Policy & Advocacy

Cities fit for people

The population of urban slums and settlements continues to grow, with the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable often overlooked.

Lives are at risk from a lack of clean water services and inadequate and unsafe sewage and refuse management.

We’re working with communities, municipalities and utility companies to deliver sustainable sanitation, water and waste management services.

Together we’re improving hygiene practices and protecting the health, safety and dignity of poorly paid waste workers.

Our approach and priorities

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) and waste management are critical services that the urban poor have a right to. People’s lives are severely affected without them: their health is at risk, they use considerable amounts of time, and they often pay more for services than their richer neighbours.

Without these services, people face a loss of dignity and the feeling of acute exclusion from ‘normal’ life. The problem is not generally one of availability – near neighbours in better off parts of the city have good access to sanitation and waste disposal – but of access in ways which are affordable and appropriate to people’s needs.

Practical Action argues that delivery models need to create space for the informal sector, which is already a significant provider of urban services where formal services are absent. We believe that poor people need to be a leading partner in decision making about the allocation of resources and monitoring their expenditure; and about appropriate designs, delivery and management of WASH and waste management services. Municipalities and city governments are also central to this process, and need to be recognised as such.

Various governments and donors have made good commitments to increase funding to WASH and waste management but the struggle is now to ensure these are honoured. The targeting of this aid is also problematic. Not enough of it goes to sanitation, and in urban areas, very little of it reaches the poor. The majority of funding for improving sanitation is put towards improving existing sewer systems, for example, rather than reaching those currently beyond the reach of such services.

Our key policy objectives

Our policy influencing approach to urban WASH and waste is based on research and operational experience gained over many years in South Asia, Africa and Latin America. Specifically, we call for:

  • The needs of the urban poor to be included in global decisions about financing and prioritising development assistance
  • A greater share of national and local budgets allocated to hygiene programmes for both hand washing and menstrual hygiene, ensuring that the specific situations and needs of those living in urban low income and slum communities are addressed.
  • National and global commitments on access to water and hygiene that translate into real changes for low income and slum communities in urban areas. We do this by engaging with global processes such as Sanitation and Water for All.
  • Increased recognition of the need for safe water quality not only at the tap, but also in storage in households and at the point of use, while ensuring on-going access by the poor to a diverse range of water sources (including ground and surface water).
  • A shift in global thinking about solid waste management, to make the debate more people-centred, and more focused on solutions which work for poor urban communities and informal sector workers.
  • Creation of national and local policies, plans and financing that recognises the important contribution being made by the informal sector to waste collection and recycling, and which helps them to secure greater incomes from waste, and safer, more secure working conditions.
  • Using climate change debates and forums to highlight the contribution improved, sustainable solid waste management that works for poor communities can make to achieving national commitments on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Latest Documentation

(2 MB)

Creating the working conditions for health, dignity and opportunity

This policy brief has been produced based on a study titled ‘Waste and Sanitation Workers’ Working Condition, Occupa...

Project (10 MB)

FSM in emergencies


Policy Paper (4 MB)

FSM innovation Tackling the Second-Generation Sanitation Challenge at Scale: Business Solutions for Inclusive Faecal Sludge Management in Bangladesh

Globally, Bangladesh stands out as a country that has made remarkable progress in eliminating the scourge of open defe...

Policy Paper (947 kB)

A safer start in life: handwashing and child health in Kisumu, Kenya

In this briefing paper we outline the situation of handwashing and child health in informal settlements in Kisumu, Ken...