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TitleSmall town water and sanitation delivery : taking a wider view
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsCaplan, K, Harvey, E
Pagination40 p.; 6 tab.; 3 fig.; photographs
Date Published2010-12-01
Place PublishedLondon, UK
Keywordsaccess to sanitation, low-income communities, peri-urban communities, rural urban migration, sanitation, sanitation services, small towns, sustainability, urban areas, urban communities, water supply

Our towns and cities are rapidly expanding. Worldwide, over 50% of the population now live in urban areas. In the developing world this rural-urban shift is even more extreme. Now, for every large town there are an estimated ten small towns – and these towns are expected to double in both number and size within 15 years and then, within 30 years, to double again whilst we may recognise a small town when we see one, there are challenges in defining and understanding them. In some countries small towns may be classed as those with a population of between 5,000 and 20,000, in other countries the figure is up to 80,000 or even 200,000. This difference poses a significant challenge for the design of appropriate and sustainable water and sanitation services as the solution for a town of 20,000 will be vastly different to that of a town of 200,000. Small towns can show both rural and urban characteristics. Rural characteristics relate to the
economic linkages to agriculture. Urban characteristics may relate to the role of light industry in the economy but are more often linked to living conditions as a function of density, and changing social systems as a reflection of increased diversity. This blend of urban and rural characteristics can undermine problem-solving approaches. Typical rural approaches such as
community participation and mobilisation become more difficult to manage as communities get larger and more diverse, ie where traditional decision-making practices start to break down. On the other hand, small towns lack the resources of cities, making the application of urban approaches, where economies of scale or cross-subsidisation exist between users or between services, more difficult. Most small towns tend to be diverse, dynamic and constantly evolving. They largely act as
agricultural market and food processing centres and as centres of employment in small and medium-sized non-agricultural businesses. They normally attract people from rural areas and this expansion often accelerates when services such as water, schools and health centres are provided. Generally characterised by rapid unplanned growth leading to concentrations of lowincome populations, people living in small towns are amongst the worst served for basic services such as access to water and sanitation and hygiene promotion. Investments in small towns have simply not kept pace with the growing need for services. According to one study, they are largely neglected by policymakers and donors who have tended to support either rural programmes or infrastructure in large cities. Although the figures may have changed somewhat, a study from a few years ago estimated that 13% of development assistance had been targeted at small towns (Cardone and Fonseca, 2006). The predicted growth of small towns is a major development challenge which threatens to derail efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water and sanitation. Given the difficulty of tailoring approaches to individual contexts, in those countries where small towns receive assistance from central governments and donors, there tends to be a ‘one size fits all’ financing, technological, management and capacity building package. [authors abstract]

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