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Before yesterdayWSUP Blog

Weaknesses in water, sanitation and hygiene systems exposed by pandemic, say experts

February 24th 2021 at 16:43

Highlights from a panel discussion on how cities are adapting to challenges such as the Covid-19 crisis.

At a WSUP event held yesterday, a panel of expert speakers outlined the challenges faced in the urban water, sanitation and hygiene sector as a result of Covid-19, and made recommendations on priorities for the sector.

The Adapting in a Time of Crisis event assessed the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene in developing countries and was moderated by Andy Wales, Chief Digital Impact and Sustainability Officer, BT and a member of the WSUP Board.

A recording of the online event is available here

Gerald Mwambire, Managing Director, Malindi Water & Sewerage Company, Kenya started off the event by highlighting how the Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on service provision.

“The government issued directives that we need to provide water [for free], because water is so important for mitigating Covid. But when we are giving free water, that means we have low revenue collection,” he said. Without subsidies from the government, Mwambire added, utilities have struggled to operate effectively.


2020 was a year of doing things differently, and of innovating rapidly to combat constantly shifting threats.

Jeff Goldberg, Director, Center for Water Security, Sanitation and Hygiene, USAID, highlighted how the crisis has been a forcing event to accelerate digital technologies in the sector to address the water and sanitation challenge.

As an example, Mwambire spoke of how in Malindi, the utility was compelled to look at SMS billing and smart meters to reduce the risk of customers and frontline staff being exposed to Covid-19.

Report: Smart meters: innovating to improve water supply in a post-Covid context

The informal settlement of Bangladesh, in Mombasa, Kenya
Crowded urban settlements such as this community in Mombasa, Kenya, are highly exposed to the pandemic – making good hygiene a vital part of daily life

Helena Dollimore, Senior Manager, Global Sustainability, Unilever, spoke about how Unilever worked with development actors who are already serving low-income income residents through the Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC). This included helping NGOs to adapt their work to the digital space and using mass media and digital channels to promote hygiene messaging.

In Kenya for example, through the HBCC programme, WSUP was able to use SMS hygiene messaging through our existing work with utilities who made use of their customer databases to reach a large number of low-income residents with vital information.

Read more about WSUP’s Covid-19 response

Stronger utilities

At WSUP we believe that utilities are the solution to comprehensive, safe water access in cities.

However, the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the vulnerability of utilities’ financial positions. Many utilities were – understandably – required to provide water for free to help in the fight against the pandemic, but this has come at severe costs for their sustainability and financial viability.

Investing in utilities and helping them become financially stable is crucial for improving services for the people most in need, and it is one of the most important steps that we can take to tackle the water crisis.

Read more about how WSUP is working with utilities to improve services

Andrea Jones, Program Officer, International Programs, Hilton Foundation said, “The blanket safety net approach has put service providers in a precarious position…We need to ensure utilities can reach the poor and vulnerable.”

Frank Kettey, Country Programme Manager, Ghana, WSUP, added: “The role that utilities play is crucial, and we all need to work towards supporting them to ensure they emerge stronger after the pandemic.”

Goldberg remarked that the crisis has given us the opportunity to look at the fundamentals of governance, policy, cost recovery and ensuring we build financially stable utilities that can withstand any kind of crisis moving forward.

Read WSUP’s report on regulation in the sanitation sector: Referee! Responsibilities, regulations and regulating for urban sanitation

Continuous water supply for all and climate change

“If climate change was a shark, then water would be the teeth of it,” said Dollimore, highlighting the link between climate change and water.

Climate change is threatening water and sanitation systems in cities. 74% of all natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 have been water related.  Whether the problem is too much water or too little water, it is damaging people’s ability to have access to decent services.

In the face of this growing challenge, building the resilience of service providers has never been more important.

WSUP's Utility Strengthening Framework
WSUP’s Utility Strengthening Framework is helping build resiliency within the water sector

In order to deliver services to the poorest residents, utilities need to improve effectiveness across the breadth of their operations. WSUP’s Utility Strengthening Framework uses eight steps to move towards a stronger utility.

Neil Jeffery, Chief Executive of WSUP, highlighted how following the cyclones that hit Beira in Mozambique in 2019, WSUP had to work with city authorities to build back better. He argued that adapting to climate change needs to become standard process within urban development and within those institutions providing water, sanitation and hygiene.

Read more about how WSUP is helping cities to become climate resilient

The last 12 months have shown us that even in a crisis – or perhaps because of a crisis – change is possible. As Jones commented, although the Covid-19 crisis has brought to the forefront the gaps in water, sanitation and hygiene systems, it has also provided an opportunity for leaders to address these challenges.

WSUP is determined to play its part in driving the change needed.

WSUP's priorities: read our 2020-2025 Business Plan

What does ‘quality’ sanitation mean in low-income urban areas?

February 8th 2021 at 10:00

By Sam Drabble, Head of Evaluation, Research & Learning

Broadly speaking, when we advocate for investment in sanitation, it is because we are trying to achieve two critically important aims: improve human health, and improve wellbeing or quality of life. But to what extent are sanitation interventions actually achieving these aims?

In many cases, the honest answer is that we do not know (in part because impact measurement can be costly and time-consuming, particularly when it comes to health). But while intuitive, the health and wellbeing outcomes and impacts of sanitation interventions cannot be assumed. To what extent these are actually achieved will be influenced by wider factors, including parallel causes of disease in the local urban environment (health), and the extent to which sanitation options provide for a positive user experience and align with user preference (quality of life).

An open drain in Rangpur, Bangladesh

In densely populated low-income communities (LICs), sanitation outcomes and impacts are further complicated by technical, economic and political constraints. Even under best-case scenarios, most LIC residents are unlikely to acquire access to high-quality pour-flush toilets served by sewer systems. This means we need to better understand what types of sanitation intervention are a) feasible and b) effective in delivering health and quality of life outcomes in these contexts.

Our new report Quality Check explores this fundamental issue. The paper, authored by Aguaconsult, synthesises four major research projects conducted under, or in association with, WSUP’s DFID-funded Urban Sanitation Research Initiative (USRI). These projects were commissioned to build the evidence base around sanitation quality in low-income areas.

Below we set out four key lessons from the paper. These are only some high-level reflections – we encourage you to read the full report and related articles from the research teams!

1. High-quality sanitation is necessary but may not be sufficient, on its own, to achieve health improvements in LICs

A primary driver for sanitation investment is improved health outcomes, such as reduced diarrhoeal disease. The USAID and Gates-funded MapSan trial — led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the Georgia Institute of Technology — aimed to evaluate the health impacts of a shared sanitation intervention delivered by WSUP in the low-income communities of Maputo, Mozambique.

Shared sanitation block, Mozambique

MapSan broke new ground as the first controlled health impact trial of a non-sewered sanitation intervention, and the first such trial of urban shared sanitation facilities. As WSUP and our partners have documented (see blog link below), these findings require very nuanced interpretation — but the bottom line is that the intervention had no clear effect on incidence of diarrhoeal disease in children under 5.

Clearly these results are not what we hoped to see. However, in WSUP’s view, MapSan is not an argument against improved sanitation — the absence of which we know to be connected to a wide range of negative health outcomes. Rather, these findings potentially support an argument for integrated urban development and slum upgrading.

Our first lesson: high-quality sanitation is a critical foundational step towards improved health, but it must be accompanied by parallel improvements to break faecal-oral disease transmission pathways.

Blog - Does improved sanitation mean healthier kids?

2. Maximising the health impact of sanitation interventions requires better understanding of the link between sanitation and pathogen flows

Together with limited evidence on the eventual impacts of improved sanitation in LICs, there is limited evidence on how best to design interventions to maximise the health gains of sanitation improvements. The Faecal Pathogen Flows Study, commissioned by WSUP and delivered by a consortium led by Institute of Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney, aimed to address this gap. The research team developed and applied a systems modelling approach to assess the relative performance of eight sanitation options — including septic tanks, deepened and covered drains, and fully sealed vaults — in a densely populated LIC in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Environmental sampling, undertaken to inform the modelling, revealed high levels of pathogens throughout the LIC environment. Wider findings, again nuanced, indicated quality of the containment infrastructure as a key determinant of pathogen transmission, and underlined that proper maintenance makes a huge difference to prospects for achieving long-term health impact.

Our second lesson: “quality” in terms of achieving health impact relies on both appropriate infrastructure choices and good management.

Blog - Pathogen pathways and urban planning

3. Shared latrines can provide high-quality sanitation

Health impact is not the only determinant of sanitation quality: user experience is also critically important.  For many residents of densely populated LICs, shared sanitation is the only feasible option. In WSUP’s view, this means there is a case for modification of the UNICEF-WHO JMP classification of shared sanitation as only “limited”, to encourage governments and donors to increase investment in high-quality shared sanitation — but this in turn would require identified minimum standards to facilitate monitoring.

Communal toilet in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno.

