Wednesday, November 16, 2016
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM EST Download iCalendar entry for this event.
1111 19th St NW
7th Floor
Washington DC

Urban Sanitation: Meeting the SDGs for Universal Access by 2030

The world’s urban population is close to 3.9 billion, including nearly 1 billion living in informal settlements. The United Nations estimates that the urban population in developing countries could double by 2030, while the land area covered by cities could triple. Currently, in sub-Saharan Africa, only 40% of the urban population has access to improved sanitation, while in Southern Asia the percentage covered is 67 (UN-HABITAT, World Cities Report – 2016, p. 65). This percentage could decrease as governments struggle with providing required infrastructure and basic services to meet the rapidly growing demand. To avoid this, and work toward achievement of SDG 6.2, government, private sector, civil society and donor organizations will need to develop and deploy innovative service delivery models that will increase sanitation access to urban customers at a faster pace and larger scale than ever before.

In preparation for the United Nations’ World Toilet Day on November 19, 2016, SID-W's Environment and Urban Development workgroups, together with AECOM, has assembled a panel of experts to discuss experiences and prospects for achieving universal access to sanitation for urban populations by 2030.

Katherine Raphaelson, SID Washington, welcomed the attendees and thanked the panelists and moderator for their participation. She then explained the functions of SID-Washington and discussed upcoming events. She introduced Shari Bush and Jane Katz, who were present at the event and serve as co-chairs of the SID-W Environment and Urban Development workgroups, respectively. She also thanked Jennifer Kovolski from AECOM for her assistance in organizing the event. Ms. Raphaelson then handed the floor over to Jesse Shapiro.

Jesse Shapiro, USAID, began the event by noting the interesting transitions occurring in cities around the world, specifically highlighting urbanization. He noted that with increasing urbanization, sanitation is becoming a significant challenge for cities. Then, Mr. Shapiro focused the discussion to the ongoing transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He explained that within the category of improved sanitation, the primary focus of the MDGs was on household sanitation in rural areas. Over time, however, it became clear that lack of access to toilets was a growing issue in urban areas as well. Despite all the public focus on the MDGs, the development community failed to achieve the sanitation MDGs. Given this context, Mr. Shapiro asked “What does the shift to SDGs mean for urban sanitation?” He pointed out that ongoing efforts to provide access to sanitation is not even keeping pace with population growth, but also explained that there are many complicated issues affecting the levels of sanitation in cities. Then, he posed the question “What do we know about how to improve sanitation during the shift to the SDGs?” He closed his discussion by emphasizing that urban sanitation is an integral part of overall urban development.  Mr. Shapiro then turned the floor over to Arie Istandar.

Arie Istandar, AECOM, introduced himself and began discussing an urban sanitation case study from the Philippines, providing background information on the status of urbanization in that context. Next, he described the challenge for sanitation, highlighting the fact that only 45 percent of the Philippines’ population – both urban and rural – has access to sanitation. He pointed out that the country is plagued by ineffective fecal sludge management, as more than 80 percent of households have septic tanks that are poorly developed and maintained. He explained that AECOM works as an implementing partner on various USAID sanitation projects in the Philippines, such as the Be Secure project, ECO-Asia, and Philippine Sanitation Alliance. Next, Mr. Istandar described AECOM’s three-pillar approach to solutions for sanitation, which includes infrastructure (such as products and services), promotion (awareness raising) and institutions which, together, enable and support more effective sludge management. He then expanded on each of these categories, discussing AECOM’s practice of fostering “twinning partnerships” to share best infrastructure practices from one country to another. For the promotion side of AECOM’s work in the Philippines, Mr. Istandar pointed out that the company adopted a ten-step promotion toolkit and provided information and education to counter the NIMBY aspect of addressing sanitation issues. He then discussed AECOM’s commitment to institutions, and closed by emphasizing his hope that some of the implementation successes of AECOM’s project can be used as a model and replicated throughout the Philippines.

Jennifer Marcy, PSI, began by providing a brief overview of her work at PSI. She emphasized PSI’s interest in adopting market development-based approaches to its sanitation work. She explained the concept of the market development approach by explaining that conventional sanitation projects attempt to identify existing problems and develop a solution. In market development, on the other hand, Ms. Marcy explained that the first question is why the market system is not able to provide the necessary solutions to these challenges, followed by an attempt to understand how the market can be made to provide solutions. She emphasized that market development accounts for the whole value chain while addressing the root cause of the market failures. She then provided two high-level examples of the market development approach to sanitation in Patna, India and Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. She discussed the business model, value chain linkages, and government engagement for the Patna project, noting the preliminary results of each component and the progress that had been made. Then she turned to Abidjan and explained the “vidange plus” model (or, “emptying plus” model) that was used there, and the various initiatives that had taken place as part of that model.

Rajesh Advani, World Bank, discussed the financing mechanisms employed to fund sanitation projects, using a project in Nairobi, Kenya as an example. He explained the inadequate methods employed by people in Nairobi to deal with sanitation including toilets that drain into the city streets and the river that runs through it. He noted that, for lack of other options, some people are forced to use plastic bags to contain their waste, which has created a huge environmental problem for Nairobi. Mr. Advani explained that the World Bank project in Nairobi aims to connect households in informal settlements with the city’s sewage system. The challenge is to connect individual households to this sewage system, which remains a complicated task even now that the system has been expanded into the city’s various informal settlements. Mr. Advani added that the rapidly growing urban population in Nairobi only adds to the challenge of improving the urban sanitation situation. Then, he turned to discuss the nature of some of the financing used for these projects. He explained that in one case, a blended financing approach combined an OBA grant and private lending from a commercial bank in Kenya to meet the financing needs of the project. He explained that in informal settlements, sewerage connections refer to a hole in the ground that connects to a sewage pipe. The solution funded through these grants is the construction of compounds which contain two toilets, a connection to the water supply, a 400-liter water tank, and a small wash hand basin. Before the construction of these facilities, most people in informal settlements in Nairobi only had access to poorly formed sewage tanks or pit latrines, which are not well-suited to urban areas. Mr. Advani ended his discussion by offering additional details on the financing mechanisms available for the funding of the Nairobi project.  

