web and social media presence. Many utilities also started piloting different smart meters or smart-ready meters and GIS mapping their customers.
  • 2019–present – Some of the utilities shifted their focus to digital systems and overhauling their ERP systems. There was also an increased focus on deploying smart meters for household connections and kiosks.

Some key lessons from the experience of the four utilities

Four key lessons emerged from our analysis and are applicable to utilities at early stages of digitalisation.

  • Investing progressively in digitalisation is vital. Making progress digitalising multiple areas of utility operations is critical to reaping the full benefits in any one area. For example, efficiencies in meter reading will only be realised when they are linked to more efficient billing and mobile payment processes.
  • Digitalising core functions first can deliver quick wins. For utilities, this is most evident in metering and billing and in customer relationships. These are also the areas most likely to improve cash flow and support better customer experiences and relationships.
  • When a new technology impacts on existing jobs and roles, there needs to be a plan in place for staff retraining or redeployment. This is critical to shaping a vision of digitalisation and reassuring staff that they have trust in their job security. Effective redeployment is also critical to reaping the benefits of more efficient processes. These transitions need to be supported by senior leadership so that digitalisation can be incorporated in broader change processes and staff feel that reassurances are credible.
  • Investment in digital systems must occur alongside the digitalisation of operations or functions. Utilities that had recently made investments in their ERP systems stressed that this was vital to realising the benefits of their various digitalisation initiatives.

Download the full report: Water Utility Digitalisation in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Key opportunities

The research team identified five key opportunities for utilities based on their stated objectives and actions that are likely to overcome some of their main constraints.

  • Peer learning between utilities. In many cases, the experience of one utility holds lessons for others. This extends to sharing information on market offerings and price and quality benchmarks. This is a clear opportunity in the Kenyan water sector, but also applies in other LMIC contexts.
  • Documenting the pros and cons and the costs of digitalisation initiatives. This documentation should also be codified in regulatory guidance for the sector. Robust data on the benefits of digitalisation is still relatively limited. Documenting and sharing this data between utilities would help to inform investment decisions.
  • Advanced metering (including PAYG solutions) and network monitoring and control. These are the technologies most likely to address non-revenue water (NRW) losses, which are still primarily managed manually.
  • Digitally enabled financing solutions for financiers, innovators, and utilities. Innovative and flexible financing is already underway as new players emerge and new funds are developed by existing players.
  • Stronger partnerships with mobile operators. Many of the digital solutions discussed in this report have mobile services at their core, including mobile payments, smart metering and network monitoring. This makes mobile operators an important partner for utilities. In Kenya, this opportunity is exemplified by Safaricom’s move into the smart metering space.

This report seeks to fill the evidence gap in utility digitalisation in LMICs. The case studies detail the extent of digitalisation in the utility sector and the scope for opportunity. Kenya is home to some of the larger and better-performing utilities and the experience of the water sector can provide guidance to utilities in other LMICs seeking to digitalise their operations.

Top image: Woman taking water from a pre-paid dispenser in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno

As Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, hygiene practices remain essential

19 April 2022 at 16:52

Covid-19 infections have significantly declined in many parts of the world, after the spread of the Omicron variant, and that is also true in Africa.

With the end of restrictions and with vaccinations levels still low in much of the continent, however, the adoption of good hygiene practices is as important as it has ever been, since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, in early 2020.

According to the World Health Organisation, actions taken by national governments in early 2022 have increased the number of vaccine doses distributed, from 54 million in January to 62 million in February. Much more is needed, though, to significantly increase the continent’s overall fully vaccination rate, which was around 15% of the adult population. “Fifteen countries are yet to reach 10% of their population fully vaccinated,” said the WHO.

During the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 and 2021, WSUP promoted hygiene practices in Kenya and Ghana, with campaigns supported by the Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC), an initiative led by the UK government and Unilever.

Both countries have recently put an end to the restriction measures implemented to fight the spread of the coronavirus, including the compulsory use of face masks in crowded, enclosed spaces. Considering that about 84% of the Kenyan population have not yet been fully vaccinated, hygiene practices remain as important as in the early stages of the pandemic.

The most recent Covid wave in Kenya took the daily number of cases to a record average total of 2,774 in late December 2021. The wave quickly lost strength, though, as was the case with many other countries affected by the Omicron variant. In March 2022, the average daily number of new cases was already below 10. This trend has convinced the local authorities that rules of social distancing and face masks wearing were no longer needed.

Hygiene messaging in a school, Kenya
Handwashing messages in a school in Nakuru County, Kenya.

“Last month the government announced the end of the restrictions. Life is now normal, bars are open, and it is not compulsory anymore to wear a face mask anywhere,” says Beatrice Masaba, WSUP’s People and Support Officer in Kenya. The situation in the country may prove challenging, as large crowds have been gathering in public spaces as part of political rallies in the run-up to the August general elections.

In this context, it is important that hygiene practices, such as washing hands with soap regularly and covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing, are understood by the population as permanent features, not only a temporary measure related to the peak of the Covid pandemic.

“It is now a duty of the Kenyan citizen to make sure that they are safe and everyone around them is also safe,” says Masaba. “People need to understand that the measures were put in place for Covid, but they go beyond. It is about all diseases that are related to hygiene, such as cholera.” According to the WHO, a two-week vaccination drive in Kenya in early February increased the average of people vaccinated daily from 70,000 to 200,000.

Video: building resilience to Covid-19 in Ghana and Kenya

Hygiene is essential

In Ghana, the peak of the latest wave of Covid-19 happened in early January 2022, when the daily average of total of cases reached 1,231. Almost as quickly as it went up, however, the number came down, reaching two digits in February. After another rise in February, when the daily average peaked at 144, Ghana has recorded low daily average figures in March and April, of between 10 and 20.

A billboard in Accra, Ghana, promoting hygiene messaging

“Due to the low number of cases in the country, the President announced the elimination of all restrictions, and now there is no mandatory use of masks,” says Frank Kettey, WSUP’s Country Manager in Ghana. Without measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the protection is now in the hands of the people – literally, as handwashing is one of the most powerful tools in preventing infection. “Hygiene proved to be very important, essential,” says Kettey. “Without masks, it is now even more important.”

Ghana has benefited a lot from the Covax programme, established by the WHO to guarantee distribution of Covid vaccines in developing countries and the most vulnerable communities. “As it stands now, there isn’t shortage of vaccines, but there is still some hesitancy,” says Kettey. The vast majority of the population in Ghana remain unvaccinated.

Hygiene practices that were promoted during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic have given people additional protection. But as restrictions are lifted in many countries with low vaccination rates, these hygiene practices will need to be maintained to keep the virus at bay.

Read more about WSUP's Covid-19 response

Top image: Child washing hands at school in Ghana, as part of the HBCC programme.

A template for action: how new guidelines pave the path to better sanitation in Africa

23 March 2022 at 11:03

Joint article by AMCOW, Speak Up Africa, UNICEF and WSUP.

This week’s World Water Forum, taking place in Dakar, Senegal, is a timely reminder of how the world is slipping behind its commitment to achieve universal access to safe sanitation by 2030.

Access to basic sanitation and hygiene services is a primary concern globally, with 3.6 billion people lacking safely managed sanitation and 2.3 billion without basic hygiene in 2020.

We at AMCOW, Speak Up Africa, UNICEF and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) believe that there is hope to turn this situation around: in the form of the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG), an initiative launched last year to help improve national and subnational sanitation and hygiene policy across the continent.

The guidelines provide the continent with essential standards for sanitation and hygiene policies improvements, giving national governments a structure that will help them turn the page on the current state of inadequate sanitation and hygiene services for its populations.

But can, and will, the policy guidelines be implemented? We have looked closely into the implications of the six areas of the guidelines and are convinced that it will help countries to prioritise the key interventions that are needed.

Read the full analysis

The reason we know that is that across the continent, guidelines – which outline six key areas of intervention –  have already been or are being implemented. The following examples demonstrate how African nations can put in place the systems to ensure universal access to safe sanitation.

Sanitation systems and services, South Africa. Since the 2000s, the local authorities have been addressing the challenges of sanitation in the Durban area with a decentralised approach, in which non-sewered, onsite systems have been improved and embraced as viable, efficient ,and cost-effective solutions. The installation of thousands of ablution blocks and urine-diverting toilets has also provided sanitation options for informal settlements, with an approach that sought to maximise both financial capacities with the characteristics of both the terrain and the local communities.

Hygiene and behaviour change, Rwanda. Frequently, behaviour change – an important part of vital hygiene improvements – is absent from national WASH policies, which are more focused on delivery of services. But in Rwanda, a national handwashing strategy is having positive results, even despite challenges thrown by Covid-19. In February 2021, a report from USAID stated that, “self-reporting handwashing levels are high in Rwanda during the pandemic period.”

Institutional arrangements, Senegal. Lack of clarity in institutional mandates and in accountability bedevils efforts to provide sanitation and hygiene services in Africa and many developing countries worldwide. Senegal has kickstarted a program designed to update sanitation policy and strategy documents and give clarity on stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities. The program is helping to drive increased efficiency and coordination amongst national bodies and authorities across the sector.

Regulation, Zambia. Effective regulations are a vital part of ensuring a strong sanitation system which can provide adequate services to all. In Zambia, the creation in 2018 of a regulatory framework for the management of sanitation waste in urban communities has been a key step forward. This framework, combined with improved standards for sanitation technologies, and a new wastewater quality monitoring programme, is driving action not just from the country’s publicly owned water and sanitation utilities, but from the private sector, too.

