Lucy Stevens


Lucy Stevens is Practical Action's Policy & Practice Adviser - Energy and Urban Services

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Posts by Lucy

  • Habitat III: The buzz word is “implementation” – but will anything really change?

    Quito, Ecuador, Quito
    October 17th, 2016

    Quito Habitat IIIThis week in Quito, the UN Secretary General and delegations from around the world are gathering for the Habitat III conference, and to sign up to the “New Urban Agenda”. This is the first all-UN meeting since the SDGs were agreed and the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. It is a once-in-twenty years opportunity for all member states to agree to a more sustainable, equitable, resilient future for the world’s cities and urban spaces.

    Practical Action is here, speaking at events, and as a member of the General Assembly of Partners, and the World Urban Campaign. We are talking about a greater voice for slum dwellers and the informal sector based on our urban water, sanitation and waste management work. A team from our Latin America office are here talking about the great work we do on disaster risk reduction in urban contexts in general, and as part of the Zurich flood resilience alliance.

    Unlike many UN negotiations, the debate here is less about agreeing the fine details of the text, and more about what will follow. The buzz word everywhere is about ‘implementation’. We need to move from discussion to putting this new agreement into practice on the ground. And the need for that is enormous. The world’s urban populations continue to grow, and with it urban inequalities and the number people living in dire poverty is also growing. People continue to settle on lands which are at risk of natural disasters. And at the same time, evictions of slum dwellers continue, sometimes in the name of development.

    facilitators-raju_origThis stunning set of photographs taken by women slum dwellers as part of a PhD project we are jointly supporting with the Bartlett Centre, UCL, shows some of the daily struggles of accessing water in Kathmandu.

    The Habitat III process is calling for ‘implementation’ and Practical Action among many others is already implementing work in the spirit of the New Urban Agenda: making space for the voices of slum dwellers and informal workers, ensuring they can live with dignity and without fear in safer, cleaner environments. We were already doing this, and will continue to do this.

    Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

    Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

    So what added value with having a global agreement bring? Past agreements of this sort provided some added leverage for a few years, and then were largely forgotten, having very little influence. First, it is only if this agreement can be tied both to the SDGs and to global accountability mechanisms that it will really have some traction. Second, it needs to be localised and made real not at the level of national governments, but for local authorities and city leaders.

    The agreement requires a report on progress to the UN General Assembly every four years, feeding into the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development as a way of ensuring coherence with the Sustainable Development Goals. But will this really be enough to ensure progress? So for all the excitement of a global agreement being signed this week, this is surely just the start. Much work remains to be done to lock-in the good words and turn them into something meaningful.

    Practical Action at Habitat III

    Tuesday 18th: 8-10am, National Library CSO Stakeholder Roundtable

    Tuesday 18th: 8-9am R7 Building Inclusive and Resilient Cities for the urban poor to withstand natural disasters. Practical Action Peru DRR lead Pedro Ferradas talking about our experiences of DRR and reducing vulnerabilities.

    Wednesday 19th: 9:30-10:30 R12 Practical Action side event: Slum Dwellers, youth, city-wide planning and accelerating urban service delivery together with DPU and World Vision International.

    Video of Lucy speaking about the issues that matter to Practical Action as part of the World Urban Campaign.


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  • World Toilet Day 2015: good news and bad news

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    November 18th, 2015

    But Mummy, I CAAAAN’T WAIT – the familiar cry for anyone with children. Fortunately we live in a place where a safe, clean toilet our children can easily use, with soap and water on hand, is never far away.

    But this basic human right is not available to everyone. #wecantwait is the theme for this year’s World Toilet Day on 19th November.

    BAD NEWS: The 2015 JMP report finds that 2.4 billion people are still without access to improved sanitation facilities and 946 million still defecating in the open. Schools and health centres also frequently lack these basic facilities.

    GOOD NEWS: Globally, progress has been made, and we should celebrate this. In 1990 only 61 countries had more than 90% of their population with access to improved sanitation. In 2015, there are 97 countries that have reached that milestone.

