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.

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.

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:

  • Influential partnerships: 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.
  • Influencing policies and investments: Most WASH investments already go to cities, but rarely reach the poor. We advocate better policies and approaches that allow funding to be more equitable.
  • Inclusive city/town-wide services: As always, we work closely with communities to make sure services meet their needs and that 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, and environmental and water resource concerns are all addressed, to create more sustainable cities and towns.
  • Priority to sanitation and hygiene: 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.


Explore our urban and small towns publications and resources.

News and blogs

Opinion pieces and discussions relating to urban and small towns.