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Published on: 04/09/2015

While currently here in Ghana on a mission, I can’t help but think once again on how lucky we are with our own urban facilities back home. For many of us, it goes without thinking or saying that we have appropriate urban services available. Yet in urban areas worldwide, the around 756 million people who lack access to safe sanitation, according to official UN data (WHO/UNICEF, 2014). This number is likely to be an underestimation as many sanitary facilities cannot be considered hygienically safe or sustainable (Jenkins et al. 2014). In other words, the new Sustainable Development Goals will not be reached if we do not tackle urban sanitation. This has a serious impact on the health and dignity for all those living in cities, not just the poor.

We believe that there are three key challenges around urban sanitation that need to be addressed:


Focusing on the whole sanitation chain

Sanitation is more than building a toilet and includes changed hygienic behaviours, maintenance, emptying, treatment and disposal or reuse of accumulated faecal matter (Full-chain sanitation services that last: non-sewered sanitation services).

Leadership for change

Sanitation improvements are not the sole responsibility of one entity: households, private service providers (latrine builders, emptying companies) and various line ministries (Health, Education, Infrastructure, Environment) all play a role. When donors and NGOs take the lead they rarely link up with government leadership and regulation.

Public finance

Public finance for implementation efforts at scale for sanitation as this area received very limited funds compared to other basic services. Both the need for more funds (generated through taxes) should be allocated to sanitation as well as the total amount of funds (generated through taxes) should be increased.

We at IRC have a number of events in the coming period to highlight this issue of urban sanitation. For those interested, we have just had the “Roundtable meeting on urban sanitation in line with ULCTS” which took place on July 1st with a number of distinguished sanitation experts. In terms of upcoming events in which we will further reflect on the role around sustainable urban sanitation, there will be the following:

  1. IRC Event on Working towards sustainable urban sanitation, 9th September 2015
  2. SuSanA online discussion, September 28- October 9th 2015
  3. Involved in one of the side event with a collaborative partner at the UNC Water and Health Conference, October 26-30th 2015
  4. Side event with a collaborative partner at the Amsterdam Water Week, November 2-6th

We look forward to the discussions and of those who may not be able to join we will be sending update summary overviews. 


At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

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