The QUISS study (Quality Indicators for Shared Sanitation), commissioned under USRI and led by Eawag-Sandec, aimed to strengthen the evidence base in this area through a large-scale assessment of shared and non-shared toilet users in Ghana, Bangladesh and Kenya. The study produced detailed findings on user criteria for shared sanitation, with immediate water access, cleanliness, and gender-separated toilets found to be the highest priority. Significantly, researchers also found the clearest discriminant between low- and high-quality sanitation was not number of households sharing (1, 2 or more), but rather technology: flush/pour-flush toilets showed much better quality than non-flush latrines, independently of number of households sharing.

Our third lesson: shared sanitation can and often does provide acceptable high-quality sanitation.

Report - High-quality shared sanitation: how can we define that?

4. Quality of life indicators could provide a standard metric to compare sanitation systems and services

Sanitation access impacts our sense of wellbeing and quality of life in myriad ways, with women and girls disproportionately affected: beyond directly affecting health, livelihoods and school attendance, access to a toilet can be core to personal safety and dignity. These factors are important demand-side drivers of sanitation improvement, and should be taken into account in evaluating the effectiveness of sanitation options.

Led by Ian Ross at LSHTM, the development of SanQoL — a metric for quality-of-life dimensions of sanitation services — is an important step forward in this area. SanQoL indicators were used to measure the user-perceived impact of interventions in the MapSan trial, and a USRI evaluation of user satisfaction with Clean Team, a container-based sanitation service in Kumasi, Ghana — in both cases to striking effect.

Clean Team waste collector
Clean Team waste collector in Kumasi, Ghana.

The Clean Team Evaluation revealed that customers experienced substantial quality-of-life gains after adopting the service, in comparison with their previous use of existing public toilets; importantly, while women were less satisfied than men with public toilets, access to the Clean Team service closed the gender gap completely (watch out for a forthcoming WSUP Research Brief on this impactful research, led by i-San).

In MapSan, the SanQoL analysis revealed that user experience may differ significantly between sanitation solutions, even where they provide apparently similar levels of services: user experience was found to be better for shared toilets than for the more expensive option of communal sanitation blocks.

Our fourth lesson: this experience suggests that from a public investment perspective, user-centred approaches like SanQoL may be helpful — alongside health impact projections — for identifying which types of sanitation investment can be effective.

Achieving high-quality sanitation within a low-income context is challenging — but it is possible. When designing sanitation interventions, policy makers, city planners and donors need to assess whether the solutions they are supporting are able to deliver in terms of health and quality of life outcomes and expected impacts. We hope that the reflections and recommendations in this report will help support decision-making around sanitation quality in low-income urban areas.

Download the Quality Check report here


Education and Covid-19: Ensuring schools are safe through water, sanitation and hygiene facilities

January 22nd 2021 at 16:03

As a large number of children around the world return to school, how do we ensure the environment they study in is safe?

As uncertainty continues to loom with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring water, sanitation and hygiene services in schools has never been more important.

This International Day of Education, we focus on the work we have been doing to help children return safely to schools, through the sustainable provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. Access to these basic services is crucial for recovering and revitalising education for the Covid-19 generation.


Whilst learning has moved online, the team has worked to ensure children are safe when schools reopen. 60 primary teachers and officials from local education departments participated in Training of Trainer events across three cities in December 2020. The events equipped teachers with the appropriate knowledge on water, sanitation, and hygiene as well as ways to share that knowledge with their students.

Mirza Nurun Nahar, Thana Education Officer of Chattogram said,20 teachers from 10 primary schools (in Chattogram) were trained on delivering hygiene education to their students and this is a fantastic initiative from WSUP. Now the teachers are required to share this knowledge with their students and their parents.”

Training of Trainers in Rangpur

Hygiene awareness sessions were also conducted in the communities within the school catchment areas in Rangpur and this will be rolled out to other cities later this month.

Construction of 26 school WASH blocks have also taken place and school management committees have been set up to ensure that these new facilities are maintained under a financially sustainable management model.

Ghana and Kenya

Drawing up on our experience of delivering major handwashing campaigns, WSUP is a lead partner in multiple cities in Kenya and Ghana for the delivery of the UK government and Unilever initiative – Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC).

Student using a handwashing point in Ghana

In Ghana, School Hygiene and Education Programme (SHEP) coordinators and the officials from the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) participated in capacity building workshops focusing on hygiene behaviour change approaches.

Meanwhile in Kenya, teachers from 86 schools were trained on the School of 5 approach that targets handwashing with soap in preparation for school reopening. These were selected by the County Directorate of Education based on needs and priority.

Training of school staff in Nakuru, Kenya

Blog: Handwashing in 2020: working with utilities to protect the most vulnerable


The Ministry of Education through the School Health Division and its partners are working to support schools become WASH friendly. To receive a WASH friendly certification, schools need to adhere to certain minimum standards such as providing access to clean water and safe sanitation facilities, handwashing facilities with soap, and menstrual hygiene management.

We have been supporting schools to build the capacity of school staff, construct and rehabilitate sanitation blocks and handwashing points as well as promote good hygiene practices. School WASH committees have also been set up for the maintenance of the infrastructure and schools need to adhere to this to be recertified.

A school in Mahajanga receives the WASH friendly certification in December 2020


In Mozambique, we have been working on a long-term strategy to improve WASH facilities in schools. Through training of teachers and provision of handwashing points and soap, and hygiene promotion materials, we will be helping schools reopen safely. Watch our film to find out more:

Blog: Defending against disease: Improving WASH in Maputo’s schools

Read more about WSUP’s response to Covid-19

Our schools work mentioned in this article is supported by The Coca-Cola Foundation, Dubai Cares, UK aid from the UK government, Unilever, USAID, and Wasser für Wasser. 

Defending against disease: Improving WASH in Maputo’s schools

January 20th 2021 at 16:02

Broken sanitation facilities with no access to clean water make it difficult for students to enjoy a clean and safe environment in Maputo’s schools. Following years of working in individual schools, a new strategy developed by WSUP and the city council aims to help schools across the city defend against Covid-19 and other diseases.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools is crucial to guarantee good hygiene practices and prevent the spread of the virus. Access to these basic services makes a huge difference to children’s ability to attend school, learn and stay healthy.

In Maputo, poor sanitation facilities in schools have made it difficult for students to enjoy a clean and safe environment. Primary school student Ala Cossa said, “We didn’t have soap, we didn’t have running water. We had to go to the toilet with our personal water bottle to wash our hands.”

Edmundo Ribeiro, Maputo City Councillor for Education and Sport remarked, “One of our strategic goals is to ensure a quality education to primary school students. To ensure quality education, it’s important to create improved infrastructure in water, sanitation and hygiene.”

Watch our film to find out more:

Work in Maputo’s schools has been supported by funders including the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (now The Sanitation & Hygiene Fund) and Wasser fΰr Wasser.

Read more about our work in Mozambique


CEO message: Adapting our work in the face of unprecedented challenges

January 8th 2021 at 11:56

WSUP’s Chief Executive, Neil Jeffery, on how we have been adapting to what was a very unusual year.

2020 was a complex and difficult year. However, it was inspiring to see how our global team, supporters and partners pulled together in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Given the impact of the worldwide pandemic, the relevance of our work for low-income urban residents globally has never been clearer, and its value never greater. Our analysis and understanding of long-term continuous water supply and utility strengthening have never been more in demand from governments and partners.

Asha Ali resident of Mombasa
Improving water supply for residents in Mombasa

While we all look forward to what the New Year will bring, it is worth taking some time to reflect on how we responded to what was a very unusual and challenging year for all of us.

Over the last year, we have had to re-orient the business, revise operational plans, change our working practices, strengthen our technology systems, and support our staff through shifting global conditions. Most importantly we have had to act at all times with an awareness of our responsibility not to increase risks for the urban communities that we work with.

We drew upon our experience of implementing major handwashing campaigns, combined with our unique relationship of trust with local utilities, to deliver rapid customer focused targeted communication to combat the spread of Covid-19.

WSUP is a lead partner in multiple cities in Kenya and Ghana for the delivery of the UK government and Unilever initiative – Hygiene & Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC).

Blog: Handwashing in 2020: Working with utilities to protect the most vulnerable

Provision of handwashing products through the HBCC programme. Credit: Brian Otieno

We are delivering targeted messaging in each city, using our detailed knowledge of utility customer billing, digital messaging, and mass communication to enhance the scale, speed and efficiency of impact. For example, Nairobi Water provides bills and payments by SMS and M-Pesa platforms to customers in the city’s informal settlements, about 70% of the urban population, which gives us an excellent opportunity to target specific COVID messaging to low-income households.

Find out more about WSUP’s response to Covid-19

Many institutions have made commendable efforts to respond to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with significant investment being directed towards ensuring water is available to all. However, it is worth reflecting on whether these efforts are the most appropriate mechanisms to facilitate better response to future emergencies. WSUP’s Director of WASH Sector Support, Kariuki Mugo, discusses ways that we could all be better prepared in this article.