Capacity development, South Africa. In South Africa, the national government has made progress in building skills in the sanitation workforce. Following completion of a skills gap analysis in 2015, a range of training schemes have been introduced across a range of public sector institutions, including the Department of Water and Sanitation, municipalities, catchment management agencies and water boards. The country’s National Water and Sanitation Master Plan includes a chapter dedicated to capacity-building, recognising that its ambitions will not be achieved “without addressing the issue of capacity – the skilled people required to undertake the work”.

Funding and financing, Chad. Traditionally, public sector investment into sanitation in Africa has focused on sewers, but this is now changing as the recognition grows that non-sewered services are far more cost effective and can reach a wider area of the population. Chad, a country which in the early 2000s had almost no sanitation infrastructure, has made significant progress in the way it invests in sanitation and as a result the proportion of the population with access to improved toilets had reached 16.1% in 2019. External funders, including the African Development Bank and the European Union, have played an important role.

Each one of these examples is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to dealing with the sanitation crisis. But it is a start, and shows that it is possible to make significant progress across the six elements outlined in the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines. We now need countries to replicate, and combine these successes rapidly to bring about sustainable change.

With political will to design the right policies towards a common goal, the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines should generate a high level of confidence and certainty amongst the continent’s authorities.

The template for action is here: it can be done.

Read more about the Africa Sanitation Policy Guidelines

World Water Day: videos show groundwater’s challenges and value

22 March 2022 at 15:36

While we use World Water Day 2022 to celebrate groundwater and make it visible, two things become clear: the water from aquifers faces a number of different threats, and those who benefit from this source understand well its importance.

In Chattogram, Bangladesh, pollution from a badly managed sanitation system has affected the quality of aquifers. Residents who used to rely on it now have to pay for other sources of drinking water.

Climate change also threatens groundwater in countries like Madagascar, where boreholes cease to be viable due to the reduced amount of rain – a direct consequence of higher temperatures. Watch the video below to know more:

Those who consume groundwater daily understand well its value – and ask everybody to give it more respect. In Ghana and Mozambique, residents celebrate the quality of the water they use and which comes from under their feet. Watch our second video for World Water Week 2022 to hear from them why groundwater must be preserved.

Top image: child fetches water in the Ashanti region, Ghana. Credit: Paul Obeng

Time to give groundwater a little respect

17 March 2022 at 12:29

Groundwater: a key resource for towns and cities around the world struggling to provide enough water for their thirsty residents.

It has many advantages over surface water, as it is often more reliable, nearer to households, less vulnerable to pollution, and more resilient to climate variability.

With urban populations in Africa and south Asia continuing to grow, we will need well managed aquifers if we are to have any chance of providing urban communities with access to safe water. Climate change is reducing water availability, particularly in surface water reserves but in many parts of the world, including Africa, groundwater reserves are estimated to be 20 times larger than the water stored in lakes and reservoirs above ground.

So groundwater can be a vital part of many countries’ climate adaptation strategies. And yet, are we valuing groundwater properly, and protecting it to ensure it can meet our needs?

The answer seems to be a clear, ‘no’.

WSUP’s experience across the countries where we operate is that we are not giving enough respect to groundwater.

Groundwater is being mis-used and mis-managed in urban areas through multiple ways, such as raw sewage seeping into the water, agricultural and industrial pollution, uncontrolled abstraction, and a lack of monitoring of water quality.

For example in Lusaka, where around 60% of the water supply comes from groundwater, around 83% of the sanitation waste is not properly managed, leading to significant contamination of the aquifer which runs underneath the city.

Pit latrines like this one in one of Lusaka’s peri-urban communities often result in human waste seeping into the ground below, and then into the groundwater.

Just as in most cities on the continent, many people are reliant on pit latrines, often little more than a hole in the ground, where the waste seeps into the ground, and eventually, in the water supply.

In coastal areas, the growing threat of rising sea levels threatens groundwater supplies. Saline intrusion is where sea water gets into the underground aquifers, making the water undrinkable. In the coastal city of Chattogram, Bangladesh, we have seen evidence that boreholes are becoming unusable because of the saline intrusion.

In many countries, groundwater is being over-used, meaning that more water is taken from the aquifer than can be put back from rain or snow. Over time, the aquifer becomes depleted.

Across south Asia, groundwater levels have declined, causing issues for urban water supply. The cost of drilling and pumping is increased, with a disproportionate impact on the poor.

The absence, in many cities, of a single institution effectively managing water abstraction makes it very difficult this situation to be managed. In Africa, it is estimated that around one-third of the urban population uses so-called self-supply groundwater, usually in communities which have not been able to receive adequate service from the public water utility. In Lagos, Nigeria, for example, 51% of households own their own borehole.

Clara Mariano, resident in Beira, Mozambique, uses a well in her compound when she cannot get water from elsewhere. But the water is not safe for drinking.

In the short-term, self-supply groundwater enables under-served residents to get access to water; but this water is often untreated. In addition, over the longer-term, the uncontrolled abstraction of water can risk the health of the aquifer.

In Mozambique’s coastal capital Maputo, and the surrounding Matola city, where private water providers build boreholes which are dotted around the landscape, saline intrusion is a real risk as the aquifer becomes over-exploited.

Sometimes, the issue is not man-made – it’s a natural phenomenon. In Kenya’s Rift Valley, for example, the aquifer is contaminated with fluoride, excessive consumption of which can causes problems for bones and teeth. WSUP worked with private operators and the city utility in Naivasha ten years ago to ensure that water was treated to reduce fluoride levels down to recommended World Health Organisation levels.

Another commonly occurring chemical is arsenic, which is present in countries such as Bangladesh – requiring careful management to ensure arsenic-safe water supplies.

Residents in Mahajanga, Madagascar, collect water from the water kiosk which is supplied by the local borehole.

Groundwater is, by its very nature, invisible to the communities and the decision-makers that depend on it.

And yet, it is crucial. Healthy people depend on groundwater; depleted or contaminated aquifers will not help rapidly growing cities to become more prosperous and equitable places to live.

Improved management of sanitation waste; better monitoring; more oversight over water abstraction: all these will help protect groundwater for the benefit of people living in cities.

So let’s respect groundwater, so that we can meet one of humanity’s most basic needs – the need for safe, clean, water.

Women spread the message: story of a communications leader in Kenya

8 March 2022 at 12:03

By Emily Kirigha, Project Manager, and Beatrice Masaba, People & Support Officer, Kenya

Every single project and activity WSUP has been involved with in Africa and Asia relies on the direct participation and deep involvement of women. From the hard work done by female residents in their communities to their role as mothers and sisters looking after little children, women are central to all our work promoting clean water and safely managed sanitation in vulnerable communities.

Perhaps even more important than more traditional female roles, however, is communication. Women have been playing a vital role in leading families, neighbourhoods, and entire communities, organising initiatives and spreading the message of health and hygiene.

That essential communication has also been provided by female leaders within utilities, governmental departments, and local associations. In Nakuru, Kenya, Grace Kabubu is such a person, being the Public Relations Officer of  NAWASSCO, the city’s water and sanitation utility.

Grace Kabubu, Public Relations Officer of NAWASSCO

“My greatest inspiration is from seeing change in the community,” says Grace. “Tracking that community’s story or problem, as when we begin a journey with community A, when they probably had no hope for water or sanitation services, and at the end of the journey [seeing] the joy and satisfaction on their faces is priceless.”

As with many other women doing similar work in countries where WSUP operates, communicating the needs and the achievements of resilient and engaged residents, the more involved with that reality Grace becomes, the more she wants to share. “Capturing that journey inspires me to do more and share the story to enhance growth and knowledge.”

It is about telling stories, which is one of her passions from a very early age. “I loved telling and reading about stories, I believe at that early age I started to shape my career knowing that I would one day be a ‘storyteller’.”

Knowledge is key

Grace has over 10 years of experience in communication, knowledge management, and public relations. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication – Public Relations and Development Communication and is currently finalizing her Masters in Development Communication. Her experience in media monitoring, brand strategy and implementation is vast.

At NAWASSCO, she is in charge of internal and external communications, the development of knowledge sharing and learning processes, systems and tools, especially social media platforms that enable collaboration and continuous improvement and data-based decision making. She also actively supports NAWASSCOAL (NAWASSCO’s subsidiary company) in communication and knowledge management.

Being a woman has posed some difficulties along the way, according to Grace. “One of the greatest challenges is cultural perception and beliefs,” she says. “I have previously worked with communities that find it challenging when women address them. This may seem like a walk in the park, but it can cost a community development and growth.”

Her main tools when faced with that kind of obstacle is knowledge and information. “I have learnt to overcome this challenge by ensuring that I have done proper research about the community, thus enabling me to establish strategies.”

More female leaders

Since becoming a leader in her field, Grace has also worked hard to overcome any difficulty stemming from the fact that she occupies a managerial position. “In the early years, there could have been a general perception of women not having the capacity to lead in many sectors. Over the years, this notion has changed with the experience of various women shattering the leadership ceiling,” Grace says.

“The instances of women being considered ‘tea servers’ in board rooms have drastically reduced and are almost non-existent. It is against this backdrop that we see CEOs, board chairs, and female presidents who have become great leadership manuals to other women.”

Some might still point to a lingering reluctance in some areas to accept women in more highly skilled roles, but Grace believes that her area, of communications and public relations, particularly in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector, has been a positive example.

“I believe the WASH and the communication spaces have embraced more women. It’s interesting and exciting to see more women in technical/manual jobs that were previously considered male dominated. Those are great stories of inspiration that build and enhance the women’s leadership manual.”

