By 2030, two thirds of people are expected to live in towns and cities, and small town populations are predicted to double. In developing countries, this growth is typically unplanned.

WaterAid and urban and small towns

While clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene should be a normal part of daily life for everyone, everywhere, for too many people in urban areas and small towns, they aren’t. Without these basics, the poorest people suffer ill-health, miss out on an education and lack opportunities to support themselves and their families.

Getting clean water and decent toilets to informal settlements in cities is often complex, and no easier in smaller towns. People often have to rely on informal water vendors, who charge much more than formal service providers.

Most urban dwellers rely on on-site sanitation. They use septic tanks and pit latrines (which are often not emptied), or have no choice but to defecate in the open and throw away their waste in plastic bags. Disease outbreaks are increasing in these high-density settlements, with huge consequences for public health and development.

To unlock their potential and thrive, everyone living in urban areas and small towns must have clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene by 2030.

Bringing water to Kibondemaji in Dar es Salaam

Tanzania is urbanising at an unprecedented rate, meaning many are living in unplanned settlements (70% of Dar es Salaam residents) with limited water and sanitation services. Partnerships and adaptive planning become key when working in this environment.

Residents of Keko Mwanga, an area of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, fill up with clean water at a WaterAid-installed collection point in urban slum neighbourhood Keko Mwanga, Temeke, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2011. WaterAid/Jake Lyell

Our approach

We take a holistic, city/town-wide approach to improving access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in urban areas. This takes into account a range of development issues, from planning to land tenure.

We work with people living in poor and informal settlements to ensure their voices are heard when new services are being designed, implemented or monitored, so that their needs are addressed. We support water utilities and municipal authorities to develop approaches that are inclusive, affordable and flexible.

And we support these authorities and financial institutions to encourage local companies to provide sanitation services and products. This includes faecal sludge management.

Our city/town-wide approach has five guiding principles:

  • Integrated policy, practice and advocacy: Our urban work exemplifies our approach of integrating service delivery with influencing activity, to achieve our goal of everyone, everywhere having clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene by 2030.
  • Inclusive city/town-wide services: As always, we work closely with communities to make sure services meet their needs and behaviour changes are sustainable.
  • Context-led strategic choices: We believe it is essential that urban planners and infrastructure engineers consider the local context. This is to ensure poor communities’ needs, environmental and water resource concerns, are all addressed, to create more sustainable cities and towns.
  • Stakeholder relationships and collaboration: We work with water utilities to develop services that reach the poorest and most marginalised people, while also covering their costs. We work with urban planners, other utilities, such as electricity providers, and slum dwellers’ movements, to embed urban planning, land tenure and social structures in water, sanitation and hygiene improvements.
  • Priority to sanitation services: Sanitation has been severely neglected in most urban areas, especially for the poorest communities. City and town sanitation has life-changing benefits for both individuals and urban areas as a whole.

Our vision is to see urban authorities planning, delivering and monitoring inclusive, affordable and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services for all by 2030.

Useful links

Resources

Explore our urban and small towns publications and resources.

News and blogs

Opinion pieces and discussions relating to urban and small towns.