WSUP is working with the utility JIRAMA in Madagascar to build their capacity and help them deliver higher-quality services. Credit: Tsilavo Rapiera

Alongside the implementation of these immediate measures described above, WSUP continues to focus on promoting the long-term availability of financially viable water supplies, particularly for the poorest residents in cities

Learn more about our steps on creating water solutions that will last

In 2020, WSUP continued to advance progress against its Strategic Goals established in our Business Plan 2020-2025, even in the face of Covid-19. We continued to scale up our award-winning SWEEP business model in Bangladesh which allows low-income customers to access high quality sanitation emptying services at an affordable price point, whilst maintaining the profit margin of local enterprises.

Report: A meeting of mindsets for SDG success

Rangpur citywide inclusive sanitation photoshoot (1)
Marketing SWEEP in Rangpur, Bangladesh

Amid heightened global attention on maintenance of continuous water supply to all city residents, WSUP continues to work through our Utility Strengthening Framework to help utilities manage these heightened challenges.

WSUP also continues to encourage governments and municipalities to invest in stronger utilities and embrace the transformative power of great customer service. Quite simply, individuals will pay for a service that they value, and will value a service that they pay for.

Report: Climate resilience in southern Zambia

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to all our supporters and partners for their continued assistance and encouragement in these challenging times.

Despite the difficult situation we find ourselves in right now, we remain optimistic that 2021 will be a year of renewed opportunities and hope, with much to be achieved. We continue to strive towards our commitment to bring clean water, safe sanitation, and hygiene to people who need it the most.

If you share this commitment, please support our work by donating here.

WSUP announced as Million Lives Club member

December 17th 2020 at 11:53

WSUP has been selected as an official member of the Million Lives Club, in recognition of our work with city authorities in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to improve water and sanitation for the poorest residents.

The Million Lives Club celebrates innovators and social entrepreneurs that are scaling and making a significant impact in addressing global development challenges, and the ecosystems and enabling environments that contributed to their growth.

WSUP has been selected for our work alongside local providers, enabling them to develop services, build infrastructure and attract funding so that they can reach low-income communities.

To ensure services can sustainably reach as many people as possible, we work with utilities and businesses on services that generate revenue and advise regulators and governments on how to create an environment in which businesses can thrive.

Since inception, we have helped over 20 million people access improved water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Neil Jeffery, Chief Executive of WSUP said:

“We’re thrilled to become an official member of the Million Lives Club that recognises the importance of a customer-centric focus in global development.

Since we began work in 2005, WSUP has been innovating, testing new technologies and developing new business models that are financially viable, socially equitable and sustainable, helping the poorest urban residents lead healthy and dignified lives. As part of the club, we look forward to new opportunities with like-minded organisations and scaling our innovation to the next level.”

The Million Lives Club is an initiative inspired by members of the International Development Innovation Alliance (IDIA) and supported by a growing partnership of leading development organisations.

Check out our Million Lives Club profile here


New report explores market-based solutions to meet SDG6 targets

December 14th 2020 at 15:33

Inspired by best practice within the private sector, a new report titled A meeting of mindsets highlights how social enterprises and sustainable investors can work together to develop market-based solutions to tackle one of the world’s biggest challenges.

Increasing number of mainstream investors are prioritising sustainability initiatives – a welcome addition to the SDG funding landscape where official development assistance as well as philanthropic investments are being stretched to the limit.

Maputo urban city landscape
Aerial view of a low-income community in Maputo

However, many social enterprises, particularly in the WASH sector and those targeting the bottom of the pyramid, are failing to attract these types of investment.

This is mainly because finance sources, including impact investment, is only made available to those businesses that can prove they know how to use it.

“Meeting the global market need for water requires the characteristics of the business sector, such as scale, speed in decision making, communication and marketing, innovation, and large workforces.”

However, being able to qualify for investment whilst demonstrating how it will be used, is often not enough. To win over investors, enterprises must also prove market viability – does it solve a problem or fill a need or is some way be embraced by the market?

A toilet sales agent with residents in Ghana

On the other hand, financers interested in impact investment, should reflect on the extent to which their expectations have been shaped by traditional, commercial investment and private sector norms.

“While most investors are accustomed to two-dimensional risk and return assessment when considering investments, there needs to be a transition to a three-dimensional approach that evaluates risk, return and impact.”

WSUP’s driving vision is to create a world in which all urban residents including the poorest have access to clean water and safe sanitation. Part of this vision involves connecting different actors who can create change in the WASH sector, offering space for collaborative working and drawing on the strengths of development and commercial approaches to both public sector and market-based solutions.

“What WSUP’s work has in common with these inventors, and entrepreneurs, is the desire to change people’s behaviour and in doing so, prove demand and create a self-sustaining market.”
SWEEP – a market-based solution which brings together the private and public sector to provide inclusive, pro-poor sanitation services

Based on our experience, this new report by WSUP’s Innovation & Consumer Needs Team (ICoN) explores how fundamental practices such as managing growth finance and creating and sustaining consumer demand adopted by successful private sector enterprises can be replicated by development actors pursuing market-based solutions; and the role investors can play in shaping the future of social enterprise.

Download the full report here

Read more on NextBillion: What’s the Matter with WASH?: Why Struggling Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Businesses Need More than Just Investment.

Water-smart, inclusive, and integrated: ways to climate-proof sanitation systems

November 19th 2020 at 09:45

What have toilets got to do with climate change? This World Toilet Day, WSUP is highlighting how climate change is placing a growing strain on urban sanitation systems, and looks at ways to improve the climate resiliency of services to the poorest.

Climate change is threatening sanitation systems in cities. Droughts in southern Africa have led to questions over the suitability of water intensive sewer systems, and a growing realisation that other forms of sanitation which use less water may be more effective.

In countries such as Kenya, Mozambique and Bangladesh, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of flooding which can damage toilets and spread harmful waste through communities.

What can cities do to ensure that everyone has access to safe sanitation in the face of an ever-changing climate?

WSUP has identified three ways to tackle the issue:

Water-smart sanitation systems

In urban areas, traditional sewered sanitation systems use a lot of water. As water availability reduces, so the importance of making best use of existing water resources increases. With a 50% increase in urban water demands forecast for the next 30 years, the systems that made sense 50 years ago may no longer be fit for the future.

In the informal settlement of Mukuru in Nairobi, one of the biggest slums in Kenya, simplified sewers that use much less water than conventional sewerage are being introduced by the Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company (NCWSC).

In some places hit by droughts, such as in southern Zambia, water providers are forced to rely more on groundwater – but in urban settings, groundwater is often polluted by unmanaged sanitation.

Peri-urban community Livingstone
A peri-urban community in Livingstone, Zambia

Southern Water & Sanitation Company Limited (SWSC), the utility responsible for serving customers across 13 districts containing several urban centres, has understood the need to focus more on providing onsite sanitation, particularly to those marginalised communities who live outside of the central urban areas where sewers are not available. As well as improving access to sanitation for people living in peri-urban communities, this work aims to improve water quality for everyone.

Read the full report here – Building resilience to climate change: experiences from southern Zambia

Citywide inclusive sanitation

Poorly designed sanitation systems result in harmful germs being spread through communities, a phenomenon exacerbated by heavy rains and flooding.

The Ngong river passes through the Mukuru settlement and every time it rains, there is regular flooding in the entire settlement. The floodwater mixes with faecal waste from the latrines which then finds its way into people’s homes.

New research commissioned by WSUP is revealing the extent of the problem of faecal waste in communities. A study in one low-income community in Dhaka, Bangladesh, shows the alarmingly high frequency of germs in low-income urban communities suffering from inadequate sanitation.

The research found that health outcomes can be significantly improved with well-managed, closed drains and, when safely managed, fully sealed containment systems are in place and frequently emptied. Though the research is specific to Dhaka, it has relevance for other cities that are facing similar issues.

Clara Mariano (pictured above) is a resident of Chipangrara in Beira, one of many areas in Mozambique affected by increased flooding due to climate change. Poor drainage means that when the area floods her yard fills with wastewater, exposing her family to dangerous diseases.

“The water flow is a mess, I protected my yard but nothing seems to have worked, the yard is usually flooded with water, it is extremely difficult to live under such conditions.”

Following the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai, WSUP has been working to deliver sustainable, long-term water and sanitation solutions to help mitigate the effects of climate change for thousands of low-income residents in Beira.

Read more in this blog – Climate recovery in Beira: sustainable water and sanitation access for a more resilient city

Integrated approach to urban development

Where urban communities flood, fragile toilet infrastructure can easily be damaged, causing residents to have to rebuild in the wake of floods. It is often the poorest residents, who can least afford it, who live in the areas most vulnerable to heavy rains and see their facilities damaged. This also has a major impact on people’s health, dignity and well-being.

Flooding in Rangpur

Cities like Rangpur in Bangladesh are experiencing rainfall at an unprecedented level over the last couple of years, leaving residents with little or no access to proper sanitation facilities. In September, 433mm of rain fell in 30 hours, submerging nearly a third of the city and leaving 500,000 city dwellers trapped in their homes.

Read this story here – How climate change is worsening sanitation in Rangpur, Bangladesh

Tackling the climate change impacts on sanitation in disadvantaged communities will require a coordinated effort with other urban service providers. Residents who are unable to afford safe emptying services have no choice but to dump sanitation waste in open drains and rivers, contaminating the entire water cycle.