Read more about women's leadership in WASH

Women for the climate

Grace Kabubu clearly understands what the main existential threat to the communities she works with, now and in the future, is: climate change. She is also convinced that women play a vital role in the fight against the damage being done to the planet and, particularly, the climate adaption required for vulnerable communities to survive and prosper.

“We no longer see rain when we are supposed to. Seasons have changed, sometimes the weather patterns change suddenly, which affects communities especially farmers,” she says. “I believe women in the WASH sector can play a pivotal role in enhancing provision of sustainable water and sanitation solutions.”

But how, exactly? According to Grace, women have a unique position within communities that allow them to understand problems better and find appropriate solutions. “As a woman in the sector, I believe we are at a vantage point, as we are available to educate and create awareness to the community, about how they can work towards climate change mitigation.”

Just like her own skills as a professional communicator, Grace says that female residents have a powerful tool in their voice and the strength of their message. “In all community meetings, women should use their voice to encourage members of the community to grow more trees. And to mobilise community groups to be climate change mitigation champions through activities, such as tree planting and the use of clean green energy.”

That power of communication is not only a tool that improves our present. It impacts the future as well, Grace says. “Women are also great transferors of knowledge, within their nurturing role. They can also carry the climate change mitigation strategies to generations – a snowball effect from one generation to the other.”

Learn more about our work in Kenya

Top image: A woman carrying a bucket of water in a community in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno

A round-up of SWEEP: WSUP’s solution to tackle Bangladesh’s sanitation challenge

16 February 2022 at 15:12

The SWEEP service has transformed the collection of human waste in three of the largest cities in Bangladesh, with the potential to go much further.

This ground-breaking public-private sector led service was launched in Dhaka, in 2015, to address the lack of safe collection and treatment of sanitation waste services in the city.

To date, it has served more than 2.6 million residents in the country’s capital and in the cities of Chattogram and Rangpur, as well as 5 other municipalities across Bangladesh.

It is the only model of its kind which provides affordable services to the poorest residents, being financially viable for the private sector whilst ensuring the responsibilities of the public sector are met.

Read more about the SWEEP journey here:

Safe, affordable, and profitable

Learn more about our work in Bangladesh

WSUP’s Sanitation Lead in Bangladesh, Habibur Rahman, shares his reflections in this Skoll Foundation blog – Making sanitation everyone’s business

WSUP Chief Executive Neil Jeffery to step down

10 February 2022 at 11:24

After eight years leading Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), Neil Jeffery has announced his intention to step down from the role of Chief Executive.

Neil has been a driving force behind the organisation’s growth in recent years, overseeing the organisation as it has increased the numbers of under-served people in cities that it has supported. The organisation recently reached the milestone of having improved the lives of 30 million low-income urban residents by establishing or enhancing water, sanitation or hygiene services, 26 million of which were achieved in the last seven years.

Lord Boateng, chair of WSUP, said: “I’d like to thank Neil for his incredible contribution to the organisation. Over the last eight years WSUP has cemented its position as one of the global leaders in helping cities improve access to water and sanitation for the poorest, and that is in no small part due to Neil’s exceptional leadership.”

“The Board is now beginning its search for a new CEO. WSUP’s work remains more vital than ever, with the global pandemic showing the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene as a first line of defence against health crises and climate change wreaking havoc on safe water systems.”

Neil said: “It has been an immense honour and privilege to lead the business since 2014, and I am very proud of the impact achieved and the improvement to people’s lives that together we have been able to deliver. The growth that we have seen over the past few years is testament to the quality of our work with national partners, the dedication of our global staff and the effectiveness of our model.”

“I now feel that the time is now right for me to hand over the reins and make way for someone new who will continue to drive forward progress in our 2020-2025 Business Plan and beyond. I am confident that I will be handing on a stable and highly impactful social enterprise with extremely talented and well supported staff.”

Particular highlights of initiatives completed under Neil’s leadership include: developing the first sanitation waste collection service in Bangladesh which reaches the poorest in a financially viable manner; supporting Kenya’s national regulator to introduce reporting requirements around pro-poor services; and introducing a comprehensive change process for utilities, known as the Utility Strengthening Framework.

Neil will remain as Chief Executive until 30 June 2022. The WSUP Board has appointed Saxton Bampfylde to lead the search for WSUP’s new CEO, and more details about the application process are available on its website.

Mind the Gap: what happens when customers cannot afford safe sanitation?

3 February 2022 at 13:28

By Sam Drabble, Head of Evaluation, Research & Learning

In a recent publication, WSUP explored what quality sanitation means from a public health and user experience perspective. But there is a further question which is core to achieving Citywide Inclusive Sanitation: how can quality sanitation be financed?

The scale of the financing challenge for urban sanitation is immense. The World Bank estimates that to meet SDG 6.1 and 6.2, capital financing would need to triple to US$ 114 billion per annum, in addition to operations and maintenance costs. Quantitative data from 20 countries, published in the 2019 GLAAS report, reveals a WASH funding gap of 61% between identified needs and available financing for WASH.

WSUP’s Urban Sanitation Research Initiative (USRI) aimed to drive sector change in our 3 focus countries of Bangladesh, Ghana and Kenya. Across our focus countries, institutional partners highlighted financing as a key area where targeted evidence generation could help unlock barriers to change.

This meant research to generate localised data on the costs of different sanitation options; and to assess the viability of financing options to help fund services.

Our new paper Mind the Gap: How can we address the shortfall in urban sanitation finance? synthesises findings from four research projects in this area.

Download the report

Here are four key findings:

It is not realistic for low-income households to cover even a large proportion of the costs for sanitation services

Led by Aquaya Institute, the SanCost study involved 1) assessment of full life-cycle costs of sanitation options in low-income areas, across 5 cities in Bangladesh, Ghana and Kenya; and 2) detailed analysis of low-income people’s ability and willingness-to-pay (WTP) in that city. This enabled modelling of financing gaps that will need to be covered by some form of subsidy or cross-subsidy.

A vacuum tanker operating in Ghana

In conceiving this research, WSUP expected the gap between costs and WTP to be clear. But the SanCost results are striking, and incontrovertible. Across the five cities and across the range of sanitation services, median WTP values were far below current price levels — generally around 20 – 30% of the market price.

SanCost generated localised data of value to our institutional partners. But it also produced a wider takeaway message: households living in urban low-income areas are willing to pay only a fraction of what it would cost them to access high-quality sanitation services. Subsidy requirements for low-income households were estimated at over 50% for covering capex alone, and up to 90% to cover the total costs in some cities, up to 2030.

What households will actually pay is even lower than reported willingness to pay

SanCost findings were largely based on stated willingness to pay: what users say they would hypothetically be willing to pay for a service. As authors Ben Tidwell and Goufrane Mansour outline in Mind the Gap, revealed preference is generally more reliable, as it requires the respondent to make real-life choices.

So what will households actually pay when given the opportunity? SanCost findings were supplemented by a voucher redemption trials in Nakuru and Kisumu, Kenya, to test revealed WTP for high-quality toilets and pit emptying services respectively. In both cases, revealed WTP was markedly lower than stated WTP. In Nakuru for example, only 10% of those receiving vouchers were willing to pay even 11% of the actual required costs for toilet construction.

A low-income community in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno

It should be noted that revealed WTP may be attributed to a wide range of factors, some of which can be influenced, for example through improved sales strategies. And low WTP does not imply sanitation is not valued by these households. Rather, these findings show that most quality sanitation systems remain unaffordable for low-income residents – with even long-term costs representing more than 5% of incomes in the majority of cases.

Our key takeaway: For low-income urban residents, the cost of sanitation is very high compared to income levels.  This means a balance must be found between higher finance allocations and cost savings in the delivery of services.

Sanitation surcharges on water bills can help to bridge the financing gap…

So if the poor are to access safely managed sanitation, the required costs need to be partly funded via other sources. Modelling the financing gap is the easy part of the equation. Identifying additional sources of revenue is more challenging.

As one potential mechanism, WSUP’s Kenya team have been successful in influencing the regulator WASREB to introduce a pro-poor sanitation surcharge — a sanitation charge added to the water bill — over a period of years. USRI aimed to strengthen the evidence base for the surcharge by assessing WTP of middle- and high-income utility customers. The results of the study, again conducted by Aquaya Institute, were encouraging: 75% of customers were willing-to-pay some amount, and at the median WTP of 1 USD/month, the 88 water regulated utilities in Kenya could raise a combined 19 million USD annually for sanitation improvements in low-income areas. Messaging to strengthen trust in how funds would be allocated by the utility and calculating the surcharge as a proportion of the water bill (rather than a flat rate) were recommended to maximise buy-in from utility customers paying the tax.

In WSUP’s view this research provides a template for effective research-into-policy. The regulator WASREB were considering an intervention but needed robust evidence to strengthen the case. These findings have helped WASREB move forward with confidence to the next phase and the piloting of the surcharge with utilities in Kisumu, Nakuru and Malindi.

…but public finance instruments of this type require functional local tax systems

In Ghana, WSUP has supported the piloting of a similar intervention, this time involving a sanitation surcharge on the local property tax. WSUP supported the roll-out of a 10% surcharge on the property tax, in the municipality of Ga West; neighbouring Akuapem North has also imposed a US$ 1 annual flat levy. USRI research sought to strengthen the evidence base for the intervention by assessing policymakers’ commitment to the sanitation surcharge policy and taxpayers’ willingness-to-pay.

In this instance, the research highlighted a number of challenges. Although the surcharge has been signed into policy in the two districts, revenues generated from the surcharge have been impacted by poor communication and lack of measures to track collection and disbursement.