    BAD NEWS: However, in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa the situation has worsened over the last few years, as provision of sanitation has failed to keep up with population growth. There was a decline in water or sanitation coverage in urban areas in 14 out of 46 countries between 1990 and 2015. There are large inequalities in access within urban areas according to wealth, and while in many countries, the gap is closing, that is only happening slowly.

    We know this matters because the health burden of poor sanitation in urban areas can be particularly acute. It has been linked to child malnutrition and stunting as a result of recurrent bouts of diarrhoea. The difficulties for women to find a safe, dignified place to use a toilet and in particular to deal hygienically and discretely with menstruation are often enormous.

    GOOD Beautiful toiletNEWS: is that governments and donors have been trying to catalyse change, and put more focus on sanitation. The Sanitation and Water for All partnership brings together over 90 country governments, external support agencies, civil society organisations and others to catalyse political leadership and action. The last set was agreed in April 2014, with commitments made by 43 countries and 12 donors.

    Many of the country commitments were about strengthening the enabling environment, and so did not focus on particular targets or segments of the population. On the other hand, countries were encouraged to focus in particular on reducing inequalities and improving sustainability. In three-quarters of country overarching visions there was a recognition of the elimination of socio-economic or geographic inequalities, and 27 countries made a total of 58 commitments to eliminating inequalities.

    BAD NEWS: However there were still only 34 commitments (11%) which mentioned the word ‘urban’ and only 6 (2%) which made specific reference to poor urban communities or urban inequalities. One commitment referred to tackling faecal sludge management which is a key part of the urban sanitation challenge.

    In September this year, the global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 tackles water, sanitation and hygiene, and within that Target 6.2 is about sanitation:

    Target 6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

    To be measured as: Percentage of population using safely managed sanitation services

    Which means: Population using a basic sanitation facility (current JMP categories for improved sanitation) which is not shared with other households and where excreta is safely disposed in situ or transported to a designated place for safe disposal or treatment

    This goal is ambitious. We have a long way to go in achieving even basic sanitation for all, and only 15 years to achieve it. At the next high level meeting of SWA in April 2016, we would love to see more commitments with a specific focus on the urban poor, and on the safe disposal, transportation and treatment of excreta.

    Practical Action has been working on these issues on the ground for a number of years, and has decades of experience of working with the urban poor in Africa and Asia. We have exciting work on faecal sludge management in particular with urban poor communities in South Asia. We are committed to sharing our learning ensuring a wider adoption. Based on this experience we are calling for:

    • The SDGs, to measure and prioritise access to basic sanitation for all, while in urban slums in particular, work towards safely managed sanitation which will actually lead to improved health.
    • Data disaggregation which helps us understand the global progress (or lack of it) on sanitation for the urban poor – welcoming the work already done on this by JMP
    • More countries and donors to make commitments specifically for the urban poor in the next round of Sanitation and Water for All and at the South Asian Conference on sanitation in January 2016.
    • More and better quality engagement with civil society organisations in sanitation planning at national and local levels
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  • Global Handwashing Day 2015: Raise a hand for hygiene

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    October 15th, 2015

    ‘Have you washed your hands?’ – a phrase that’s part of the repertoire of every parent’s cracked record soundtrack that includes other phrases such as ‘Come on!’ and ‘please stop poking your brother’…

    GHD_signat_lockup1This week however, that global chorus gets amplified with multiple events in villages, towns and schools all over the world as people celebrate Global Handwashing Day on 15th October.

    Practical Action will be leading celebrations or taking part in them in at least four countries across Asia and Africa, with the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people. These are wonderful, colourful events often with drama, and song, and of course some speeches – geared in the first place to getting the simple message across about the life-saving importance of washing hands at critical moments. The photo below is from the national event in Dhaka Bangladesh last year.

    Global Handwashing Day celebrations in Dhaka in 2014

    We know that this is particularly important for the urban poor where the density of population, atrocious sanitation and drainage conditions and irregular and sometimes unsafe water supplies pose high health risks. We often find that health indicators such as rates of diarrhoea, mortality rates for children under 5, and stunting (related to poor sanitation) are all higher in urban slums than the average for rural areas. A review of all randomised trials published earlier this year confirms that handwashing can prevent around 30% of diarrhoea episodes.