Susana Rojas Williams, Habitat for Humanity, began by discussing the name of her presentation, “Who Gives a Crap,” which refers to the question of who needs to be taking responsibility for making sure that improved sanitation is achieved. She emphasized that sanitation is one of the critical components of adequate housing, and explained that Habitat for Humanity is attempting to look at the bigger picture to come up with sanitation solutions in the context of housing interventions. She stated that Habitat recognizes that it may not be possible for sanitation to be present in each house, but it should exist within the broader community, which can be achieved by considering systemic solutions. These approaches include community associations and councils, local and national governments, service and product providers, financial institutions (banks and MFIs). Ms. Rojas Williams emphasized the facilitative role played by Habitat, which wants to influence the sanitation sector and by bringing actors together. She then pointed out preliminary successes learned from other sectors – including energy – that have been incorporated into the sanitation arena. These include providing technical assistance to homeowners’ associations and community councils, and working with municipalities and governments to provide support to institutions. She identified the main problems confronted by Habitat’s programs as lack of trust between individual families and financial institutions.

Jesse Shapiro thanked the panelists for their participation and stated that the presentations illustrated the necessity of taking a systemic approach to urban sanitation. He then asked Mr. Istandar and Mr. Advani to elaborate on the relationship between their projects and the private sector.

Arie Istandar responded that for the Be Secure project in the Philippines, there is a private wastewater operator who is expanding his business outside of Manilla. He added that there has been significant discussion about how to engage this business owner in AECOM projects in the region.

Jesse Shapiro asked Mr. Advani if he could elaborate on how the output-based aid model interacts with the private sector in Kenya.

Rajesh Advani stated that in his project, a portion of the financing was coming from the private sector. He added that globally, the necessity of adding to sanitation infrastructure is apparent, but there is also a recognition that the public sector alone will not be able to supply adequate financing. He highlighted that even to achieve the SDGs, the financing gap will be over one trillion dollars. His project unlocks private sector funding to chip away at that gap, allowing publicly-owned utilities to run on commercial principles, and establishing a situation wherein the private sector can lend money to a publicly-owned facility.

Jesse Shapiro asked how important it was for the success of Ms. Marcy’s and Ms. Rojas Williams’ projects to work with existing institutions and engage with and shape the private sector.

Jennifer Marcy explained that interacting with the government institutions has been a really critical aspect of both of the projects referenced during her presentation. She noted that in some cases, government allocation of funds has not been successful in meeting the needs of their constituencies. Additionally, there is a serious lack of regulation that pushes people to practice environmentally safe business practices. She pointed out that in the case of India, there is a huge national movement to get safe sanitation to each household, and the fact that the government was fully onboard with this initiative has been a huge help.

Susana Rojas Williams emphasized the necessity of working with institutions that are already in established to improve project sustainability. She added that one of the roles of implementing partners is to bring actors together, convincing the government to participate and then sell the idea to the private sector by illustrating the value it will add to their existing business models. She noted that within certain communities, some families were very distrustful of both the government and the private sector, so convincing the three actors together to participate in equal conversation around these issues was important.

Jesse Shapiro then asked the panelists to comment on additional factors that affect our ability to improve urban sanitation but do not fall directly within the urban sanitation sector. He cited examples such as how services are provided to the extreme poor/vulnerable, overcoming issues like land tenure, etc.

Rajesh Advani affirmed that the land tenure issue in Kenya very complex. He explained that it is difficult for companies to effectively provide utilities without assurances that people are truly residing on the land on which they claim to be residing. The government has been issuing allotment letters that recognize residencies of people who live in poor and informal settlements. He added that his project has methods for geographically targeting low income areas and then providing grants only for those servicers providing their products to low-income areas.

Susana Rojas Williams pointed out the connection between sanitation and securing land tenure. She added that Habitat for Humanity has some programs in India that encourage communities to make sanitation commitments. Ms. Rojas Williams emphasized that there are multiple ways in which projects can start bringing sectors together and create new incentives to expand services. She added that Habitat makes an effort to identify populations that might need a combination of subsidies and loans for savings schemes.

Jennifer Marcy pointed out the challenge facing the development community with regard to urban sanitation is that the projects mostly deal with families living in compounds and are still quite mobile. She added that, in theory, the law is on the side of these communities in requiring landlords to provide sanitation measures, but this is a double-edged sword. If the landlord installs adequate sanitation services and the rent goes up as a result and pushes the most vulnerable residents out of these communities, how should development actors approach this?

Jesse Shapiro opened the floor to questions from the audience.

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WASH Advisor, Environmental Health Team Lead, and Sanitation Focal Point, USAID


Policy & Advocacy Officer, WaterAid America
Senior Technical Advisor, Nutrition and WASH, PSI
Senior Infrastructure Specialist, World Bank
Director, International Shelter Initiatives - Global Programs, Habitat for Humanity
Senior Infrastructure Advisor, AECOM

Workgroup Co-Chairs

Regional Chair, North America & Caribbean, IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management
Consultant, BroderickHaight Consulting