Water, Sanitation and Urbanisation
Published on SSWM (http://www.sswm.info/)

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Water, Sanitation and Urbanisation

Compiled by:
Dominique Senn, seecon international gmbh, Dorothee Spuhler, seecon international gmbh

More and more people throughout the world are living in urban centres. The trend of urbanisation represents important challenges in terms of water supply and sanitation management in developed as well as in developing countries. The challenge in the developed world is mainly to prevent existing infrastructure from decay and to initiate a transition from disposal-oriented regimes and “end-of-pipe” solutions towards more sustainable approaches with a focus on reuse options. Developing countries however are often struggling with insufficient infrastructure and low water supply and sanitation coverage particularly in rapidly growing urban slum settlements and with the massive consequences e.g. in terms of health. Urban sustainable sanitation and water management (USSWM) offers options for improvement.

Introduction

Urbanisation is one of the most important demographic trends of our time. In 2008, the number of people living in urban centres worldwide has for the first time surpassed the number of people living in rural areas. It is estimated that by 2050, the percentage of urban population will reach nearly 70% (BIRCH et al. 2012).

Urbanisation trends and estimates in major regions of the world in percent from 1950 to 2050. Source: UN-DESA 2010 and UN-DESA 2011

Urbanisation trends and estimates in major regions of the world (in % from 1950 to 2050). Source: UN-DESA (2010) and UN-DESA (2011)

Four main factors are responsible for urban growth: a) the natural demographic growth of urban populations, b) the absorption of rural settlements located at the edges of expanding cities, c) the transformation of rural towns into urban centres and d) migratory movements from rural areas to cities.

Urbanisation represents a challenge for water and sanitation management in developed as well as in developing countries. While cities in developed countries often struggle with high operation and maintenance costs and the decay of existing infrastructure, rapid urban growth in the developing world is seriously outstripping the capacity of most cities to provide adequate services for their citizens (COHEN 2006). In rapidly growing urban slums where there is no planning and few facilities, the number of people living without access to basic water and sanitation services is still increasing. This is of particular concern considering that the WASH sector represents the foundation on which broader goals of poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, social development, and gender equality must be built (BIRCH et al. 2012) (see also access to water and sanitation and water sanitation and development).

 

The Challenge of Water Supply and Sanitation in the Context of Urbanisation 

Conventional urban water supply and sanitation management is generally characterised by an unsustainable use of water and nutrients. This represents important environmental, economic and social challenges, which are intensified by the process of urbanisation.

Major differences between the natural water cycle and the conventional urban water cycle. Source HEALTHY WATERWAYS 2011

Major differences between the natural water cycle and the conventional urban water cycle. Source: HEALTHY WATERWAYS (2011)

 

Water Supply and Sanitation in Slum Settlements: A Particular Challenge for Developing Countries

Apart from the general challenges of water supply and sanitation in the context of urbanisation, which have been described above, developing countries are often confronted with an additional challenge: the rapid growth of slum settlements (also referred to as “peri-urban areas” as they are often located at the peripheries of the cities, e.g. favelas in Brazil or townships in South Africa). Data suggests that in a large number of the world’s poorest countries, the proportion of urban poor is increasing faster than the overall rate of urban population growth. An estimated 72 % of the urban population of Africa now live in slums. The proportion is 43 percent for Asia and the Pacific, 32 percent for Latin America, and 30 percent for the Middle East and Northern Africa (COHEN 2006).

The proportion of each country’s urban population living in slums. Source: SPAGNOLI n.y.

The proportion of each country’s urban population living in slums. Source: SPAGNOLI (n.y.)

Characteristics of Slum Settlements

Water Supply and Sanitation in Slum Settlements

Households with water left and sewerage right connection in sub-Saharan African Cities. Source: WUP and WSP 2003

Households with water (left) and sewerage (right) connection in sub-Saharan African Cities. Source: WUP & WSP (2003)

Although efforts to achieve universal water access have been underway for decades (see also the right to water and sanitation and water sanitation and development), the number of people living without access to basic water and sanitation services is still increasing. One main reason for this is the rapid expansion of urban slums where the characteristics described above make the provision of basic infrastructure extremely difficult. Urban slums therefore generally lack improved water supply and sanitation facilities and other infrastructure such as roads, electricity and solid wastecollection.

 Typical Water Market Situation in African Cities. Source: WUP and WSP 2003.

Typical Water Market Situation in African Cities. Source: WUP & WSP (2003)

In order to cover their needs with respect to water supply, the peri-urban poor often depend on a variety and combination of means such as hand dug wells, boreholes, water vendors, rainwater harvesting, privately operated wells and human-powered distribution or motorised distribution, gifts from neighbours, informal operators or clandestine connections. The sources that are used vary according to their availability and accessibility and to the intended use.

Pit latrines are commonsanitation facilities in urban slums. However, in many cases even such basic means are lacking and people are forced to practice open defecation or dispose of their excreta in plastic bags which they throw on the roofs or at the street (so-called “flying toilets”).