    However, this year the event takes on added significance as a result of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Under the previous Millennium Development Goals there was no mention at all of hygiene, and the WASH community has worked hard to ensure it is now included. Under Goal 6 to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, target 6.2 is for ‘adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all’. Although this inclusion is encouraging, the gains could be lost if the target cannot be measured. Currently the proposals for indicators only include a measure of sanitation and not of hygiene.

    Organisers of Global Handwashing Day events around the world are therefore seeking to convey messages not only to participants, but to politicians. Under the banner of Raise a Hand for Hygiene we are looking toRaise a hand 2015

    • Raise awareness of the newly passed SDG commitment to hygiene, but also advocate for a dedicated indicator to measure this component
    • Ensure greater funding for hygiene behaviour change and handwashing infrastructure as part of national WASH or health budgets (the GLAAS report in 2014 found that countries are spending less than 1% of their WASH budget on hygiene promotion)
    • At Practical Action we are particularly concerned about the significant health risks that the urban poor face as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, leading to health outcomes which are often worse for slum dwellers than rural populations. More needs to be done to address their needs in ways which are adapted to the conditions they face.
    • Motivate local champions to carry the messages of hygiene and handwashing throughout the year
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  • World Habitat Day: Why public spaces matter for the urban poor

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    October 6th, 2015

    This week the world marked World Habitat Day under the theme of Public Spaces for All. The day celebrates the importance of the world’s cities and human settlements to our global economy and well-being.World-Habitat-Day

    The day has added significance this year because, for the first time, the role of cities and human settlements has been recognised as a key driver of development. It has been included as Goal 11 of the newly passed ‘Sustainable Development Goals’.

    Practical Action was part of the campaign to ensure this goal was included because the towns and cities of the developing world will be where almost all population growth will be concentrated in the next 50 years. Having a dedicated goal around it ensures a focus on cities and local authorities (not just national governments) as vital to creating a sustainable future. It should also help address one of the world’s most glaring aspects of inequality, that found between the rich and poor within cities.

    Practical Action has worked for nearly 20 years on improving the lives of slum dwellers. Our current 5-year strategy has seen us ramp up our commitment, planning to double the proportion of our project work that focuses on the urban poor. This would bring it closer in line with the proportion of the world’s poor that now live in cities (around 25%).Faridpur slum pathway

    We support this year’s focus on public spaces because we’ve seen how important they are in the lives of poor people. This is not just about space for leisure. It is critical to people’s livelihoods:

    The battle for sustainable development will be won and lost in cities. Public open space is a vital resource for the poor, and a key part of how cities can either be made more or less friendly to the needs of the poor. Let’s celebrate the public open spaces we love and recognise they are not a luxury, but a vital part of many people’s lives.

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  • New SDG on WASH is great, but 3 things to watch for

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    September 28th, 2015

    Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed in 2000, the profile and importance of access to an ‘improved’ source of drinking water and sanitation has risen. A landmark was achieved in 2010 with the passing of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. Ending open defecation has become a key topic for UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson. Many governments have set themselves challenging commitments and targets. And as part of the set of Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted this week (good summary from The Guardian here), universal access to a higher standard of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has been included as a full goal (not a sub-target as previously in the MDGs).

    The SDGs aim to be ambitious. Aspirational. And in they certainly are for WASH. Goal 6 is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Not only are we now aiming for universal access, but we have raised the bar higher in terms of quality too (Target 6.1 is for ‘safe and affordable drinking water’ and Target 6.2 is for ‘adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all’ measured as the population using ‘safely managed’ services).

    Collecting water from a protected spring, in Kisumu, Kenya. This counts as an 'improved water source', but could still be contaminated.

    Collecting water from a protected spring, in Kisumu, Kenya. This counts as an ‘improved water source’, but could still be contaminated.