An open sewer in Githima, Nakuru county, Kenya

Without rubbish collection services, solid waste blocks up drains, and stormwater builds up in these channels, spreading filthy water through communities. It is therefore vital for sanitation to be considered alongside drainage and solid waste management services.

Too much water or too little water – climate change is damaging people’s ability to have access to safe sanitation.

But with the right action, WSUP believes that cities can ensure that the poorest, most vulnerable people have access to sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change.

Read more about WSUP’s work on climate change

Top image: Melita Zeca lives in the cyclone-hit area of Beira where there isn’t safe and affordable waste collection services thus affecting the health of the residents. 

How climate change is worsening sanitation in Rangpur, Bangladesh

November 17th 2020 at 13:52

For residents like Samsuddin Mia (pictured above), access to a safe and decent toilet is vital in the wake of extreme weather conditions.

Long and heavy rains from June to December are not an uncommon occurrence for residents living in northern parts of Bangladesh.

However, over the last couple of years, cities like Rangpur in the region have experienced rainfall at an unprecedented level during the monsoon season leaving residents with little or no access to proper sanitation facilities.

In September alone, the city witnessed 433mm of rain in a span of 30 hours, submerging nearly a third of the city and leaving 500,000 city dwellers trapped in their homes.

In some areas, there was water logging for nearly fifteen days. The poorest have suffered the most forcing them to move out of their homes and seek refuge with their relatives in nearby areas or in emergency shelters where more than 100 people have access to one toilet.

WSUP is currently working in 10 primary schools for improvements of school sanitation facilities and in their catchment communities in Rangpur. All these communities are situated in the low-lying areas of the city which were under water for three days.

Construction of sanitation facilities on hold as the primary school in Kamarpara is affected by the floods

The aftermath of the floods has left already poor sanitation structures extremely vulnerable, impacting people’s health, dignity and well-being.

Flood water in a resident’s home

Ms Marjina, a resident from Kamarpara – one of the worst affected low-income communities’ said: “the investment for a toilet is too high compared to our financial status. Yet we chose to invest as we know this will bring good health – but reinvesting every year might not be possible for us and many might choose to go back to unimproved options.”

With the unusual rain patterns over the last two years, many residents of this community agree, assuming that this will continue to happen over the coming years.

Another major problem affecting the city is the waste collection systems that are poorly designed, resulting in harmful germs spreading through communities, a phenomenon exacerbated by heavy rains and flooding.

Research recently conducted by ITN-BUET and WSUP found that 45% of toilets in Rangpur have faulty containment systems, many of which were connected to open drains which then mixed with the external environment.

Open drains like the one pictured above are common in Rangpur

The floods in Kamarpara saw sanitation waste from the septic tanks mixing with the floodwater leading to health problems like diarrhoea, dysentery and other skin diseases among the residents.

The picture is not very different in other cities in Bangladesh and it is the poorest who are the worst affected by climate change.

As we mark World Toilet Day this week, we need to act now to ensure that everyone has access to sustainable sanitation that can withstand climate change.

To tackle the impacts of flooding in disadvantaged communities, city authorities need to place more focus on developing climate resilient services for the poorest to ensure communities are healthy and functioning.

Improved toilet construction and ensuring drains are closed rather than open can help. Sanitation also needs to be considered alongside drainage and solid waste management programmes to help reduce the health impacts of poor sanitation in times of heavy rain or flooding.

Even without climate change, access to sanitation in vulnerable urban communities is extremely low in Bangladesh. But with climate change ramping up, and increasing the risk of flooding across the country, living conditions for the poorest may get even worse without concerted action.

Find out more about WSUP's work on climate change

Learn more about our work in Bangladesh


Improving sanitation services a top priority, according to study of under-served urban residents

October 29th 2020 at 17:30

As we mark World Cities Day 2020 on Saturday, new research from WSUP shines light on the complex needs of marginalised communities in cities.

The analysis rated 17 differing services in Accra, Ghana, and Nairobi, Kenya and found that, consistently, residents placed sanitation services close to the top.

Surprisingly, there have been few dedicated studies into needs from the perspectives of the residents themselves. But, as WSUP seeks to promote water and sanitation services that are more integrated within wider developments, increasing this understanding is vital.

In Accra, residents placed flood control as the most important, with sanitation coming fourth top out of 17 different services. In Nairobi, sanitation was ranked top, above other issues such as street paving and water supply. Water supply was seen as less important in Accra, potentially because residents were already relatively satisfied with their service compared to other needs.

Read more on the research project from Guy Norman:

What do slumdwellers want?

Service improvement priorities of slumdwellers in Ghana & Kenya

Guy Norman PhD

Guy Norman was previously WSUP’s Director of Research, and is currently MD and Lead Consultant of Urban Research Ltd.

WSUP is about water and sanitation. But slums have other big problems that need fixing, not just water and sanitation. Often, these problems inter-relate: for example, it may be difficult and costly to lay a water pipe network in a slum because streets are irregular and narrow, and because land ownership is not clearly documented. Similarly, safe sanitation may be made more difficult when domestic garbage collection services are poor: garbage gets thrown into latrines and toilets, and it blocks up street drains, making seasonal flooding worse.

Things also inter-relate in more technical ways. The recent MapSan evaluation of the health impact of a WSUP sanitation intervention in Maputo (Mozambique) is the most rigorous study to date of the health impacts of urban sanitation. This study found that WSUP’s intervention had no direct impact on child health, though an encouraging effect was observed on the prevalence of some faecal pathogens in children born during the study period.

It’s certainly not that the intervention was bad: the researchers evaluated intervention delivery as excellent. But this study strongly suggests that sanitation improvements on their own are not going to be sufficient to break faecal-oral disease transmission pathways in slums: in other words, it seems likely that sanitation improvements in slums are necessary but not sufficient for achieving substantial health gains.

It seems very likely that impacting on faecal-oral disease burdens requires other parallel interventions: for example, better drinking water quality, better food hygiene, perhaps street and compound paving. Honestly, at this stage we don’t really know what! But water and sanitation interventions certainly need to tie more closely to wider slum improvements.

Against this backdrop, what do slumdwellers themselves want? What basic services do they consider most important? Surprisingly little is known about this: there have been few systematic studies in this area.

So under the 2016-2020 Urban Sanitation Research Initiative (USRI), WSUP delivered a study of slumdweller prioritisations of basic services in Nairobi (Kenya) and Accra (Ghana). It was an exciting project for us: it was the first significant piece of research delivered internally within WSUP (all other research projects under USRI were commissioned to external research teams).

Specifically, we aimed to assess what types of basic service improvement are prioritised by slumdwellers; to understand the extent to which prioritisations vary among cities and communities; and to explore whether prioritisations are associated with possible predictors (including current service level, gender and tenure status). We stress that we did NOT set out to “demonstrate” the importance of water and/or sanitation, and we took multiple measures to avoid bias.

Kaptagat Chairman who helped with community mobilization of landlords buy in the project

How did we design the study?

To start with, we developed a list of basic urban services, then refined this through focus group discussions in Nairobi and Accra, and interviews with expert informants (like municipal planners). We ended up with the following list of 17 services:

  • Administrative support with tenure rights
  • Air pollution control
  • Education (primary, secondary)
  • Electricity supply
  • Environment: clean rivers, public spaces
  • Fire-fighting services
  • Flood control & storm drains
  • Garbage removal, street cleaning, pest control
  • Healthcare (clinics, health visitors) Housing build quality
  • Street paving
  • Policing & crime prevention
  • Roads and transport outside community
  • Sanitation: toilets, pit-emptying, sewers
  • Social care (elderly, disabled…)
  • Street lighting within community
  • Water supply

Having developed this comprehensive list, we then designed large-scale household surveys in Nairobi and Accra, aiming to understand prioritisations. We interviewed about 3,000 respondents in each city: this very large sample size allowed us to generate whole-city data, but also statistically reliable data for 8 sub-areas within each city. The surveys covered pretty much all low-income settlements in each city, ranging from “extreme” slums to less extreme moderate-low-income areas. We used a sampling approach called systematic spatial sampling.

The questionnaire comprised various sections, but let’s here focus on the questions around basic services. We didn’t want to present respondents with a long and tedious list of 17 services, so instead we designed and printed cards, one representing each service (the photo shows only 10 cards, but respondents were given all 17).

Cards representing basic services

We asked respondents “Please put the cards into four groups, depending on whether you consider the current service level to be non-existent or poor or adequate or good”.

We then asked: “If the authorities were to invest money in this community, which 5 services do you think should be prioritised?”

So which services were most highly prioritised?

The 5 most frequently prioritised services in Accra were:

  1. Flood control (50% of respondents)
  2. Garbage removal (48%)
  3. Housing quality (48%)
  4. Sanitation (41%)
  5. Social care (39%)

The 5 most frequently prioritised services in Nairobi were:

  1. Sanitation (49% of respondents)
  2. Street paving (47%)
  3. Water supply (46%)
  4. Environment (44%)
  5. Garbage removal (43%)

So we can see that Sanitation and Garbage removal were considered top priorities in both Accra and Nairobi. But Water supply was considered a top priority only in Nairobi.