Consequences of the lack of water supply and sanitation services

 

The Way Forward: Urban SSWM (Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management)

Although urban areas present major challenges for adequate water and sanitation management, “they also present a potential efficiency of scale in basic service provision never possible in the rural context. Urban systems also present the best opportunity for a transition to integrated service management, leveraginginvestments in energy, transportation, water, and sanitation in order to create more innovative and environmentally sustainable human development and natural resource management” (BIRCH et al. 2012). In order to achieve urban sustainable sanitation and water management, the following aspects should be considered (see also case studies on Urban SSWM).

The natural water cycle, the conventional urban water cycle and the sustainable urban water cycle. Source: HEALTHY WATERWAYS 2011

The natural water cycle, the conventional urban water cycle and the sustainable urban water cycle. Source: HEALTHY WATERWAYS (2011)

Linear versus cyclical wastewater management. Source: HOWE et al. 2011.

Linear versus cyclical wastewater management. Source: HOWE et al. (2011)

References

BIRCH, E.L.; MELEIS, A.; WACHTER, S. (2012): The Urban Water Transition. Why We Must Address the New Reality of Urbanization, Women, Water, and Sanitation in Sustainable Development. In: sWH20: The Journal of Gender and Water 1, 6-7. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania. URL [Accessed: 24.09.2013]. PDF

CHOCAT, B. (2002): Sustainable Management of Water in Cities. Valencia: Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo. URL [Accessed: 12.09.2013]. PDF

COHEN, B. (2006): Urbanization in Developing Countries. Current Trends, Future Projections, and Key Challenges for Sustainability. In: Technology in Society 28, 63-80. Philadelphia: Elsevier. URL [Accessed: 12.09.2013]. PDF

CORCORAN, E. (Editor); NELLEMANN, C. (Editor); BAKER, E. (Editor); BOS, R. (Editor); OSBORN, D. (Editor); SAVELLI, H. (Editor) (2010): Sick Water? The central role of wastewater management in sustainable development. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UN-HABITAT, GRID-Arendal. URL [Accessed: 05.05.2010]. PDF

GROENWALL, J.; MULENGA, M.; MCGRANAHAN, G. (2010): Groundwater, self-supply and poor urban dwellers. A review with case studies of Bangalore and Lusaka. (= Human Settlements Working Paper, 24). London: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). URL [Accessed: 15.03.2012]. PDF

HEALTHY WATERWAYS (Editor) (2011): What is Water Sensitive Urban Design?. Brisbane: Healthy Waterways. URL [Accessed: 19.09.2013].

HOWE, C. A. (Editor); VAIRAVAMOORTHY, K. (Editor); STEEN, P. N. van der (Editor) (2011): Sustainable Water Management in the City of the Future. Findings from the SWITCH Project 2006-2011. Delft: UNESCO-IHE. URL [Accessed: 06.02.2013]. PDF

LUETHI, C.; MCCONVILLE, J.; NORSTROEM, A.; PANESAR, P.; INGLE, R.; SAYWELL, D.; SCHUETZE, T. (2009): Rethinking Sustainable Sanitation for the Urban Environment. (= The 4th International Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism (IFoU)). Amsterdam/Delft: International Forum on Urbanism (IFoU). URL [Accessed: 12.09.2013]. PDF

MAFUTA, C. (Editor); FORMO, R.K. (Editor); NELLEMANN, C. (Editor); LI, F. (Editor) (2011): Green Hills, Blue Cities: An Ecosystems Approach to Water Resources Management for African Cities. A Rapid Response Assessment. Arendal: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), GRID-Arendal. URL [Accessed: 17.09.2013]. PDF

NORSTROEM, A. (2007): Planning for Drinking Water and Sanitation in Peri-Urban Areas. A Proposed Framework for Strategic Choices for Sustainable Living. (= Swedish Water House Report, 21). Stockholm: Swedish Water House (SWH). URL [Accessed: 16.09.2013]. PDF

PARKINSON, J.; TAYLER, K. (2003): Decentralized Wastewater Management in Peri-Urban Areas in Low-Income Countries. In: Environment and Urbanization 15, 75-90. Thousand Oaks/London/New Delhi/Singapore: SAGE Journals. URL [Accessed: 12.09.2013]. PDF

SPAGNOLI, F. (n.y.): Statistics on Poverty, Urbanization and Slums. Wordpress. URL [Accessed: 17.09.2013].

TEARFUND (Editor) (2008): Water and Sanitation: The Economic Case for Global Action. Teddington: Tear Fund. PDF

UN-DESA (2010): World Population Prospects. The 2010 Revision. New York: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (UN-DESA). URL [Accessed: 19.09.2013].

UN-DESA (2011): World Urbanization Prospects. The 2011 Revision. New York: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (UN-DESA). URL [Accessed: 19.09.2013].

UNESCO (Editor); VEOLIA WATER (Editor); PS-EAU (Editor) (2004): Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Development. The Challenge of Cities in Developing Countries. Paris: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Veolia Water and Progamme Solidarité-Eau (pS-Eau). URL [Accessed: 13.09.2013]. PDF

For further readings, case studies, awareness raising material, training material, important weblinks or the related powerpoint presentation, see www.sswm.info/taxonomy/term/