    Are we likely to be able to rise to the challenge? The MDG has certainly helped increase pressure for action (as Simon Trace reflects), and the world met the MDG target for water in 2010 (88% of people with access to an improved source of drinking water) – we are now at 91% coverage according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme. And yet it is estimated that globally at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces, and in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa, the situation has deteriorated. On sanitation, the world has missed its MDG target of 77% coverage by almost 700 million. There are still a billion open-defecators and 2.4 billion without access to an improved (never mind a ‘safely managed’) toilet. Hygiene was not part of the MDGs and its inclusion now is welcome, and yet countries are spending less than 1% of their WASH budget on hygiene promotion.

    Practical Action works in particular on the WASH needs of poor urban communities. Once the SDGs have been signed, what are the three big things we will be keeping a close eye on as the international community and national governments start to think about how the goals can be implemented:

    1. Who is prioritised? There is concern being voiced about whether the push for a higher quality of WASH access will draw resources away from the needs of the poorest who are without even a basic level of access. The JMP is committed to continuing to monitor both ‘improved’ and ‘safely managed’ access – but will this provide enough incentive? Will governments choose ‘safely managed’ for the few over ‘improved’ access for all? Will the poorest, including slum dwellers, continue to be left behind?
    2. The right technologies and approaches? Will the push for ‘safely managed’ sanitation encourage governments towards high-cost sewerage and treatment plants that are beyond the means of poor communities and fail to deal with the reality of existing on-site sanitation systems (as highlighted by the 2014 GLAAS report)? These kinds of investments divert funds from where it is most needed, and do not reach poor communities.
    3. Holding governments to account. Duncan Green is concerned that the SDG debate has been too technocratic, and not enough about getting traction with national governments. We know that if something is not measured, it will continue to be ignored, so we are part of the call for a dedicated hygiene indicator under the WASH goal. We also know it remains challenging to properly represent the situation for slum dwellers compared to the rest of the city. We will keep asking for this data, and comparing our own findings with official figures. As part of coalitions at national and global levels we will be part of holding governments to account for the commitments they have made, through for example Sanitation and Water for All.

    Overall, the SDGs offer an ambitious vision for the future. If they are going to be worth something, we will all need to rise to the challenge, making sure that no-one is left behind.

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  • 11 differences between urban and rural CLTS

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    June 3rd, 2015

    Last week, African Ministers spent the week at the AfricaSan4 conference discussing the urgent need for better progress on Sanitation and Hygiene on the continent. They signed up to a new vision (the Ngor Declaration) in line with the likely UN ‘Sustainable Development Goal’ due out later this year, to achieve universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services and eliminate open defecation by 2030.IMG_7312

    It is great to see an update of the commitments made at a similar meeting back in 2008. Clearly, a ‘focus on the poorest, most marginalised and unserved’, must include the needs of poor people living in urban slums alongside their rural counterparts. However, there is precious little experience in ‘eliminating open defecation’ in urban slums. This will be a huge challenge that should not be under-estimated.

    Over the last three years, Practical Action and Umande Trust have been working in two big informal settlements in Nakuru, Kenya, on an ambitious project to transform the sanitation situation. The aim was to declare two thirds of the 13 ‘villages’ within two big low-income settlements (population approximately 190,000) as Open Defecation Free. In these areas, the majority of residents are tenants, living on plots with 10-20 rooms (sometimes up to 50). While almost all of these plots had some form of toilet, their quality was so poor, and their numbers woefully inadequate to count as ‘adequate’ sanitation.

    At the end of the project, we worked with the CLTS Foundation reflect on how we had adapted the usual CLTS process for the challenges of an urban context. The report highlights the greater scope of action required in urban contexts because of the importance of better-quality toilets, and the need for safe faecal sludge management. It explores the whole range of stakeholders who need to be involved from tenants and landlords, to pit emptiers, builders, banks and micro-credit, different levels of government, the local water and sewerage utility company, and many more.

    Here are the 11 key differences we found between rural CLTS, and this urban context.

