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Published on: 29/07/2015

Why do we need a specific focus on sanitation in urban areas?

In its assessment of the achievement of the water and sanitation Millennium Development Goals, the Joint Monitoring Programme notes that the world has fallen short of its sanitation targets. Still some 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Of these, around a third live in urban areas. Moreover, many of the facilities cannot be considered hygienically safe or sustainable. And access is mainly concentrated among the rich, leaving the poor to fend for themselves.

The challenges contributing to sanitation problems in urban areas are particularly complex. Government leadership is weak and this low political commitment leads to chronic shortages of public funds towards sanitation. When funds are available, most go to infrastructure development and little to improving the management of service delivery. Furthermore, there may be institutional fragmentation, with for example utilities mandated to deliver sanitation services using sewers, while municipalities are mandated to provide on-site systems to users. Regulation, including enforcement of environmental regulation is lacking or not effective, as polluting activities such as dumping of faecal sludge are rarely, if ever, fined. Further, sanitation is seen by many in the sector as a household responsibility and not a public concern.

Objective of the IRC Event

These challenges cannot be addressed by one single solution. A mix of options and modalities is needed. The IRC event will provide a framework for identifying solutions towards sustainable urban sanitation.

Specific attention will be given to the following:

  • Attention to 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.
  • A multi-stakeholder approach under government leadership. Sanitation improvements require efforts from a range of stakeholders:  households, private service providers (latrine builders, emptying companies) and various line ministries (Health, Education, Infrastructure, Environment). For these to come together, government leadership and regulation is needed.
  • Public finance. Compared to other basic services, sanitation receives very limited public finance. For example, a WaterAid/SHARE study on public finance for urban sanitation in Dar es Salaam found that less than 1% of public funds went to on-site sanitation, which served 83% of the population. The bulk went to sewerage and treatment for the wealthier households. No country has reached sustainable sanitation services without public finance, and we therefore must ensure that this is well-directed.

As addressing water and sanitation needs in urban areas, particularly in urbanising delta’s, is a key focus area in Dutch development cooperation, we invite you to this IRC event to discuss practical solutions to this pressing problem.

To learn more about the topic read IRC's working paper Towards systemic change in urban sanitation.

For more information on the event and to be kept informed about future events please contact us at 

When: Wednesday 9 September 2015, 17.00 - 18:30 p.m. (preceded by coffee from 16:30 and followed by drinks till 20:00)

Programme: Expert presentations followed by an open discussion

View full programme and Bios of the speakers 

Venue7AM Buitenhof 47, 2513 AH The Hague. How to get to 7AM - Directions

The event is free, there is no registration fee.

We hope to meet you on September 9th in The Hague!

About IRC events 

IRC runs thematic events in The Hague, open to all interested parties. They aim to bring together professionals to network and discuss hot topics in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. They are forward looking and multidisciplinary in nature presenting the latest thinking from governments, NGOs, private sector and academia.

Past IRC events 



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