The research highlights how sanitation is interconnected with wider aspects of municipal administration. In Ga West only half of property owners surveyed paid their property tax: successful implementation of the policy will require stronger administrative systems for collecting revenues, which is likely to affect the whole tax regime.

Future research needs

In WSUP’s view the SanCost findings are of huge value in quantifying the financing gap for sanitation in low-income areas. Once this gap has been established — using data specific to the cities involved — a discussion can follow on mechanisms to bridge the gap.

Our research has shown a sanitation surcharge on water bills has potential in the Kenyan context, although this would only be one measure and is far from sufficient in itself.

The next step is to build on this foundation and strengthen the evidence base for wider financing mechanisms. It is clear that diverse forms of finance have a role to play, including household, public, private and IFI investment.

Pit-emptying services in Kisumu, Kenya

In Mind the Gap we highlight further research to inform this debate, including research to better understand the cost-effectiveness of different sanitation interventions; further testing of approaches such as results-based payment of the private sector to deliver pit emptying services, which research in Kisumu suggested can be effective; and analysis to inform more effective and more equitable targeting of subsidies.

Financing is a core challenge of providing urban sanitation services at scale and there is no easy solution. But acknowledging the gap that exists — and the impossibility of low-income households footing the bill — provides a basis to move forward.

Download Mind the Gap here

Learn more about the Urban Sanitation Research Initiative

Top image: A resident outside a toilet block in Ghana

Upgrading the importance of low-income customers in Ghana’s water sector

27 January 2022 at 13:32

The more visible low-income customers are within a utility, the better the quality of the service they will receive.

And so, the decision by Ghana’s national water provider, Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), to upgrade the Low-Income Customer Support Unit (LICSU) into a full department is excellent news for many under-served Ghanaians. WSUP has been proud to support the team in this journey, since the creation of the low-income team a decade ago.

“The Board and Management approved the upgrade to a department because they understand the benefits of serving low-income customers and driving transformational change in enabling the provision of safe water services for all, including the vulnerable,” says Faustina Boachie, the chief manager of the department, about the utility’s decision to elevate the unit’s position.

Boachie has been leading the LICSU since its formation, when it was basically “a desk office managed by one person”. “At the time I was appointed as the Pro-poor coordinator with responsibility for promoting and coordinating pro-poor projects, especially Water for Life (W4L) projects in Ghana,” remembers Boachie.

With a BA in economics, she comes from a humble background, having had to walk over two miles, as a young girl, with her sisters, in search for water in Obuasi, in the late 1980s. As head of the GWCL’s group assisting low-income customers, she has been working with partners such as the sector ministry, donors, citizens, and water and sanitation service providers to ensure more reliable, more affordable and safer water services to low-income customers across Ghana.

According to her, the recent change in status indicates that her department’s work of the past ten years has had positive impact on the general perception around the needs of the sector in Ghana.  “There is better understanding of the social and economic issues around access to water.”

This better understanding has helped place the low-income consumer group closer to the highest authorities within GWCL. “The promotion means access to financial resources, as the department now has a voice within the organisation at the highest level,” explains Boachie. “For the first time in our operations, a budget line for the department has been established and presented to the board.”

This was, by no means, a mere bureaucratic change. “It means a lot,” stresses Faustina Boachie. The team now have a much more prominent position within the company, with direct access to GWCL’s Managing Director. “Reporting to the MD is no little achievement from where we started,” she says. “Within the GWCL organisational structure, only the 3 deputy managing directors together with the legal and communications departments report directly to the MD. This implies a higher rank for LICSU.” The new department now has, as she puts it, “a voice within the organisation at the highest level.”

This new level has also meant more people in her team. “The number of staff has increased to 11, working across 5 GWCL operational regions,” says Boachie, who is also leading an internal restructuring, with a new organogram for the department, already presented to the company’s board. “The approval of the structure will allow for recruitment of community development officers to form and support water user associations.”

Faustina Boachie, Ghana Water Company
At GWCL, Faustina Boachie has led the low-income customer unit, which is now a department

This new structure will serve a larger ambition, of expanding its services territorially and improving its interactions with the wider water sector. “A donor and partners relation officer will also be recruited,” says the head of the low-income consumer team. “The ambition is to go nationwide, and this is possible with the support of the management and the board.”

This growth is already happening, as a direct result of the better access to resources and the enlargement of the team. “We are now able to reach more low-income customers,” says Boachie. “Under the World Bank/GAMA project, we worked with the project team to provide access to about 750,000 low-income residents. We have also worked with other partners, including Water4Life, under the waterworks initiative where we have connected about 3200 reaching about 60,000 people. We are also working with UNICEF to connect 1350 households.”

Proud history and more work ahead

Back in 2011, when the unit took its first steps, promoting the idea of treating low-income residents as valuable customers was a challenge in Ghana, as in many parts of the world, including developed countries. In Ghana there was a clear need to strengthen that idea, and WSUP was directly involved from the beginning.

“What we are witnessing today is because of WSUP’s support,” says the head of the low-income customer department. “WSUP triggered the need for GWCL to establish LICSU. The partnership has been very effective because results have been achieved.”

Read also: profile of Faustina Boachie

With the first steps taken, WSUP then assisted the Ghanaian team, which was progressively becoming stronger and more independent. “We appreciate the capacity building support and the learning exposure visits over the years,” says Boachie, who stresses how that new capacity has allowed her team to establish new partnerships and grow. “Now we can attract other partnerships including with Water4Life, UN Habitat, UNICEF and others.”

As a child, Faustina Boachie experienced herself the harsh reality of lacking easy access to clean water and good, reliable sanitation. She believes that Ghana has advanced significantly since then, and today citizens, including young girls, know more about their rights and how to demand better services.

“Today a lot of households have access to safe water than when I was a young girl,” she says. “Girls have a better appreciation of their rights to demand for services. They know the importance of WASH in their homes and schools.  The educational system has also helped in educating young people.”

More needs to be done, according to her, particularly in, “identifying the pockets of households where access is still significantly low.” Boachie is optimistic and enthusiastic about the future, though, for both their department and the communities it works with. She says that low-income residents should expect more support from GWCL in the coming years.

Read also: safe and affordable water in Ghana

“We are currently working on a strategic plan for the department. We will map the low-income communities nationwide where the department will operate and prioritise areas of operations for the department,” she says. “We are committed to providing services to the low-income communities, so the poorest residents can expect continuous improvement in access to water in the years ahead.”

The road ahead is long, and Faustina Boachie is aware that there are a lot of challenges for the water and sanitation sector in Ghana that cannot be sorted by a utility such as GWCL on its own. “A commitment has been demonstrated by continuing to extend our services to low-income communities. But support is still needed. A utility alone cannot adequately service low-income communities,” she says. “Sharing knowledge with partners, sharing strengths and weaknesses together will ensure that effective solutions are found to adequately serve low-income communities. Strong partnerships and knowledge sharing is the only way that we can leverage our influence, stabilise service, and make performance improvements to advance towards sustainable operations.”

Top image: Inauguration of a network extension in Kumasi, led by GWCL and WSUP in 2018

WSUP publishes 2020-2021 Annual Report

10 January 2022 at 09:30

WSUP has launched its 2020-2021 Annual Report, presenting our operations and impact in the year up to March 2021.

Through work in our core countries Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zambia, plus our emerging presence in Uganda and consultancy work in Malawi and Cambodia, we were proud to improve the lives of 6.7 million people.
Annual Report front cover
As a result of our work:

  • A total of 515,000 people benefitted from improved water access.
  • Safe sanitation services reached 721,900 residents.
  • Access to hygiene was improved for 5.5 million people.
  • $8 million in additional investment was mobilised.

The year 2020-2021 was WSUP’s first under its new Business Plan, and the Annual Report shares some of our work carried under the five Strategic Goals during the period. Below is a brief digest of what has been done under each of them.

Read the Annual Report now

Strategic Goal 1: Integrated City Development

Water access, drainage, health, street design and solid waste management are inextricably linked. Sanitation facilities cannot be emptied if poor road access makes it impossible to reach them; poor access makes it impossible to lay water pipes; and poor drainage systems means septic tanks and pit latrines are affected by flooding. An integrated approach is vital for reaching the poorest areas in cities.

WSUP has been finding and developing new opportunities to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Central to this are the positive relationships we have built with utilities, governments and community leaders.

“By integrating our work into the slum upgrading work, we have reached 4,000 residents in one village alone with safe, resilient and sustainable water and sanitation services,” writes Eden Mati, WSUP’s Country Programme Manager in Kenya, about work that has been implemented in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi.

Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, has been the focus of integrated urban initiatives

In poorly designed low-income communities in Maputo, Mozambique, water and sanitation cannot be offered effectively if other needs are not addressed jointly or beforehand. “The lack of street planning means the latrines and tanks cannot be safely or easily emptied,” says Tunisio Meneses Camba, WSUP’s Country Programme Manager, Mozambique.

Strategic Goal 2: Stronger Service Providers

The second strategic goal focuses on strengthening and expanding our technical and business support to utilities, municipalities and water and sanitation enterprises.

Providers of water and sanitation services struggle with rapidly expanding unplanned urban settlements, and many face challenges in how best to remedy that. These challenges are amplified by poor infrastructure and water lost to leaks and theft. By offering technical expertise, through its Utility Strengthening Framework or delivering targeted support, WSUP looks at how to drive innovation in technology, service delivery models and business design.

In Ghana, that has already been a reality through the work done with The Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), as Frank Romeo Kettey, Country Programme Manager in Ghana, explains. “We’ve provided training and capacity building to the utility to ensure they can continue to manage these services over the long-term.”