    Rural Urban
    1. Low toilet coverage and strong preference for or habit of OD High toilet coverage but they are highly unsanitary. OD is out of necessity rather than preference or habit.
    2. Majority of households own land on which they can build their toilets Most households are tenants and have to rely on landlords to provide sanitary toilets. However, it is tenants’ role to maintain them well.
    3. A single triggering aims to reach whole population Two types of triggering exercises are needed: one for landlords and one for tenants
    4. The triggering methodology is principally based on eliciting feelings of shame and disgust to motivate behaviour change. The triggering methodology with landlords is based more around obligation and threat of legislation. Eliciting disgust is still a motivating factor in triggering with tenants.
    5. The key challenge is triggering behaviour change to break the long held habit of open defecation. The key challenge is ensuring adequate provision and maintenance of facilities. Open defecation is no longer a habit but an outcome of poor facilities.
    6 Once a toilet is full, there is usually space to build more within the household compound. Space is limited and density of population is high resulting in the need to dispose of faecal sludge outside the plot once toilets fill up.
    7 Households can build very basic low cost toilets, starting and the lowest rung of the sanitation ladder if they choose. There are often regulations about the standard of toilets substructure and the superstructure. Negotiation with authorities can be an important aspect of intervention.
    8 Households can usually finance low cost toilet building without external finance. Landlords often require external finance in order to be able to adequately upgrade sanitation facilities. This may require negotiating a loan facility, whether through banks or a community fund.
    9 There are few stakeholders external to the community who have an influence on sanitation provision. There are several stakeholders involved, such as tenants, landlords, planning department, public health officials, water and sewerage companies.
    10 As there are few stakeholders involved, the intervention process can be relatively fast. Due to the regulatory environment and the number of stakeholders involved the intervention process, even before any triggering takes place, can take quite long.
    11 Natural leaders and community consultants are key players in driving and scaling up CLTS In this particular urban context natural leaders and community consultants were not developed as Community Health Volunteers already existed.


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  • More people grid-connected, but is that energy access?

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    May 20th, 2015

    Monday (18th May) saw the first release of the summary of the World Bank’s new report on Progress Toward Sustainable Energy – Global Tracking Framework 2015 at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York.

    The report measures how the world is progressing toward Sustainable Energy for All, tracking country-level indicators for energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The headlines are that between 2010 and 2012 we made good progress in terms of access to electricity access (up from 83% to 85%). In clean cooking, the figures hardly changed at all (from 58% to 59%).

    Energy Access Tiers, Kinshasa, GTF summary report pg 32

    Energy Access Tiers, Kinshasa, GTF summary report pg 32

    What may go un-noticed is the section towards the end about how “traditional methods for measuring energy access significantly underestimate the scale of the challenge”. They illustrate this with findings from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Just counting electricity connections says nothing about the quality of that connection. So for Kinshasa, it shows that although the majority (90%) of residents are officially grid-connected, they are hugely under-electrified. “There are extensive limitations in hours of service, unscheduled blackouts and voltage fluctuations. The reality is that the streets of Kinshasa are dark on most nights and that few households can actually use the electrical appliances they own.” A fully-functioning grid connection should be rated ‘5’ – at the top of the scale. But in Kinshasa, only 0.5% of the population enjoy this level of quality, and 41% have access at Tier 0 or Tier 1 meaning they have electricity for less than four hours a day with 1-2 hours in the evening.

    How many of the 6.2 billion people with an electricity connection on the planet remain ‘under-electrified’? Anecdotal evidence indicates the problem is widespread.

    There are few studies, but findings from our work applying these same tier levels to examples of grid-connected, but remote villages in India and Kenya found a similar pattern (Practical Action Consulting: Utilising Electricity Access for Poverty Reduction). None of the households we surveyed there made it to Tier 3 levels of access which we are arguing is a reasonable cut-off point along these tiers for saying that a person has sufficient energy for it to be truly enabling. Of course, for them to take full advantage many other things would need to be in place, but its absence limits people’s ability to climb out of poverty.