What about variation WITHIN cities? We don’t have space to go into that here but briefly: there was variation in prioritisations among sub-areas within each city, but in general the same broad patterns were seen across the whole city.

Analysis of association between prioritisation and other variables

The graph below shows a plot for Nairobi of average service prioritisation score (blue) against average respondent perception of current service level (orange):

Graph showing average service prioritisation in Nairobi

From the plot, we can see some indication of a negative association. In order to explore this in a more rigorous statistical way, we used logistic regression to assess whether there were statistical associations between service prioritisation and other respondent/household characteristics (including respondent’s perception of current service level, poverty level, and gender). No space here to explain the analysis in detail: full details in our forthcoming research article.

As expected, there was often an ordered pattern of association between prioritisation of a service and respondent’s perception of the current level of that service. Considering for example Street paving in Accra: by comparison with respondents who rated the current situation as “excellent”:

  • respondents rating Street paving as “adequate” were about 5 times more likely to prioritise this service
  • respondents rating Street paving as “poor” were about 46 times more likely to prioritise it
  • respondents rating Street paving as “non-existent” were about 51 times more likely to prioritise it

These are big effects, indicating very clear association.

But it wasn’t always so simple: for many services, counter-intuitively, people who rated current level of Service X as “poor” prioritised that service more highly than people who rated current level of that service as “non-existent”… perhaps because they didn’t expect that service?

The full association findings are too complex to describe here. But we briefly note an interesting finding, which is that respondent gender showed few strong associations: for example, no association between gender and prioritisation of healthcare.

Clothes hanging to dry_ Githima

Conclusions: simply stated

  • Sanitation and garbage removal were among the 5 most frequently prioritised services in both Accra and Nairobi
  • Water supply was among the 5 most frequently prioritised services in Nairobi, but not in Accra
  • Other highly prioritised services included flood control, housing quality and social care in Accra, and street paving and environment in Nairobi
  • But this certainly does NOT mean that lower-prioritised services are unimportant!

What does this mean?

  • Systematic studies of this type can be of value for informing urban planning at the city level: community prioritisation should probably not be the only factor in investment decision-making, but it’s an important factor.
  • If systematic studies of this type were extended across a wider sample of cities, it seems likely that more generalisable conclusions might emerge, of potential value to wider thinking about urban development.
  • And finally: a multi-services perspective of this type ties to the view that urban water and sanitation shouldn’t be expected to impact on health and wellbeing in isolation: they need to tie to wider improvements in basic services and quality of the urban environment.

Learn more about WSUP's approach to creating sustainable cities

Handwashing in 2020: working with utilities to protect the most vulnerable

October 15th 2020 at 08:25

This year, on Global Handwashing Day, the need for everyone to be able to wash their hands with soap has never been clearer.

The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have shown the importance of universal hand hygiene as the simplest and most effective way to prevent the spread of a virus. For low-income communities around the world, the simple act of washing your hands with soap could save countless lives from Covid-19.

Handwashing has saved millions of people from diseases like cholera, diarrhoea, and dysentery and yet, over 40% of the world’s population lacks access to basic handwashing facilities – including 900 million school-aged children.

WSUP has been working this year to reach those urban communities most at risk from Covid-19, where high population density and lack of access to handwashing facilities mean the virus has the potential to spread quickly.

Read more: responding to the Covid-19 crisis in Madagascar

We are using our long-standing relationships with water service providers to help them reach communities with messaging about handwashing and hygiene, soap and hand sanitiser and to adapt communications channels to meet the long-term challenges of the pandemic.

By working this way, we have already reached over 500,000 people in low-income urban areas across Ghana and Kenya since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Handover of Unilever donations to APDK
WSUP has reached over 500,000 people in low-income urban areas across Ghana and Kenya since the outbreak of Covid-19 with handwashing education and materials

Reaching vulnerable people through community radio

Where local lockdowns have been in effect in Ghana, WSUP has worked alongside the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) to reach low-income communities remotely through community radio stations, a key communications channel in Ghana.

Representatives from CWSA have taken part in radio and online interviews ahead of Global Handwashing Day to discuss handwashing and its importance in helping Ghanaians prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Radio programme on Handwashing during COVID
We reached out to low-income communities in Ghana with TV and radio shows promoting good hygiene

This will ensure crucial messaging around handwashing and good hygiene can reach communities where Covid-19 restrictions mean face-to-face communication is not currently possible.

WSUP has also been working with CWSA and local authorities in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale to identify locations for new handwashing stations. This will enable low-income residents to practice the positive hygiene behaviours promoted on Global Handwashing Day.

Handwashing basin set up by CWSA
Together with CWSA, we identified locations for new handwashing stations in vulnerable communities

Protecting vulnerable groups from stigmatisation

A top priority is ensuring that all segments of the population have the ability to access information and understand the specific risks around Covid-19. In Kenya, community groups have reported that inaccurate understanding of how the disease is transmitted has led to people being disabilities being unfairly stigmatised, because of the false beliefs that these groups of people are more likely to be infected than other groups.

“The other day I was leaving the house and someone – an adult – called me Corona,” says Belinda Adhiambo, a member of the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK). “I realised that there was an education gap around persons with disability and Covid-19.”

WSUP has worked with APDK and other community-based organisations to run train the trainer sessions on handwashing and good hygiene, helping increase understanding of how best to protect against Covid-19. “It is up to me now to pass on the message and make sure no-one gets left behind.”

Belinda Adhiambo representative from APDK
We are working with organisations like APDK to ensure that all segments of the population can access information and understand the specific risks around Covid-19

Strengthening online platforms to help utilities adapt to Covid-19 restrictions

As well as focusing on handwashing, WSUP has been seeking ways to minimise risk of transmission through improved hygiene more generally. In Kenya, WSUP has been working with water service providers to strengthen and extend the online services they offer to customers in low-income areas.

This has reduced the risk of Covid-19 transmission as customers do not need to visit utility offices to pay bills and utility staff do not need to visit households to conduct meter readings.

Read more: the battle to provide clean water in Kenya during the Covid-19 crisis

These improved online services will also enable new customers to sign up to services online and existing customers to quickly report leaks or burst pipes in the network. Once in place, these remote service systems will provide long-term support to utilities and their customers, ensuring essential water services can continue during the pandemic.

KIWASCO team look at ipad
With improved online platforms customers do not have to risk Covid-19 transmission to access to water services

WSUP’s handwashing and hygiene work in Ghana and Kenya has been supported by the Hygiene Behaviour Change Coalition, led by Unilever and the UK government.

Learn more about WSUP's Covid-19 response

“This crisis has helped us to strengthen the collaboration between departments within the city”

October 7th 2020 at 08:05

Razanakombana Rakotonavalona Allyre has been the Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for the Urban Commune of Antananarivo, Madagascar since January 2020.

In his role, he has been at the centre of the city’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. WSUP spoke to Dr Allyre to gain his impressions of dealing with the pandemic.

Overall, how has the city of Antananarivo coped since the crisis hit – both generally, and with respect to WASH?

The Urban Commune of Antananarivo (CUA) was at the heart of the action in response to the Covid-19 pandemic since the crisis hit. In particular, we were responsible for keeping the city clean and limiting the spread of infection.

Through our partnership with FITIA Association [The association led by the First Lady of Madagascar], we mobilised the hygiene inspectors to sensitise and disseminate messages about Covid-19.

Aerial footage, Antananarivo
The Covid-19 pandemic has helped the Government prioritise both hygiene and the role of the WASH department
Can you talk us through the different phases of the crisis – from the initial lockdown, through to cases starting to increase in the city and the more recent return to lockdown?

At the beginning of the crisis, in March, we disinfected the houses of cases that had come into the country, both within the CUA and beyond. During the lockdown, on daily basis and systematically, we disinfected three densely populated markets and public places. We had enough reserve of cleaning materials to be able to continue disinfection even during the second lockdown.

We are now continuing the disinfection following demands from different institutions (public and private) and we have three disinfection centres. From March to May 2020, the CUA was able to disinfect 1200 vehicles per day.

As soon as the Government declared the state of health emergency, the CUA set out to mobilise all its departments including the Fire Department, Municipal Police, Transport and Urban mobility and Social, Health and WASH.

As a leader, how have you found the crisis?

This pandemic represents an opportunity for the WASH Department, as hygiene has become more important both for the Government and for people. The Municipality has even managed to prioritise response actions based on hygiene: mainly awareness raising and disinfection.

The notoriety of the WASH Directorate has improved. If people used to know us as the department in charge of the corpses [note – the hygiene department of the CUA is also responsible for certifying death], now the population knows that we are also responsible of health and hygiene in its entirety.

The available human resources were very limited during the lockdown. However, we used an outcome-based approach and were able to collect information in a short time. That information fed into the Covid-19 response plan, allowing us to mobilise partners and donors. Despite the situation, we were able to continue working in communities.

This crisis has helped us to strengthen the collaboration between departments within CUA. I am so happy to see wider communication on hygiene, the Covid-19 crisis is providing great momentum around handwashing. I have worked to promote handwashing for many years now and realise how powerful communication is. Many people now know what a handwashing station is.

