Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor

Transforming cities for universal water and sanitation access

Lead Organization

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor

London, England, United Kingdom


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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

People need water and sanitation to live, work and prosper. Yet today, 2.3 billion people lack access to basic sanitation, and nearly 1 billion lack access to even basic water services. Increasingly, this is becoming an urban issue. Some 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this is projected to reach 68% by 2050.Through our approach, we create long-term, transformational change by building and maintaining a well-functioning system for water and sanitation service delivery. We also work with local and national governments to build the enabling environment for sustainable business and support the development of legislative, regulatory and public finance mechanisms that ensure pro-poor inclusion in service delivery.WSUP’s solution to citywide water and sanitation development, with a focus on the poorest customer in a city, would generate massive gains in human prosperity, wellbeing and economic activity.

Problem Statement

Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and this is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. The urban areas experiencing significant population growth are informal and unplanned settlements that expand every day with new arrivals from rural areas looking for better jobs and living standards. 900 million urban residents currently live in these settlements with limited or no access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.Barriers to achieving universal access to WASH services include: a) poor performance of utilities – poorly trained staff coupled with failing infrastructure, which creates a vicious cycle of poor services and low financial viability; b) inappropriate institutional frameworks, weak regulatory mechanisms and lack of incentives to serve low-income consumers; c) an inability of large-scale investment programmes by international financial institutions to prioritise the hardest-to-reach; and d) lack of time spent on critically assessing the effectiveness of the approaches and learning from successes and failures. A functioning urban WASH system will only be achieved in partnership with others and by mobilising the appropriate type of resources. It will require deeper capacity from national governments, international finance institutions, new development banks and funds and the private sector to reach the poorest citizens. It will require the strengthening of capabilities at a whole city level, and targeted business model development to overcome barriers and gaps in service coverage. Finding ways to utilise technology so that it can increase effectiveness of services, will be crucial.

Solution Overview

Water and sanitation are essential for healthy lives. Our water and sanitation solutions for under-served, urban residents will help to transform cities to benefit the millions who lack access to water and sanitation and make a meaningful contribution to SDG 6.Over the five-year grant period, our goal is to support universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the urban areas of the countries in which we work and expand into new countries to increase our impact. We will do this by:1.Integrating water, sanitation and hygiene services within wider urban development to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable2.Strengthen and expand our technical and business support to utilities, municipalities and water and sanitation enterprises 3.Seek out and build partnerships to accelerate urban water, sanitation and hygiene provision at scale4.Drive transformation within the urban water, sanitation and hygiene sector through rigorous research, data-driven learning, dissemination and influencing. We have dedicated officers in all our countries, who track the outcomes and associated impact of our activities while also producing research to advance sector thinking around how to best provide water and sanitation services to low-income urban communities. WSUP’s rigorous global monitoring and evaluation methodology, was co-designed with the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID). Our solution will drive systems change in towns and cities, prioritising transformation in Lusaka and Nakuru as well as using the learning from those cities to influence change in the other countries in which we work.

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Project Funders

  • UK Department for International Development - 2020
  • Coca Cola Africa Foundation
  • Stone Family Foundation

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