    Energy Access Tiers from Practical Action Consulting research Kenya and India

    Energy Access Tiers from Practical Action Consulting research Kenya and India

    At the same time, counting grid connections ignores the improvements in electricity access brought about through mini-grids, solar-home systems and other off-grid solutions. There remains the unspoken perception that these are a ‘second-best’. However, our findings from India and Kenya show that against some parameters, they are as good as the grid (for example in terms of duration / availability) and on others in particular reliability, they out-perform. The measure of reliability is whether there are more than three unscheduled outages per week of more than 30 minutes each. In 2012, the blackouts in India were widely reported highlighting some systemic problems which will be difficult to overcome.

    Tiers for hours of available energy for grid compared to mini-grid in Kenya

    Tiers for hours of available energy for grid compared to mini-grid in Kenya

    Practical Action, along with a coalition of 21 other civil society organisations is calling for this proposed framework for measuring energy access to be adopted globally as part of the Sustainable Development Goals due for approval in the autumn this year. This is because it provides a more accurate picture, and will help put off-grid solutions on a similar footing to grid-extension.

    The World Bank’s full report (due for release in June) also includes agreed frameworks for measuring energy access not only for households but also for productive uses and community facilities – giving a properly rounded picture of the energy access needed for development. This took its cue from Practical Action’s Total Energy Access framework, as elaborated in our Poor People’s Energy Outlook. The insights gained from measuring in this way will be essential for assessing the full range of poor people’s energy needs and deserves greater attention.

    Source: ODI and Oxfam America

    How are these findings reflected in financing in the energy sector? Unsurprisingly, as this excellent infographic from ODI / Oxfam America shows for sub-Saharan Africa, business-as-usual is continuing. The grid (and industrial power) continues to be prioritised over extension to those currently without, and over off-grid solutions. Cooking remains a neglected sector even though the investment needs are lower. This is what needs to change if we are to meet our goal of meaningful, truly enabling energy access for all by 2030.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: ODI and Oxfam America

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  • Where the big money goes in the WASH sector

    Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dhaka
    November 20th, 2014

    Yesterday, World Toilet Day, saw the launch of the ‘report you’ve never heard of’, but it’s significant for the WASH sector. UN-Water’s global analysis and assessment of sanitation and drinking-water (GLAAS) report, produced every 2 years since 2010, looks at the inputs (human resources and money) and enabling environment (plans and policies, monitoring arrangements and so on) for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector. This year it collated information from 94 countries and 23 external support agencies.

    Practical Action focuses on the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of the urban poor – so what does the report tell us about whether their needs are being recognised and supported? Here is my analysis of the report’s key findings from that perspective.

    Financing for the sector is increasing, but still not enough

    • External aid commitments for water and sanitation totalled over $15 billion in 2012 and have increased nearly 30% since 2010. The data available on national budgets and expenditure, though limited, indicate that government spending for water and sanitation is also increasing.
    • However, 80% of countries reported that current finance is insufficient to meet targets established for drinking-water and sanitation.


    Majority of money to urban: but not for the poor

    • 82% of country expenditure and 73% of donor commitments goes to urban areas

    However, digging a bit deeper an explanation emerges…

    • Over half of all water and sanitation aid (56%) is directed to ‘large systems’, with only 21% supporting basic systems.
    Figure 5.1, GLAAS report 2014, page 49

    Figure 5.1, GLAAS report 2014, page 49


    To clarify, ‘large systems’ include water treatment plants and pumping stations, large-scale sewerage (trunk sewers and pumping stations) and sewerage treatment plants. Basic systems are the things the poor rely on: such as handpumps, shared water connections, latrines, on-site disposal and alternative sanitation systems.

    This finding is supported by other less comprehensive figures recently reported which also show the WASH sector’s addiction to large scale solutions:

    • A WaterAid/SHARE study on public finance for urban sanitation in Dar es Salaam found that while 83% of the population rely on on-site sanitation, only 0.9% of public funding on capital investments went to sanitation services. The remaining 99.1% of public funds invested in sanitation infrastructure was directed to wealthier households with access to sewerage and treatment services.