A similar approach has guided efforts in Zambia. “Our programme in Livingstone has focussed on the drought that Zambia is experiencing, and particularly building the capacity of the utility, Southern Water & Sewerage Company (SWSC) through WSUP’s Utility Strengthening Framework,” writes Reuben Sipuma, Country Programme Manager in Zambia.

Strategic goal 3: Enhanced Partnerships

WSUP’s third goal for the period of 2021-2025 is to seek out and build partnerships to accelerate urban water, sanitation, and hygiene provision at scale.

That has been particularly important in work related to policies. “WSUP has formed a close partnership with AMCOW around the development of the African Sanitation Policy Guidelines (ASPG), a major new initiative to help push forward the development of national sanitation policies across the continent,” says Kariuki Mugo, Director of WASH Sector Support.

Beira, Mozambique – where sanitation services for the poorest are almost non-existent – is just one location that could benefit from the new African Sanitation Policy Guidelines

In Bangladesh, Country Programme Manager Abdus Shaheen highlights how central the partnership approach has been in the work WSUP has been doing alongside the local garment industry. “Many of the factory workers live in nearby low-income communities with no access to clean water, safe sanitation, and handwashing facilities, exposed to waterborne diseases,” he says.

WSUP has been working in Dhaka with global lifestyle apparel companies Kontoor Brands, Inc. and VF Corporation to develop WASH improvements both in factories and in surrounding communities.

Strategic goal 4: Effective Policies and Regulations

The fourth goal in our Business Plan is all about driving transformation within the urban water, sanitation, and hygiene sector through rigorous research, data-driven learning, dissemination, and influencing. WSUP works with national and local policy makers to recognise water and sanitation as essential services for all, with clear mandates and accountability processes in place.

A good example is WSUP Advisory’s work in Malawi. UNICEF has contracted WSUP Advisory to provide technical assistance to both Lilongwe City Council (LCC) and Lilongwe Water Board (LWB). As Jane Olley, Technical Manager at WSUP Advisory explains, this effort has been about “defining roles and responsibilities of each in the delivery of sanitation services and developing a formal business plan to manage human waste.”

In Madagascar, those principles have been applied in our work with schools and local communities, in partnership with Dubai Cares, with the support of the UAE Water Aid Foundation (Suqia). “The research relies on identifying implementation and capacity bottlenecks from community all the way up to the national level,” writes Sylvie Ramanantsoa, Country Programme Manager in Madagascar.

Strategic goal 5: Increased Scale

WSUP’s fifth strategic goal is around scaling up in new locations, to bring improvements in WASH services to more people who need it.

SWEEP is WSUP’s ground-breaking model for collecting sanitation waste from under-served communities so that it can be safely treated, and remains the only sanitation service in Bangladesh that is both affordable to low-income urban customers, and profitable to deliver. “In the last year alone, we took SWEEP from four enterprises operating in three cities, to 11 enterprises across three cities and five municipalities,” writes Habibur Rahman, WSUP’s Sanitation Lead in Bangladesh.

WSUP has been supporting a new utility in Uganda with the challenge of serving people living in small towns in the west of the country

In Uganda, WSUP is building a new presence which is currently focused around support from our consultancy arm WSUP Advisory to one of the main regional utilities, the Mid-Western Umbrella Authority, following its creation in 2017.  The work is funded by the Conrad N Hilton Foundation.

“The Umbrella Authority (UA) is currently managing water supply systems for 62 towns organised into 15 branches, and we are supporting 3 ‘model branches’ to develop best practice for the entire UA,” says Philip Oyamo, WSUP’s Resident Programme Manager in Uganda.

Read our Annual Report now

Top image: Student washing their hands in Nakuru County, Kenya.

Making progress on sanitation policy: AfricaSan6

20 December 2021 at 13:05

How can policy initiatives best accelerate the expansion of sanitation services and help people improve their hygiene practices across Africa?

That was one of the questions WSUP and the Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation (ESAWAS) Regulators Association aimed to address during AfricaSan, the 6th African Conference on Sanitation & Hygiene.

WSUP and ESAWAS were the lead convenors for one of the four sub-themes for the conference, Inclusive Policy and Strategy for Accelerating Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa.

African Sanitation Policy Guidelines
The African Sanitation Policy Guidelines – a framework for driving improved services across the continent

The theme looked at topics such as the role of the new African Sanitation Policy Guidelines in improving the enabling environment for sanitation, how to strengthen public regulation of sanitation services, the importance of strengthening local government leadership, effective sanitation service delivery models and monitoring frameworks, and preparing the sanitation community agenda for the World Water Forum in Dakar in March 2022.

In the Public Sector Dialogue, WSUP and ESAWAS brought together utilities, regulators, representatives from countries such as Zambia, Gambia, Uganda and Egypt to look at some of the critical bottlenecks and identify potential actions. In this session, World Bank representative, Gustavo Saltiel, elaborated how strong regulation impacts service provision, leading to better relations between stakeholders and, as a result, better partnerships. If given the proper positioning, regulation will enhance accountability and efficiency of resource utilization, and as a result, strengthen focus, equity, and sustainability of non-sewered sanitation services.

WASREB Impact Report
Improved regulation in Kenya has driven improved water services to the poorest. Can the same be achieved in the sanitation sector?

In a session entitled Synergizing Experiences for Effective Sanitation Policies and Strategies Across Africa, four partners – ESAWAS, WSUP, The World Bank and UN-Habitat – presented three key initiatives that are central to the increasing focus on sanitation services across the continent.

ESAWAS outlined its work, still at the early stages, to map the regulation landscape across Africa. Many African Union countries have developed policies without considering regulation; yet, effective change in policy environment should lead to well designed and well-enforced regulation, which in turn deliver significant impact on improved services for the poorest. This study’s findings will generate a better understanding of the status, gaps, and opportunities for strengthening water and sanitation services across the African region.

Read Referee! Responsibilities, regulations and regulating for urban sanitation

Building on the regulation issue, WSUP presented its analysis from four countries – Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia – on how national institutions can incentivize sub-national actors to improve low-income urban areas. WSUP Advisory, WSUP’s consulting arm for the World Bank, delivered the study.

The analysis found that three elements were consistently seen to be vital by decision-makers in these countries: a fit-for-purpose institutional framework that makes responsibilities for service delivery clear; a healthy regulatory environment with an explicit pro-poor focus and rational approach to setting tariffs; and independent governance of service providers, to eliminate inappropriate political interference.

 UN-Habitat’s work around citywide inclusive sanitation aims to significantly change how sanitation services are implemented across large urban areas. The initiative targets improved use of data, adoption of national and subnational urban policies that focus on sanitation, and increased partnerships between utilities to share knowledge. WSUP will support the work by creating a global report on sanitation and wastewater management in urban settings.

ESAWAS report Citywide Inclusive Sanitation resources
Read the ESAWAS series on Citywide Inclusive Sanitation, supported by WSUP

Sanitation has long been a neglected aspect of the development agenda; with one billion people living in informal settlements and slums and the vast majority lacking safely managed sanitation services, the need for action is significant.

The barriers – including unclear or overlapping mandates, weak institutional structures, systems and skills, and a lack of/poor allocation of resources – are significant.

But as emphasized in the Synergising Experiences session by Dr Rashid Mbaziira, Executive Secretary of AMCOW, sharing the learning from initiatives across the continent can significantly move the water and sanitation sector forward. The policy and regulatory improvements outlined in the sessions and many others at AfricaSan will help to pave the way for a tangible difference in the lives of under-served low-income urban populations.


Read more about WSUP's approach to building a stronger enabling environment


 Top image: improved sanitation facilities at a school in Madagascar


A year in water and sanitation: battling Covid-19 and climate

13 December 2021 at 12:47

We reach the end of 2021, with Covid-19 and climate change having exacerbated the historic lack of access to water and sanitation for many around the world.

Despite these challenges, it has been a year of many achievements. With Covid-19 and climate change permeating nearly everything WSUP has worked on in 2021, WSUP has continued to provide invaluable support to city authorities, utilities, local communities and other partners to improve the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene. Here is a roundup of some of the initiatives we worked on last year:

Raising awareness

The campaigns WSUP started in 2020 around hygiene to fight Covid-19 continued into 2021. In Ghana and Kenya, communication around Covid-19 prevention awareness was directed to the wider public, in Bangladesh WSUP worked with garment manufacturers Kontoor and VF Corporation to target thousands of their factory workers and their communities, including women and children.

Improved hygiene practices were taught, and new facilities were installed, and the result was communities actively engaged in the fight against Covid-19 – a reality that will continue throughout 2022.

Extending access to services

WSUP has continued to work alongside utilities and other partners in order to provide access to water and sanitation. From projects in Mozambique, including schools in Maputo and entire neighbourhoods in Beira, to extensive provision of water in new towns in Uganda, our efforts have reached new groups of residents.

We have supported humanitarian agencies to improve water and sanitation in refugee communities, and our Clean Team subsidiary in Ghana continues to provide high-quality container based sanitation services in the city of Kumasi.

Strengthening city partnerships

During 2021, considering the size and complexity of the challenges in water and sanitation that low-income communities face, partnerships between WSUP and city authorities and providers became even more essential.

While in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, WSUP’s partnership with local utility JIRAMA continued to bring very important improvements for residents, in Kenya our work with Malindi Water & Sewerage Company (MAWASCO) is providing Malindi with a long-term plan to sort out its sanitation crisis.

Climate action

In the run-up to COP26 WSUP’s new report – The missing link in climate adaptation: How improved access to water and sanitation is helping cities adapt to climate change – highlighted the importance of building in WASH to urban climate adaptation initiatives. WSUP led sessions at the Water Pavilion at COP26 to highlight this key message and demonstrate how water and sanitation improvements in the poorest communities can increase urban resilience.