Despite this, we must recognise the challenges that we will have to face about how to sustain the momentum around handwashing during the COVID-19 response and beyond the crisis.

Dr Allyre has led the WASH department in Antananarivo to prioritise Covid-19 and hygiene messaging
In order to defeat Covid-19, universal access to continuous water is needed. Do you think this is possible?

From the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, the CUA was able to allocate treatment centres for Covid-19. Maintaining the effort on WASH sensitisation goes hand-in-hand with improved water access.

The Avotr’Aina project in partnership with CUA, UNICEF, [the national water utility] JIRAMA, and recently the Ministry of WASH is aiming to increase water access for the most vulnerable people through reduction of tariffs at water points for a limited time of three months.

The current water project funded by European Bank of Investment within JIRAMA is welcome. Alongside this, the CUA is exploring options to resolve the lack of water access in several social centres like in Anosizato where an independent borehole has been built.

The Avotr’Aina project in Antananarivo is one way the commune aims to improve short-term water access
How has support provided by WSUP to the Urban Commune, JIRAMA and other stakeholders, helped the situation?

WSUP is one of our long-term partners and continues to support our WASH programme. The municipal hygiene code was renewed in 2012-2013 in partnership with WSUP. Updates and improvements of this hygiene code are currently happening with support from Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and GIZ.

The CUA is recognising that partnering with WSUP strengthens their relationship with JIRAMA and their capacity to collect, use and manage water data. The equipment that was provided by WSUP five years ago, is still functioning and supporting us to perform our daily tasks.

Learn more about WSUP's work in Madagascar

Creating a safe and sustainable water supply for 50,000 low-income residents of Maputo

September 23rd 2020 at 13:35

Increasing urbanisation in Mozambique’s cities is placing ever-growing demand on water services, meaning many vulnerable urban residents have limited or no access to clean, piped water.

Together with Borealis, WSUP worked with the infrastructure asset owner FIPAG and small-scale operators in Maputo to extend the water network, repair water tanks and provide training on how to manage, operate and maintain the piped network. WSUP used high-quality HDPE PE100 pipes to increase the long-term impact of the project.

This has significantly improved the water supply for over 50,000 residents of Maputo as well as creating a more resilient water infrastructure that will mean fewer leaks and less maintenance needed in the long-term.

Watch our video below to learn more:

Learn more about WSUP's work in Mozambique

At the epicentre of the crisis: battling to provide clean water in Kenya

September 10th 2020 at 13:48

In Kenya, the coastal city of Mombasa has been one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Antony Njaramba, Managing Director of the Mombasa Water Supply and Sanitation Company, gives us a first-hand account of how the crisis has affected water supply in the city and how attitudes towards the importance of water are slowly changing.

“When the crisis hit Mombasa in March, we found ourselves in a no-go zone, in terms of accessing some of our customers, because of the lockdown which sealed off some parts of the city. Yet at the same time, our services were categorised as essential and we had to respond to the government directive to keep on supplying water. So we were in a Catch-22 situation of some sort.

Our offices, in central Mombasa, face the Old Town of the city, which was one of the epicentres of the pandemic in Kenya. From my office you could see the policemen guarding Old Town during the lockdown.

Our staff had to keep going into Old Town, to give them emergency water. There are some markets on the borderline, which were the only source of food for the people living in Old Town.

We had to keep supplying water to these markets, so that the people in Old Town could keep on living.

The government directives to continue to supply water to all residents regardless of whether bills were paid were understandable in the crisis, but it has affected our revenues. The first month – March – we lost 35% of our revenues. We have not broken even in the last few years, so this is a big issue.

During the first wave of Covid-19, government mandates to continue water supple severely affected the revenue of water utilities.

Mombasa has been hugely affected by the pandemic. The city’s economy is dependent on two key things – the port, and tourism. Both of these went down in a flash.

When I was in school I read a book by Chinua Achebe called Things Fall Apart. And there was a main character called Okonkwo. One of the seasons they had was one of the worst, where he borrowed 800 yam seeds and planted them and the rains never came, and when they came, they came very destructive. And it was so bad, one man just took a piece of cloth and hanged himself. And after that, Okonkwo used to say, if I survived then, I can survive any other thing.

And for us Covid-19 is the same thing, its been one of the biggest challenges in most managers’ careers, but for me, I was at the centre of it all.

I had to quickly reorganise my team to address the issues that we had to overcome. We divided ourselves into two teams, which would not be in contact with each other. We allowed people to work from home where they could, or to cover local areas to reduce movement as much as possible.

One of our biggest challenges was to provide water in the vulnerable areas. We mapped the city into zones and focused on the most vulnerable areas. We constructed concrete bases to enable us to install a 5,000 litre tank on top. The water was for free, so that people were not tempted to go to cartels. Water cartels always take advantage of a negative situation, to make people’s lives even more difficult.

There were also public service institutions which needed water. Within 24 hours of the government directive being given we went to Kenya Ferries and put 100 taps in. Then we did a hydrological survey and realised that there is fresh water there. So we drilled on the island side of the ferry and the mainland, and connected with a pump, so now there was a guaranteed supply of water for 24 hours.

We know that in another wave of Covid-19, we may not be able to move around freely to bill. So we bought 100 smart meters that can be read remotely, and we picked a few customers just to test. We were amazed at the response – not just in enabling us to social distance, but with the numbers that came through.

Through the efforts of staff, our revenue position is improving. We are now just 10% down and I believe we will be able to catch up in September.

Investing in smart meters will allow utilities like MOWASSCO to safely bill customers if there is a second wave of Covid-19.

When we had the first case of Covid-19 with our staff, 15 staff including myself had to self-isolate.

Personally, this was one of the most trying moments in my entire life. Those three weeks I was in the house, in the room, stuck there, it was scary – but at the same time, I had 300 staff who were looking up to me. I spent a lot of time coordinating with staff, to keep myself busy and sane.

I do think that now, there is greater appreciation from the general public, and the government, about the role of water utilities.

Water has never been on the high table for discussion. When you look at donors, all of them rush to health, but they don’t seem to realise that prevention is better than cure.

The other day I heard that at least Ksh 300,000 [$2,700] had been spent to treat a single Covid-19 case. I don’t think you spend Ksh 300,000 to give someone water. If you were to spend the equivalent on water, I think people would be safer.

But for the first time in eight years, the County government of Mombasa has allocated Ksh250 million to support the water sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for additional investment in water services across Kenya as a way of preventing outbreaks. Credit: Brian Otieno

In Mombasa, we do face a water scarcity problem. We have only enough water to meet around 15% of demand, and around 74% of the population is low-income.

But despite this, I do believe universal water access in Mombasa is possible. Completion of the Mwache Dam, and repair of the Mzima pipeline and construction of a second pipeline, Mzima II, would give us enough water. In addition if we could get a cheaper electricity tariff which was just for water – like there is for streetlights, for example, it could make desalination possible.

But our infrastructure is aging. Some of our pipelines were built in the 1920s. Water is just not something that people have taken seriously. This country is full of water, just mismanaged water. The entire country has a NRW [non-revenue water – water that is lost or not billed for] rate of 43%, a very high number when the global rate is around 22%.

There is a stereotype that water is always available, and as a result we have never properly developed the water sector. This myth about water being just freely available, without the need for investment to manage it properly, needs to be debunked.

We in the water sector are a sum total of failures across the generations, and probably Covid-19, and the spotlight subsequently shone on the water sector, is making our work a bit easier.”

WSUP has worked closely with MOWASSCO for several years, helping the utility to better serve low-income communities with clean water. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic WSUP is currently implementing hygiene promotion campaigns in Mombasa and other Kenyan cities, supported by the UK government / Unilever backed Hygiene Behaviour Change Coalition (HBCC).

Learn more about WSUP's work to increase the capacity of utilities like MOWASSCO


Climate recovery in Beira: sustainable water and sanitation access for a more resilient city

September 1st 2020 at 13:16

In the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, WSUP has been delivering sustainable, long-term water and sanitation solutions to help mitigate the effects of climate change for thousands of residents in Beira.

In March 2019 Cyclone Idai caused devastation across Mozambique, including in the city of Beira which suffered from widespread flooding and severe damage to its water network. A major relief operation saw many residents housed in resettlement camps with limited access to clean water and safe sanitation facilities.

With the support of Borealis and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, WSUP has been working to restore and improve water and sanitation services for low-income residents in the most affected districts of Beira.

Throughout this work WSUP has been focusing on creating more resilient services to ensure that, as climate change makes extreme weather like cyclones more common, vulnerable residents in Beira have sustainable access to clean water and safe sanitation.

WSUP’s work with water utility FIPAG has improved water access for residents of resettlement camps like Ancha Luis. Credit: Stand Up Media

Extending the water network to underserved areas

A key part of WSUP’s work in Beira has been supporting the local water utility FIPAG to extend their water network and provide an improved water supply for their low-income customers. Alongside the utility staff we worked to extend the network to the most underserved areas of the city, particularly areas unable to supply water to additional residents resettled after the cyclone.

This has helped residents like Ancha Luis, a Beira resident currently living in a resettlement camp, access a reliable source of water.