    Majority of money to water: but the greater need is for sanitation

    We find a similar pattern for the focus on water, sanitation or hygiene. Despite the fact that 2.5 billion people are still without improved sanitation compared to 784 million for water:

    • Only 43% of country expenditures goes to sanitation (57% to water) – although this is an improvement from only 20% going to sanitation in 2010.
    • For the few countries that could calculate it, only 1% of total WASH expenditure goes to hygiene promotion.


    Urgent need for more disaggregated data

    These figures show that there is still much to do in the WASH sector to align financing flows to real needs. But beyond that, there were worrying findings from the report about the sector’s ability to provide relevant data. The regular publication of the GLAAS report since 2010 is an important step in the right direction, and there are signs that data collection is improving. However,

    • Only 33 countries out of 94 could provide total WASH expenditures from government and external funding sources (which admittedly requires pulling information together across multiple donors and Ministries).
    • Only 25 countries of 94 countries were able to provide an expenditure breakdown even at the basic level of urban Vs rural, or water Vs sanitation. Even external support agencies need to be better at disaggregating data in this way. It has not been possible, it seems, to provide figures show a breakdown according to slums Vs the rest of the city.

    Not only that, but there is no capturing of some of the issues which make the most different to the urban poor such as whether faecal sludge is safely treated, or how much investment is going to on-site sanitation. The report says “only 37 countries could give any estimate of the proportion of wastewater treated. And that referred almost exclusively to centralized sewered services. Treatment for on-site sanitation is not captured at all.”


    Any bright spots?

    I started this blog with the positive news that funding in the sector is growing. Could I find something positive about meeting the needs of slum dwellers?

    • 60% of countries have a policy or plan for universal access which explicitly includes measures to reach populations living in slums or urban settlements (although only 30 have a monitoring system to track progress).

    So perhaps this gives us something to work with – even if there is probably a long way to go to ensure that those plans are actually pro-poor.

    I’m posting this from our Dhaka office, and will be spending the next few days visiting three towns where we’re doing some really great work on urban services. I’ll be hoping to post more positive news on what can be achieved with the right kind of funding in the next few days.

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  • Uncounted and under-recognised: Inequalities in Urban Water and Sanitation

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    October 16th, 2014

    One of the greatest challenges of the coming decades will be the ever growing number of people living in urban areas. More than half of us already live in cities, and by 2050 of a population of 9 billion, 6.3 billion of us will live in cities. Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions.

    24412But let’s think about the implications of that for a moment in terms of the facilities that a city system needs to provide for its residents. If every year, Asian cities are growing by an estimated 40.4 million people, that means at least an extra 6.6 million tonnes of rubbish and 3.7 million tonnes of human faeces every year. We know that most of what is already produced remains untreated and flows directly into water bodies. In urban areas globally 2.1 billion people use toilets connected to septic tanks that are not safely emptied or use other systems that discharge raw sewage into open drains or surface waters. The people who have to live surrounded by all of this are, of course, the poor. The health implications are terrible – rates of under 5 mortality are higher than rural areas, and the under-nutrition related to repeated bouts of diarrhoea produces stunting and has live-long impacts on brain development.

    One challenge is that the reporting of access to water and sanitation routinely under-reports the severity of these challenges.

    • Global monitoring systems for access to water and sanitation do not disaggregate for slum populations compared to the rest of the city
    • Poverty lines don’t recognise the additional cost of meeting a basic standard of living in urban areas so people are counted as ‘above’ the poverty line – when they are unable to fulfil their basic needs
    • Investments in WASH don’t reach those who need it most
    • Definitions of ‘improved’ water and sanitation aren’t adequate for urban populations. People may be counted as having ‘improved’ access to water when all they have is a stand pipe with contaminated water that only runs for a few hours a day, or a few days a week.

    One of the reasons for progress on the MDG on access to Water and Sanitation has been that we have been able to count and track what is happening. The data available have begun to highlight how far behind we are on sanitation, and that significant inequalities remain. The power of data needs to highlight the massive inequalities within urban areas between rich and poor.