We now look forward to 2022 where we will continue to provide urban communities with long lasting solutions and increase the capacity of local authorities and residents to deal with future challenges.

Top image: Hygiene session in Chattogram, Bangladesh, part of the fight against Covid-19

Valuing toilets: how customers rate the container-based sanitation experience

17 November 2021 at 14:04

By Sam Drabble, Head of Evaluation, Research & Learning

Container-based sanitation (CBS) offers an innovative response to the challenge of sanitation in densely populated urban settlements. This blog presents key findings from a ground-breaking study looking at customer satisfaction with Clean Team Ghana, a CBS provider owned by WSUP serving over 3200 customers in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city.

Safe sanitation is a basic human right, which continues to be denied to 3.6 billion people — nearly half the global population. This statistic underlines that providing sanitation at scale is immensely challenging. This is especially the case in low-income urban communities, where sanitation is complicated by a wide range of institutional, political, social and technical challenges.

Container-based sanitation (CBS) has emerged as an innovative approach, especially for serving hard to reach sanitation market segments. This means CBS has a potentially important role to play in achieving citywide inclusive sanitation. In the words of the CBS Alliance, CBS refers to a service that “provides standalone toilets and regularly collects the waste in sealed containers to be safely treated, disposed of or reused”.

WSUP works to support sanitation services citywide, including to densely populated low-income communities. Intuitively, we think CBS makes sense as a sanitation option in these contexts.

Unlike sewered systems and conventional pour flush toilets, CBS does not require capital investment from the household to support toilet construction. Households can pay to access the standalone toilet on a subscription basis, through “little and often” payments, which are often better suited to the day-to-day economy of low-income families.

Because fixed infrastructure is not involved, container-based systems can provide flexibility and support efficient provision of services in rapidly evolving unplanned settlements, or as part of disaster response.

CBS is a dry system — it typically does not require water, a strong advantage in water-scarce contexts. And there is a growing body of evidence around the hygienic safety of CBS: by contrast with onsite-infiltration systems, such as latrines and septic tanks, container-based systems ensure full containment of faecal waste.

New survey of customer satisfaction with Clean Team

CBS will only achieve scale if built into citywide approaches; and crucially, if low-income households embrace the option and drive demand for the service. Until recently, there was a lack of robust studies exploring customer satisfaction with container-based sanitation.

As part of the recently completed Urban Sanitation Research Initiative, WSUP commissioned i-san to address this evidence gap. The study team, led by Ben Tidwell and Pippa Scott, conducted surveys of nearly 300 customers of Clean Team Ghana.

Importantly, the study aimed to capture both subjective and objective measures of the Clean Team user experience (relative to the previous sanitation option used by that household). Objective measures included factors such as hygiene, accessibility and sustainability. Subjective measures were assessed using the sanitation-related quality of life (SanQol) methodology, developed by Ian Ross at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. SanQol aims to capture perceptions of health risk, avoidance of shame, personal safety, avoidance of disgust, and privacy — factors we know are integral to how people value a toilet.

The Clean Team in action, delivering units of the container-based toilets in Ghana

So, what do Clean Team customers think? You can read about study findings in this Research Brief and this pre-print article. But in summary: the results are highly encouraging for advocates of container-based sanitation.

Customer satisfaction with the Clean Team service was high, and increased compared to their previous sanitation in almost every domain measured. Clear improvement was observed across all SanQol indicators.

As a snapshot, the Clean Team service delivered:

  • Improved outcomes for women and girls: Previous studies have shown that public sanitation exposes women and girls to high risks of violence and harassment. Women and girls also commonly suffer from lack of a private, safe space to manage menstruation. With subscription to the Clean Team service, satisfaction with ability to practice menstrual hygiene management increased from 23% to 97%. There was also a huge impact on ability to use the toilet at night, which increased from 31% to 98%. In one of the key findings of the study, the Clean Team service closed the gender equity gap completely: women were less satisfied than men with their previous sanitation, and more satisfied than men with the Clean Team service. Through improved access, inequities due to physical disability were also effectively eliminated.
  • Reduced smell: The Clean Team service was widely perceived to be hygienic by customers. A notable finding was satisfaction with the smell of the toilet when not in use: only 3% reported excessive smell, with 93% satisfied or very satisfied with the smell of the Clean Team standalone toilet. No customers reported an issue with leaking.
  • Better affordability: In the Kumasi context, the Clean Team service provides wide-ranging benefits to households at less cost than their previous sanitation option. Clean Team customers were typically paying $10.1 a month to access public toilets before joining Clean Team, compared to $7.4 a month for Clean Team service — a saving of over 25%. In line with these figures, customer satisfaction with the cost of sanitation increased from 47% to 85%. Since the study completed, the price to use a public toilet in Kumasi has doubled, while the Clean Team cost has not changed, further magnifying these savings.

Statements by residents about their personal experience with Clean Team illustrate these results. Amina Azure, a food vendor at Buokrom Zongo, said the Clean Team toilet has helped her and her family “save a lot of money”. “I wasn’t aware of how much money I was spending on public toilets, not to speak of how unhygienic it was, until I was introduced to the Clean Team toilet”, Azure said. “It is very convenient and easy on my pocket.”

In the case of Mary Dufie, a petty trader at Asawase Railway Quarters, the service has had a very positive impact in her personal life, considering the health challenges faced by her husband. “My husband is not well and can’t walk a long distance to the public toilet”, she said. “Anytime he gets nature’s call in the night, we used plastic bags and disposed of it in the morning, but the Clean Team toilet has really helped us.” Practicality and improved household hygiene have also been important factors for her satisfaction with the service. “I am especially happy about the fact that I don’t have to handle the waste myself.”

According to Amina Azure and Mary Dufie, the Clean Team toilets have improved their lives in different ways

Key takeaways from the research

How then to interpret the findings of the surveys? There are some caveats. It is important to note the context in Kumasi, where an unusually high proportion of households depend on pay-per-use public toilets as their primary form of sanitation. This was the previous sanitation option and the comparator for most respondents. And of course, this study had a particular focus on customer satisfaction. It does not directly address wider challenges in scaling CBS services, including financing and regulatory aspects.

But in the view of the research team, these findings do suggest that CBS provides a very positive user experience. And the findings affirm that CBS can play an important role as part of a mix of sanitation services — especially in densely populated urban settlements, where permanent household toilets are not always feasible.

Findings around gender inequity are particularly striking. Through our programmes, WSUP regularly sees first-hand the extent to which women and girls suffer disproportionately from lack of access to sanitation. By offering an affordable and flexible form of household sanitation, CBS can play a part in improving access for those who need it most.

Finally, in WSUP’s view, the findings are a credit to the service provided by Clean Team Ghana, and we are grateful for their cooperation through the research. The next step is to ensure findings are fully leveraged to support the integration of CBS within formal sanitation systems in Ghana —including formal approval of CBS as an approved sanitation technology and the development of standard operating procedures.

Top image: Clean Team staff load cartridges onto a truck in Kumasi, Ghana.

Safely managed onsite sanitation: a life changer for low-income communities

15 November 2021 at 20:38

Toilets: we cannot live without them. However, about half of humanity does. According to the United Nations, 3.6 billion people around the globe live without access to a toilet “that works properly”.

With that in mind, the UN has focused on those in need of this very basic service on its campaign for World Toilet Day 2021, celebrated on 19th November: “Who cares about toilets? 3.6 billion people do. Because they don’t have one”.

The UN has also come up with a message for the other half of the world’s population: “If you’re lucky enough to have one, say thanks and give it some love!”. On World Toilet Day 2021, we have all been invited to appreciate the unquestionable – and often forgotten – value of the toilet.

This value is directly linked to a sense of urgency. For the sake of individuals, communities, and the environment, providing access to safe and reliable toilets is something that simply cannot wait.

And yet, while many people around the world equate toilets with sewered systems, there are many occasions where the physical terrain, and the cost, make the establishment of a sewered system unrealistic. In these cases, authorities and community leaders must look at safely managed onsite sanitation as a viable alternative.

Beyond piped sewers

In 2017, a report jointly produced by WSUP and EY summarised the issue in one sentence: “The world can’t wait for sewers”. The logic was simple: the health and environmental issues that a sanitation system addresses are too urgent to depend on long-term costly investment.

As the WSUP/EY paper argued, “For many, flush toilets and connections to a piped sewer or septic system are simply not an option. Frequently the infrastructure just doesn’t exist (and may take years to come), systems are too expensive or technically difficult to construct (particularly in densely populated, flood prone, hilly or rocky areas) or service fees are too high”.

Cartridges from the Clean Team operation in Ghana

The report presented container-based sanitation (CBS), — a service-based business model using stand-alone toilets that store waste in sealable, removable cartridges —  as a very good alternative for low-income communities in countries without enough resources to implement sewerage systems. The cartridges may then be safely removed, without exposing residents to the waste – and taken to a treatment recovery centre for processing and cleaning.

In 2017, Clean Team, set up by WSUP in Ghana, was already one of the best examples of a successfully implemented CBS service, but the system still needed more time to be properly assessed. Recent feedback and quality evaluation have confirmed the initial encouraging response, with users in Ghana revealing the immense positive impact Clean Team has had in their lives.

This has particularly been the case for women and girls, who now rate their toilet experience even higher than local men do. Their satisfaction with their own ability to practice menstrual hygiene management has increased from 23% to 97% after being provided with the Clean Team service.