“Every day we faced many challenges to clean ourselves. There was a shortage of water for drinking, washing clothes including the dishes. Now the search for water has become a lot better compared to when we first arrived. We used to have to walk from Block C to Block A, as the resettlement camp is divided in blocks.”

Rehabilitation of the existing water network in Beira is helping ensure a more reliable water service for Joao Manuel. Credit: Stand Up Media

Ensuring the reliability of the existing water network

WSUP has supported FIPAG to rehabilitate 112km of the existing network, including repairing and replacing worn pipes. WSUP helped facilitate communication between FIPAG and the community to promote the benefits of the project and raise awareness of the necessary requirements for households to get a potable water connection. This has helped to provide a more reliable service for low-income customers, ensuring existing water connections can continue to serve residents in the future.

This work has proved crucial for water connections in resettlement camps where large increases in the number of residents after the cyclone meant water fountains could initially only run for a few hours a day. Joao Manuel, a community chief living in a resettlement camp, recalls the dire situation in the days after the cyclone.

“When we arrived here, there was no water. We spent about 15 to 20 days without water and when we did get access it wasn’t enough for everyone.”

In the longer term, WSUP is working with FIPAG to extend water connections in peri-urban communities which are unserved, using high quality PE100 pipes.

WSUP has been supporting members of community-based organisations like Domingos Mafunga to ensure their organisations are able to help affected residents. Credit: Stand Up Media

Supporting community-based organisations serving vulnerable communities

WSUP has also been supporting community-based organisations that are directly supporting the most vulnerable communities in Beira to access water and sanitation services. This has included rebuilding the offices of these organisations and providing training to increase their capacity to support residents struggling in the aftermath of the cyclone.

For Domingos Mafunga, Coordinator of the Vision for Community Development Association, a community-based organisation supporting residents in Beira, WSUP’s support has been vital in ensuring his team can promote good sanitation and hygiene practices to displaced residents.

“The biggest challenge we all face is sanitation. It is a critical activity, because the majority of the population come from rural areas, so they are not used to an urban lifestyle.”

Learn more about our work in Mozambique

Climate resilience in Southern Zambia – new report

August 26th 2020 at 11:31

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor has today published a new report on the need for water and sanitation service providers in Southern Zambia to become more resilient in the face of climate change.

Building resilience to climate change experiences from Southern ZambiaThe report, entitled, Building resilience to climate change: experiences from Southern Zambia, focuses on water shortage in the Zambezi river basin and the steps that the water utility Southern Water & Sanitation Company Limited (SWSC) is taking in response.

Read the report now.

As the effects of man-made climate change become more pronounced, water shortages are becoming more common throughout Africa, with Southern Africa a particular climate change hotspot.

The challenges brought about by climate change are too fundamental to be solved simply by drilling new boreholes to access new water. Instead, utilities need to assess all parts of their operations, from financial management, to governance, customer engagement and staff capacity.

WSUP Utility Strengthening FrameworkThe report also presents the different stages of WSUP’s Utility Strengthening Framework, which uses eight steps to move towards a stronger utility. Click on the image to see the full size graphic.

SWSC has seen its water source shrink significantly in recent years, most notably in 2018-2019, where many regions in Southern Zambia only received 20-30% of the normal annual rainfall.

As a result, WSUP has been working closely with SWSC, with the support of Wasser fuer Wasser, to develop and implement a utility strengthening programme to help it build resilience in the face of growing climate change.

Read Building resilience to climate change: experiences from Southern Zambia now


Join us for World Water Week 2020

August 17th 2020 at 09:23

This year World Water Week will be held virtually, with WSUP co-convening five sessions through the week of 24 August 2020.

With Covid-19 and climate change both demonstrating the need to invest in improved water, sanitation, and hygiene for the poorest people around the world, meeting to discuss these issues is more important than ever.

Learn more about the sessions we are involved in below:

Climate change and water scarcity: how can urban utilities respond?

As the demand for water increases, and climate change places stress on water availability, finding ways to effectively manage urban water systems has never been more urgent. In many parts of the world, climate change and rapid urbanisation are placing enormous pressure on urban water utilities.

Drawing on recent research, in this session we are exploring how utilities can transform their operations to improve water resource management and mitigate the impacts of water scarcity.

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It doesn’t help people if we don’t deploy it!

The world needs more success stories of water innovations and business models operating successfully in underserved markets. WSUP is partnering with Imagine H2O for their Urban Water Challenge to facilitate the implementation of urban water innovations that can help transform lives and communities.

Together with Imagine H2O we are reimagining the parameters of a truly productive partnership to support water innovations that can scale their impact across the region, the continent, and the world.

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Sewers for Resilient Sanitation in the 21st Century

Sewers are vital elements of most urban sanitation systems. What can we learn from past successes and failures to ensure sewers contribute to resilient sanitation for the 21st Century?

We’re exploring historic and emerging approaches to sewer design from condominial to source-separation sewers, to find the best ways to sustainably protect both the environment and public health.

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The invisible link: dignity, safety and health for sanitation workers

Sanitation workers are critical to achieving safely managed sanitation, but their work can be easily overlooked. Millions of sanitation workers around the globe provide essential public services, often at the cost of their dignity, safety, health and living conditions.

Join us as we discuss experiences from around the world of the best ways to protect sanitation workers dignity, health and safety.

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Seen and unseen stress on water resources in climate-vulnerable countries

Bangladesh is on the frontlines of climate change. Sea-level rise and groundwater saline intrusion are forcing more and more people to move to urban areas that are already struggling to provide water to their growing populations.

In this session we are highlighting the multi-faceted effects of climate change in Bangladesh and the need for more integrated approaches to developing sustainable solutions to water resource management.

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What can the water sector learn about customer service from UK energy providers?

August 12th 2020 at 15:30

By Annie Hall, Marketing Specialist

Learning from other sectors is a fundamental part of WSUP’s approach. We bring together experiences from civil society, academia, and the private sector.

In fact, it was WSUP’s interest in the role of the private sector, and the drive to understand low-income consumer needs, that convinced me to make the leap from a career in corporate marketing and creative advertising agencies.

In previous roles, I’ve worked on projects to improve the customer service experience in sectors from energy and pharmaceuticals, to luxury jewellery and technology. However, trying to apply this in a developing market context hasn’t been easy.

I have had to adapt familiar theories, models, and best practice assumptions to account for technology limitations, business maturity, and unique pressures faced by the utilities we work with. Nonetheless, I still look to international industry leaders for inspiration from time-to-time.

In this blog, I share a snapshot of a recent customer experience of my own. This year, I switched to Octopus Energy, a relatively new UK based company that has attracted press attention for their numerous industry awards, and impressive customer service commitments.

From my first interaction, to the regular billing and metering communications I receive now, I have been impressed by their clarity, consistency, and creativity in keeping me engaged. It led me to reflect on what WASH institutions can learn from other utility brands and which, if any, of their customer engagement techniques can be replicated by water service providers in sub-Saharan Africa.

The onboarding process

The onboarding process refers to every interaction a customer has getting set up with a company. For a utility provider this may include the initial customer application and confirmation of when the connection will take place, through to being issued an account number, the first meter reading and delivery of the first bill.

This critical process is where first impressions are formed and it has the potential to disappoint, confuse, frustrate, and leave customers worried that they’ve made the wrong choice.

My onboarding process with Octopus commenced with an immediate email, thanking me for choosing them. I was given a clear and detailed summary of the key information and could see when my supply would start. I was even able to change this with a single click. The email confirmed my payment amount and indicated when to expect the first bill and all subsequent payments.

It’s important to acknowledge the ability to provide such an efficient switching service was heavily enabled by action taken by the UK regulator Ofgem back in 2014 when they radically modernised the switching process to benefit customers.

Regulator engagement forms a core part of WSUP’s work in the WASH sector. Active, informed, and empowered regulation authorities help to drive competitive innovation within industries, which is why it’s so important that a customer-centric mindset is championed by the regulators. WSUP must often encourage the utilities to go above and beyond the minimum standards set by the regulator, whilst supporting the regulator to raise the stakes in parallel.

My welcome email also included a personalised note, with a useful tip regarding how to identify emails that require action from me, versus emails I can read at my leisure.

This email was shortly followed by another, from the company CEO, telling me more about the company’s mission and values and invited me to learn more about how my purchase decision contributes to their greener energy initiative.

Throughout the process I did not have to seek out any information. I was sent regular updates, billing reminders and felt informed, valued, and convinced that I’d made a good choice, not just for me – but for the planet too it seemed!

By contrast, customers seeking a household water connection in a peri-urban area of sub-Saharan Africa can wait several weeks after paying an initial deposit before they see any activity from the service provider. Lengthy processes involving approvals with local councils and sourcing of infrastructure materials mean the customer is left chasing for updates, often queuing at the utility office.

This period spent out of pocket and out of the loop makes customers distrust water utilities.  Many of the utilities we work with miss opportunities to proactively keep customers informed. They could engage customers in their wider vision for healthier communities and add a personal touch to communications simply and cheaply.