    It’s good to see that the Open Working Group report for post-2015 development framework recognises that water safety – not just access – is important. Also that it talks about ‘halving the proportion of untreated wastewater’, achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation.

    15234If national surveys are unable to collect information on slums, the good news is that poor people are already doing it – because they too understand the value of counting and being counted. The enumerations carried out by slum dweller communities, highlighted through the recent #knowyourcity campaign is one illustration of this. We should be doing more to bring this evidence together and shine a light on what it is telling us about the real situation on the ground, to galvanise more action on a problem that is only going to grow in the next twenty years.

    Practical Action is proud to have recognised this issue and chosen to focus its WASH and Waste Management programme on the needs of the urban poor. We are committed to continuing to highlight the problem, demonstrate and promote practical and innovate solutions to tackling it, and advocating for changes in policies and investments that will really make a difference.

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  • World Water Week: the good, the bad, the unexpected

    Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm
    September 8th, 2014

    20140903_093446Before I came to World Water Week I asked whether there would be enough focus on smallholder farmers and on the contribution that decentralised energy can make to water, energy and food security. I was also interested to discover how far the needs of the urban poor are being discussed.

    What are my reflections after the 4½ days of intense debate, discussion and the inevitable and useful networking that these kinds of conferences entail? Inevitably there’s a huge variety. It’s a smorgasbord of different styles, pace and quality. There are both frustrations and unexpected delights.

    The good

    • At least some recognition of the needs of smallholder farmers, irrigation practices they can benefit from, and how energy can contribute. There were even (a few) smallholder farmers and their representatives there. I’m encouraged, but clearly there is a lot more that agricultural, water resources and energy colleagues can learn from each other.


      Kamal Kar at the lauch of ‘Promising Pathways: Innovations and Best Practices in CLTS at scale in Madagascar’

    • A good number of sessions on faecal sludge management in urban contexts. As it was noted “it’s no good storing up the shit and dumping it in the street. We might as well have just dumped it in the street in the first place and saved ourselves the trouble”. The momentum is clearly building but there is an urgent need to move from pilots and clever technologies to systems that work at scale and for the urban poor.
    • Hearing from great speakers (Kamal Kar in full flow is always an inspiration), and getting answers directly from the people involved. There were eminent experts at every turn.

    The challenging

    • Although there are good ideas, it seems that we are a way from turning around ‘business as usual’ models and investment in either energy or agricultural investments that are focused on large-scale energy supply and commercial agriculture.
    • The figures are still poorly disaggregated to demonstrate the scale of inequalities in access between urban slums and the rest of the city. The Joint Monitoring Programme said they feel it’s too hard to do in a representative way – so the problem remains under-reported and under-recognised at global levels. While faecal sludge management and community led total sanitation are on the agenda, I still haven’t heard or seen any examples of densely settled urban areas which have been declared open defecation free. Just because it’s challenging, we can’t leave the urban poor behind.
    • Equity. Some of the images that will stay with me for a long time are about the truly terrible time disabled and elderly people have crawling through fields of human excrement in rural areas where open defecation is still the norm. If we are aiming for universal access we must involve everyone and make sure that really everyone is able to use the facilities.

    The unexpected

    • The appearance of a walking, talking piece of shit – part of UNICEF’s Make a Stink campaign to raise awareness of the problem of open defecation in India
    • Winning Sandec’s dart board challenge on my first throw (a fluke or a sign of a misspent youth – you choose), with the privilege of taking away a copy of their compendium of sanitation technologies


    World Water Week in numbers:

    6 billion                 The number of people who will live in areas of water scarcity by 2050 (2/3 of a predicted global population of 9 billion)

    1.8 billion             The number of people whose water supply, on the day of survey, was contaminated with faeces (e-coli) – so those whose water is unsafe for at least some of the year is easily over 2 billion. This despite the world congratulating itself on being ‘on track’ to reach our water millennium development goal.

    10,000   The number of villages declared open defecation free in Madagascar in just 3 years.

                 The number of functional waste water treatment and faecal sludge treatment plants operational in Ghana out of a total of 70+ in the whole country.

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