By offering a reliable and healthy system, without connection to a wider pipe network, the CBS and other models represent a safely managed onsite sanitation service, something that provides residents with the dignity of having a satisfactory toilet option even when circumstances do not allow the implementation of large networks of pipes. Safely managed onsite sanitation is a life changer, and on this year’s World Toilet Day WSUP is reminding ourselves of that.

Collection and treatment

A SWEEP truck in operation in the city of Chattogram, in Bangladesh

Container-based sanitation is just one potential solution to the challenge of poor sanitation in cities. Safely managed onsite sanitation can also be achieved through traditional pit latrines and septic tanks, thanks to regular professional emptying services. A good example of the benefits of such operation comes from Bangladesh, where SWEEP has been emptying waste from latrines and tanks, which is then taken to a facility to be treated safely.

First established in 2015, SWEEP started its operations in the national capital, Dhaka and then taken to communities in six other cities. By 2021, more than 2.2 million people have benefited from the SWEEP service, which has reduced the threat to public health posed by onsite toilet facilities, especially when those areas are hit by extreme weather events, such as cyclones – an occurrence more and more common with climate change.

The importance of building a broader plan

Although disconnected from a sewer network, onsite sanitation facilities still exist as part of a wider system. In order to bring together the responsible institutions, ensure adequate accountability and manage resources appropriately, a broader sanitation plan is needed.

This approach has been taken in the city of Malindi, in Kenya, a municipality whose challenges illustrate well the need for safely managed onsite sanitation within a wider strategy. In Malindi, which is largely dependent on onsite sanitation, only 25% of the human waste is safely managed – and 90% of hand dug wells are contaminated.

In order to address those issues, a plan has been prepared, including a phased approach for sanitation and waste management. It combined four types of sanitation systems, depending on the specific conditions of each particular area, including onsite models – septic tank and lined pit latrines. The broad plan involved a household toilet improvement programme, communal ablution blocks, engagement of a pit emptiers association, and other programmes and technologies.

Learn more about improving citywide sanitation systems

Engaging local communities

Action is needed not just at the city level, but also within individual communities. The use of safely managed onsite sanitation requires a good understanding from the local population about the importance of personal hygiene, something WSUP, alongside local organisations, has been promoting in many countries.

In Mozambique, in the city of Beira, WSUP has been working with the sanitation authority SASB and local communities in order to improve their hygiene practices. Agents speak to local residents about how to best keep themselves and their spaces clean, so they can avoid diseases such as diarrhea and cholera.

“People have realised that sanitation is more than just washing your hands, and having your waste deposited in the well, that there are criteria on how to wash your hands; and the results are encouraging,” said Moisés Chenene, director of SASB.

WSUP activists speak to a local resident in the city of Beira, in Mozambique

Individual actions can not only improve personal hygiene, but also prevent rubbish being left in the neighbourhood, which blocks waterways and presents an environmental hazard. Combined with broader plans to offer good and reliable sanitation to all, these actions can support the ultimate goal of a safely managed toilet: to safeguard the health of the people and the sustainability of the environment.

Providing reliable and dignified sanitation to every human being on Earth is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 6, for the year 2030: to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. Giving every single person on the planet safe access to a toilet is at the heart of that goal. Safely managed onsite sanitation plays a vital role in making that goal feasible. On World Toilet Day, we highlight its importance as a life-changing alternative.

Top image: Clean Team toilets are displayed for a local community in Ghana

Integrate with wider city resilience: collaboration with other areas is crucial

11 November 2021 at 16:40

This is the fourth blog in a series exploring four recommendations from WSUP’s new report, The missing link in climate adaptation, released ahead of COP26. Read the full report here: www.wsup.com/the-missing-link 

Recommendation four: Integrate with wider city resilience

For water and sanitation, climate change is not only about reducing the emissions of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere. It is essentially about how countries and cities can adapt to the new reality, becoming, at the same time, much more resilient and flexible.

As our previous blogs have shown, authorities and communities must use every drop of water, protect water and sanitation infrastructure against destructive events, and strengthen the systems that ensure that water and sanitation services work well, despite the disruption caused by a changing climate.

Those very important measures, however, are not enough if taken in isolation. In the face of climate change, the sector must follow a strategy that has already proved decisive for the success of previous initiatives: to work alongside wider urban development.

With the share of world’s population living in cities expected to grow from the current 55% to about 70% in 2050, much of the focus of urban services must be on informal settlements — which are very much vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In those communities, water and sanitation cannot be efficiently offered without improvements in other basic urban services, such as travel links, solid waste management, good drainage, and even legal frameworks around property ownership.

In Africa, the number of people living in cities is expected to double between now and 2050, reaching a total of 1.5 billion citizens. That will mean a significant increase in the number of people in marginalised urban communities, characterised by complexity, interdependence of challenges, and constant evolution.

The improvement of conditions in these urban environments is one of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, SDG-11, which establishes the aim of “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, and sustainable”. Sustainability is an essential part of that equation, and water and sanitation are vital if that goal is to be achieved.

Connecting water and sanitation to other basic services

The question is: how can water and sanitation be sustainable and contribute for the general improvement of the urban environment, if roads do not allow trucks to circulate and clean local sanitation facilities? If solid waste is not regularly collected, how can sanitation infrastructure be resilient to floods?

Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, where an effort to remove solid waste from canals helped to improve water and sanitation services

The service, initiated in 2009 and which involved both solid waste management and cleaning of drainage canals, was financed by revenues from water services. Apart from allowing the canals to be properly used, it helped protect facilities against damage caused by flooding, a very common result of the increased frequency of extreme weather events, a consequence of climate change.

Read the report: Integrated Slum Upgrading

In 2017, when the informal settlement of Mukuru, in Nairobi, Kenya, was declared a Special Planning Area (SPA), the community faced a wide range of issues, relating to health and the local environment, which were impacting all aspects of everyday life. The solution had to be comprehensive, so an Integrated Development Plan was developed for the area, where 100,000 people live.

Connecting water and sanitation to land rights

In Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, the need to improve sanitation facilities in one of its low-income communities, Chamanculo C, required a very basic issue to be addressed first: legal occupation rights. The organisation Arquitectura sin Fronteras led the process supporting residents to acquire improved legal status, while WSUP addressed sanitation issues.


The combination of the work on the legal framework and sanitation improvements allowed WSUP to make better decisions, with the direct participation of members of the community, about the location of toilets. That included discussions about road access to those facilities, so they could be regularly and safely emptied.

Just like the cleaning operation in Madagascar, a previous programme aiming at the general improvement of the area, called PROMAPUTO, improved stormwater drainage, reducing the risk of flooding and overflow of septic tanks during the rainy season. Other general works in the community, from new pavements to cleaning of alleys, improved residents’ perception of their own neighbourhood. All of this contributes to efforts in water and sanitation and its crucial role in making those communities more resilient to a changing climate.

Towards an integrated approach

The reality in marginalised urban communities highlights how difficult it is for any sector to reach positive results while working independently. Without roads, toilets cannot be cleaned. If homes do not have their legal status settled, there is no responsibility over their conditions and their environmental role. Without lights or security, toilets cannot be properly used or maintained. If water and sanitation cannot be provided safely, in a resilient and flexible manner, vulnerable urban communities will suffer immensely from the effects of climate change. Actions on water and sanitation cannot be taken in isolation. They require integration with wider city resilience.

Top image: Resident of the city of Beira, in Mozambique. Credit: Stand Up Media

City leaders to highlight adaptation efforts in urban water at COP26

10 November 2021 at 12:19

On 11 November, WSUP along with city leaders from Lusaka, Maputo, and Nairobi will be sharing experiences of building urban resilience in the face of climate change.

Climate change is bringing a wealth of challenges to cities, such as heat rise, increased migration, flooding and impacts from extreme weather, and most of these are felt through water. While mitigation can reduce climate change, it cannot avoid all impacts making adaptation activities essential.

Join us at the Water Pavilion at COP26, a collaboration of over 30 organisations, governments and companies in the water space, where we will be highlighting adaptation and resilience efforts in cities.

Events at COP26:

Adaptation and resilience in urban water: Role of cities and utilities in National Adaptation Plans and Nationally Determined Contributions

14:00 – 15:30 GMT, 11th of November

Join us for a roundtable with city and infrastructure leaders from around the world on the role they play in contributing to the NDCs and the enablers and barriers they face in adapting and building water resilience in their cities, and hear about the role of tools and approaches, financing, and capacity building initiatives in supporting their progression. Including the participation of:

  • Christopher Mtonga,  Director of Public Health, Lusaka City Council

Join here

Adaptation and resilience in urban water: Lessons from practice

15:45 – 17:00 GMT, 11th of November

In this session, we focus on how we can make cities more liveable and equitable through integrating water improvements into the very fabric of urban living. Focusing on water as a silo will not work: we need to integrate water into cross-sectoral transformations. Including the participation of:

  • Eden Mati, WSUP’s Country Programme Manager (Kenya)
  • Silva Magaia – Councilor for Land Planning, Infrastructure and Environment, Maputo (Mozambique)
  • Mario Kainga – Director for Water, Sanitation & Energy, Nairobi City County (Kenya)

Join here

Want to find out more about how cities can respond effectively to the urgent threat posed by climate change? Read our latest report here: https://www.wsup.com/the-missing-link/

Strengthen systems: foundations for climate resilience in the long term

4 November 2021 at 13:38

This is the third blog in a series exploring four recommendations from WSUP’s new report, The missing link in climate adaptation, released ahead of COP26. Read the full report here: www.wsup.com/the-missing-link

Recommendation three: Strengthen systems

When we think of climate-resilient water and sanitation, many of us will picture infrastructure. We might think of piped water and sewage networks which can withstand extreme weather events. And we picture toilets that can withstand flooding.