Meter readings and bills

Like most utilities, my energy provider requires me to submit regular and timely meter readings – a task no one enjoys! It interrupts your day, and often involves accessing a meter hidden somewhere outside the home. So, Octopus incentivises this in two ways.

Firstly, I can access an online platform to submit my readings on a laptop or mobile in less than three clicks. There are step-by-step instructions to remind me how, and my previous submission is displayed to help me notice any anomalies.

Secondly, every time I submit a meter reading, I have the option to play a virtual wheel of fortune. An animation simulates a game-of-chance, where I can win money off my next bill. I’ve not won anything yet, but I keep playing (and keep submitting my readings) regardless!

It almost doesn’t matter what Octopus has created to pique my interest. The point is, they’ve recognised the effort required of customers to facilitate the billing process and have attempted to make it easier and more enjoyable. WSUP conducts customer journey mapping exercises with utilities to help them identify where their business operations inconvenience customers and try to encourage them to think of their own ways to ease the burden.

It’s all in the mindset

Is it reasonable to expect a small regional water utility in sub-Saharan Africa to deliver a customer experience like mine? No, not yet. But there are there lessons we can learn from other sectors about how to prioritise customer experience within organisational structures and processes.

When talking to Utility Week, Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, marketing and product director at Octopus Energy said, “It’s everyone’s job to do customer engagement.” Rebecca explained how staff training, performance measurement and even where they sit in the office, is built around delivering the best customer experience.

She also talked about how their systems are set up to facilitate individual customers being repeatedly routed to the same six to eight staff members, leading to greater personalisation and accountability. Staff aren’t measured on call handling times because they want staff to give customers the time they need.

Some observers are sceptical about whether Octopus can maintain this high-quality service experience as the customer base grows. However, an attitude of continual learning and improvement seems to be the status quo. “As we keep growing, we need to continue to get better. That’s the biggest challenge, continuing to put pressure on yourself to keep making things better as you scale,” said Rebecca.

It’s not as simple as “build it and they will come”

This is important because building the necessary infrastructure is only part of what is required to bring sustainable water and sanitation services to poorest and most vulnerable urban communities.

Utilities need to continuously work at creating and sustaining demand for their services. When designing business models for low-come consumers, it’s important to remember that ability to pay and willingness to pay are not the same thing. Willingness to pay is driven by a perception of value and like any other customer, low-income customers expect and deserve service experiences deemed worthy of their hard-earned .

Investments in customer experience don’t have to be radical, expensive or underpinned by major technological advancement (although that helps). Often the utilities we work with just need to spend more time putting themselves in the customers’ shoes.

They need to think strategically about the customer communications plan, map key customer journeys and identify where an extra SMS update, a personalised bill communication, a targeted public announcement or a more friendly customer service interaction, might help to transform how customers perceive their service as well as how valued they feel.

If you’re interested in learning more about Octopus energy and how they’re disrupting the UK market with their unique approach to managing customer relationships, check out some of the links below:






The virtuous circle of good customer service: experience from Mozambique

August 6th 2020 at 08:24

By Antonio Madeira, Head of Water, Mozambique

Creating stronger service providers, a core strategic goal for WSUP’s 2020-2025 business plan, requires development of scalable business models that allow services to be provided to low-income customers at a profit.

There are two fundamental ways to make a business model more profitable: increasing revenue or reducing costs (and preferably both). Good customer service is critical for both.

Good customer service leads to greater customer satisfaction, timely payment of bills and customer advocacy, which in turn drives new customer growth via referrals. Poor customer service leads to customer complaints, which are resource-intensive to manage, defaults on bills, negative word of mouth, higher rates of customer churn, and even vandalism.

It can be tempting for public service organisations like utilities to assume customer service is less critical because they are the only provider in the market. However, an absence of direct competition does not mean, customers have no choice. Customers can choose an illegal water connection, they can choose to purchase bottled water, they can seek an alternative source.

Águas da Região de Maputo (AdeM), the primary water utility in Maputo, recognises the importance of good customer service and has been working with WSUP for several years to develop a model that allows them to be more present and available for their hardest-to-reach customers.

AdeM, a water utility in Maputo, has been working with WSUP to develop a model that allows for better customer service in low-income areas of the city.

Consequences of undervaluing low-income customers

Like many of the utilities WSUP works with, maintaining a consistent, reliable, and financially sustainable engagement with low income communities had proved challenging for AdeM. A lack of trust had emerged between low income communities and the utility.

Firstly, there was a broadly held perception that water services in low income communities were not prioritised due to less water supply network coverage, fewer household connections and comparatively less water consumption making the market less attractive to the utility. This was exacerbated internally at AdeM, by weak bill collection efficiency in poorer areas of the city.

Secondly, there was a belief among customers that their service was substandard, particularly in relation to wealthier neighbourhoods assumed to receive a better supply experience. For example, in times of water shortage, low income communities believed their supply would be cut first.

The extent to which these perceptions were accurate was arguably less important than the need to change them. What AdeM needed was to shift their relationship with customers into a position of greater trust and cooperation.

Customers needed to feel valued by AdeM and equally deserving of quality service and attention awarded to higher income areas. In return, AdeM needed low-income communities to view their service as good value for money and worthy of timely and consistent bill payments.

The power of community-based organisations

AdeM currently contracts several community-based organisations (CBOs) across the city. The model operates on a performance-based contract whereby responsibility for local monitoring of bill payment, meter reading, delivery of invoices and reporting leakages are delegated to a community-based organisation. CBOs conduct their tasks by visiting low income customers at home, whilst maintaining daily communication with AdeM, through the zone manager.

The decision to hire CBOs was driven by the fact that the CBO staff would be working in their own neighbourhoods. They would therefore have better knowledge and appreciation of the problems and be likely to adopt a more authentic, understanding, and effective approach to engaging low income communities.

Once recruited, CBO staff undergo training delivered by WSUP and AdeM, covering technical aspects such as understanding the billing systems, through to softer skills such as community interaction techniques.

The difference between this model and use of traditional meter readers is that the local staff have more time to dedicate to building relationships with customers, making themselves available for any queries or feedback during their regular visits. This change has been positively received by residents.

“We now have someone to report to at the utility Águas da Região de Maputo as well as local young people who can read water meters in the neighbourhood,” says Carlota Zefanias, resident Aeroporto B, Maputo.

Carlota Zefanis, a resident of Maputo, has benefited from the improved customer service of AdeM in her district. The work was funded through WSUP’s partnership with the Coca-Cola Company. Credit: Ernanio Mandlate

Benefits for AdeM

In areas managed by CBOs, AdeM has seen an increase in debt recovery values, billing rates, and reading rates of meters, which enable the utility to calculate bills more accurately. AdeM have also seen the CBOs deliver added value in managing dissatisfaction in times of crisis.

An increase in water tariff in 2018 unfortunately coincided with a review of AdeM’s billing cycle, which led to multiple bills in quick succession and unexpected invoices, understandably impacting the poorest communities most significantly.

Whilst better planning would have been preferable in mitigating customer dissatisfaction, the availability of CBO staff to assist with customer queries, explain the changes, be sympathetic to their frustrations and support customers in managing a debt repayment plan, meant that bill collection efficiency recovered quickly.

Deployment of the CBO model has also led to significant improvements in the tracking of error cases and account anomalies. While collecting readings, CBOs will sometimes encounter obstacles such as faulty meters, water damage obscuring visibility, or the customer simply being unreachable.

Thanks to the CBO staff capturing the most frequent and impactful error cases, AdeM has an up-to-date customer database and a better system for prioritising action to improve quality of service supply.

The successful CBO model used by AdeM will be scaled-up to a further five areas by September 2020. Credit: Mario Macilau

The future

Approximately five years from the launch of the CBO approach, the model is delivering impressively and is a fantastic example of how customer-centric investment in simple human touchpoints can transform the service experience and have a meaningful impact on the bottom line. Bill collection efficiency increased from 50% in 2009 to 80% in 2016 in the newly served low-income areas. Additionally a customer survey found that 59% of households considered the water bill a ‘reasonable price’.

The model is currently being scaled up and implemented in 10 areas of the city, with the costs shared between AdeM and WSUP funders. A further five areas are planned to be included by September 2020. However, this is only the beginning. The CBO model was always planned to be developed in stages, culminating in fully delegated management of service areas whereby the CBOs will have complete responsibility for service delivery including billings, revenue collection, leakage management and customer liaison.

The delegated management contracts will be performance based with the CBO’s being paid an agreed percentage of the revenue collection. The principles of moving to this stage have been discussed and agreed with AdeM and the first pilot is expected this financial year with replication to several areas in 2021/2022.

Arsénio Mate, project manager at AdeM, describes the approach as part of the organisation’s plan to provide better quality service to customers, especially for those living on the periphery. “We welcome the initiative and we hope they will continue working with us to serve those in need with good quality service”, he says.

This work is part of WSUP’s strategy to support AdeM in improving operations and service delivery, through a wider utility improvement programme over the next three years. This strategic approach addresses AdeM’s water service delivery in a holistic framework to improve KPI’s for service delivery, commercial returns and to meet future demand including reducing NRW losses.

Find out more about WSUP's work in Mozambique here