This picture is not wrong. As our earlier blog explored, infrastructure is critically important. But the picture is incomplete.

The residents of slums and informal settlements are some of the people most vulnerable to climate change in the world. To withstand the impacts of the changing climate, these residents will depend on access to basic services. And basic services cannot be delivered at scale, over time, unless the basic elements of a functional WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) system are in place.

In any context, water & sanitation is not only about taps and toilets. It is about complex systems. Climate-resilient urban WASH is no different. It means resilient systems that enable institutions to understand, prepare and adapt to changing circumstances. It is about taking a long-term view.

To strengthen systems we must start with the building blocks. Across countries, we need to ensure the foundations are in place for service providers to accelerate water and sanitation access at the city level. So what does this mean in practice? What are these much needed foundations?

Informal waste collectors in Malindi, Kenya, where an inclusive plan aims to prepare the city for the future

Policies and finance

As a first step, climate adaptation must be reflected in water and sanitation policies. These policies provide the foundation from which everything else follows. Currently, national WASH policies often fail to address climate change. Policymakers need to do more to drive action which focuses on extending services to those who are the most vulnerable to climate change.

Climate adaptation must also be integrated into long-term water and sanitation planning. In developing these plans, flexibility is key. Because climate change is introducing uncertainty, service providers need the freedom to adapt to emerging or unexpected conditions.  A range of approaches should be adopted to deliver water and sanitation in the city, to diversify risk, and avoid dependence on any one solution.

The coastal city of Malindi, Kenya, provides an example to follow. City leaders in Malindi have created an inclusive citywide plan to ensure all residents have access to safe sanitation. The citywide inclusive sanitation plan outlines a phased approach for sanitation, excreta and wastewater management and re-use, identifying four types of sanitation systems to address the income and density differences in Malindi. The plan also integrates sanitation and solid waste management, recognising the importance of coordinating action across these two areas, particularly given the impact caused by flooding.

Financing is also core. In Mozambique, the response to Cyclone Idai, which caused catastrophic damage to the coastal city of Beira, included extensions to the water network and other infrastructure improvements. But there is also less visible work taking place, to strengthen key elements of the system, and to place service delivery on a sustainable footing. This includes the planned introduction of a surcharge on water bills, to raise new revenues that can be used to improve sanitation in low-income areas. More broadly, responsive financing mechanisms, and flexible tariff regulation, can help ensure services are sustained through emergencies and periods of high demand.

In the city of Beira, Mozambique, new financial models make the water system more resilient

Watch the story of how Beira has been rebuilding after Cyclone Idai

Responsibilities and accountability

Finally, clear responsibilities and strong accountability are essential. Without these elements, basic services will not reach the people most vulnerable to climate change. It must be clear who is legally responsible for providing services. And responsible authorities must be incentivised to deliver against their mandate. In Kenya, the national regulator WASREB is leading the way, through the introduction of a pro-poor key performance indicator which requires urban utilities to report on service provision to low-income areas. Measures like these can ultimately have a huge impact in ensuring the poorest have access to the services they need to survive the impacts of climate change.

In some countries the journey ahead will be a long one. Madagascar, for example, is highly vulnerable to a range of climate change impacts. But the WASH system is not positioned to respond effectively. There is a lack of clarity over mandates for sanitation. Regulation of sanitation services is ineffective or non-existent. In this context, achieving climate-resilient water and sanitation is a long-term process, which requires sustained engagement with the institutions involved. For this reason, WSUP is working with the utility JIRAMA to strengthen water supply, but also with city-level communes, with the sanitation institution SAMVA, and with Ministries at the national level, to strengthen the wider WASH system.

None of this is to negate the importance of acting now to protect the most vulnerable to climate change. There are urgent steps which must be taken in many cities to ensure emergency preparedness, including to mitigate the impacts of extreme events like Cyclone Idai. But the task is much greater than that. Real climate resilience will only be achieved if we take the long-term view and ensure the elements of a functional, adaptive WASH system are in place.

Top image: JIRAMA Mandroseza II Bis water augmentation scheme in Madagascar

Protect the infrastructure: climate proofing water and sanitation systems

28 October 2021 at 09:30

This is the second blog in a series exploring recommendations from WSUP’s new report, The missing link in climate adaptation, released ahead of COP26. Read the full report here: www.wsup.com/the-missing-link

Recommendation two: Protect the infrastructure

When Hurricane Sandy struck the United States back in 2013, the wastewater systems were overwhelmed causing over 10 billion gallons of sewage to gush into rivers and waterways, and exposing the inadequacy of the region’s existing infrastructure. The damage ran into billions of dollars for the city of New York alone.

If that was the reality for one of the world’s richest nations, how can countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia for whom climate change has been the reality for many years, even cope?

An ever-changing climate and the resulting extreme weather events mean that the existing water and sanitation systems are becoming outdated and unable to withstand such shocks, presenting a direct threat to those relying on the services that these systems provide.

Most cities in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia already struggle to deliver equitable access to clean water and safe sanitation and the impacts of climate change is only making it worse.

Protecting against disasters

Mozambique was hit by two cyclones in 2019, Kenneth and Idai, and both had devastating impacts on water and sanitation. In Beira, during Cyclone Idai, parts of the water system were severely damaged and were out of action for a week due to power loss. With only 10% of the city connected to the sewer system, communities relying on basic sanitation like pit latrines saw raw sewage mix with the floodwaters, posing a huge public health risk.

To protect the city from such future disasters and to ensure residents have access to basic services, the utility FIPAG with the support from WSUP introduced more climate-resilient construction standards such as using high-quality HDPE PE100 pipes in the water network extension, repairing water tanks and providing training to staff and small-scale operators on how to manage, operate and maintain the piped network.

Extending the water network in Beira, Mozambique

For Serviço Autónomo de Saneamento da Beira (SASB), the sanitation authority in the city, the priority is now to ensure that the 90% who are not connected to the sewer network have access to infrastructure that can withstand flooding as well as improved waste collection services to help reduce drainage blockages and the subsequent risk of contamination from overwhelmed infrastructure.

Watch how Beira is rebuilding

Managing droughts

We borrow water from nature to use for our daily needs and if we don’t return that water responsibly, we will limit our future access to water. In drought hit areas like southern Zambia, drilling boreholes to access new water is not an easy choice given that groundwater is a precious resource that is extremely hard to replace.

Utilities providing access to water services need to assess all parts of their operations to enable effective management of infrastructure and ensure that climate resilience is integrated. And that is exactly what Southern Water & Sanitation Company (SWSCO), the utility responsible for providing water in the region are doing.

Using WSUP’s Utility Strengthening Framework, it has prioritised several urgent projects to build climate resiliency, such as improving non-sewered sanitation services which will reduce contamination of groundwater – an important task given that surface water is becoming more unreliable. In addition, the utility is reducing water leaks across the network as well as increasing revenue collection efficiency to enable income generation for maintenance of the infrastructure to prevent such leaks.

Download the report – Building resilience to climate change: experiences from Southern Zambia

Reducing flood risk

In areas prone to frequent flooding, residents who rely on poorly designed sanitation systems are at risk of exposure to diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. This is the case in the informal settlement of Mukuru in Nairobi, one of the biggest slums in Kenya where regular flooding causes floodwaters to mix with sanitation waste which then submerges streets and enters people’s houses.

An integrated effort of drainage improvement and the introduction of simplified sewers by Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company (NCWSC) currently trialled in this settlement aims to reduce the risk of contamination from increasing floods by containing waste and channelling it to the main sewer line. Not only that, but it also uses much less water compared to traditional sewered sanitation systems, which is crucial to ensuring that every drop of water is saved.

To protect communal infrastructure against the impact of heavy rain caused by cyclones in Madagascar, the utility JIRAMA with the support of WSUP, is developing climate-resilient WASH infrastructure such as ensuring that the facilities are raised above the ground and not located in flood-prone areas. In addition, they are introducing overhead storage tanks at water kiosks to ensure water availability, and by fixing leaks in the water network and managing its resources effectively, the utility is ensuring that the poorest residents do not run out of water when there are droughts.

Watch: Building climate resilient services in Madagascar

In Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, the majority of urban sanitation systems like septic tanks aren’t connected to a sewer. Given that most of these systems are located at the lowest elevation possible, they are highly sensitive to sea-level rise, storm surge or flooding which limit their effectiveness.

The regular emptying of septic tanks via SWEEP – a sanitation waste service that was set up by WSUP – helps prevent septic tanks from flooding and contaminating the environment.

Ensuring durability through behaviour change

In overcrowded urban slums residents rely on WASH facilities that are shared between several families. As climate change forces more people to move to cities, the sustainability of these facilities is at stake. In 2020, 400,000 people migrated to Dhaka from other parts of Bangladesh due to effects of climate change such as sea level rise and flooding.

To ensure that WASH facilities don’t get degraded by families not used to living in cramped urban spaces, WSUP has found that targeted hygiene behaviour change communication and awareness campaigns can help ensure communal facilities are used in a manner that will prolong the durability of the infrastructure and safety to the families accessing these services.

Hygiene messaging at a communal sanitation block in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Yellow Rose

These are just a few examples of how service providers are working to accommodate rapid urbanisation in an unpredictable climate. There is still a lot more to be done.

Cities must work within their resources and recognise that climate change is not a threat of the future but is happening now and finding ways to improve people’s access to clean water and sanitation and protect nature is vital.

Top image: A refurbished sanitation block in a school in Madagascar. Credit: Tsilavo Rapiera