Integrate with wider city resilience: collaboration with other areas is crucial

Themes: Climate change Community management Faecal sludge management Planning Public/shared toilets Regulation Sanitation Sewerage Urban Sanitation Research Initiative WASH Water
Countries: Kenya Kenya-local Madagascar Madagascar-local Mozambique Mozambique-local

This is the fourth blog in a series exploring four recommendations from WSUP’s new report, The missing link in climate adaptation, released ahead of COP26. Read the full report here: 

Recommendation four: Integrate with wider city resilience

For water and sanitation, climate change is not only about reducing the emissions of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere. It is essentially about how countries and cities can adapt to the new reality, becoming, at the same time, much more resilient and flexible.

As our previous blogs have shown, authorities and communities must use every drop of water, protect water and sanitation infrastructure against destructive events, and strengthen the systems that ensure that water and sanitation services work well, despite the disruption caused by a changing climate.

Those very important measures, however, are not enough if taken in isolation. In the face of climate change, the sector must follow a strategy that has already proved decisive for the success of previous initiatives: to work alongside wider urban development.

With the share of world’s population living in cities expected to grow from the current 55% to about 70% in 2050, much of the focus of urban services must be on informal settlements — which are very much vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In those communities, water and sanitation cannot be efficiently offered without improvements in other basic urban services, such as travel links, solid waste management, good drainage, and even legal frameworks around property ownership.

In Africa, the number of people living in cities is expected to double between now and 2050, reaching a total of 1.5 billion citizens. That will mean a significant increase in the number of people in marginalised urban communities, characterised by complexity, interdependence of challenges, and constant evolution.

The improvement of conditions in these urban environments is one of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, SDG-11, which establishes the aim of “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, and sustainable”. Sustainability is an essential part of that equation, and water and sanitation are vital if that goal is to be achieved.

Connecting water and sanitation to other basic services

The question is: how can water and sanitation be sustainable and contribute for the general improvement of the urban environment, if roads do not allow trucks to circulate and clean local sanitation facilities? If solid waste is not regularly collected, how can sanitation infrastructure be resilient to floods?

Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, where an effort to remove solid waste from canals helped to improve water and sanitation services

The service, initiated in 2009 and which involved both solid waste management and cleaning of drainage canals, was financed by revenues from water services. Apart from allowing the canals to be properly used, it helped protect facilities against damage caused by flooding, a very common result of the increased frequency of extreme weather events, a consequence of climate change.

Read the report: Integrated Slum Upgrading

In 2017, when the informal settlement of Mukuru, in Nairobi, Kenya, was declared a Special Planning Area (SPA), the community faced a wide range of issues, relating to health and the local environment, which were impacting all aspects of everyday life. The solution had to be comprehensive, so an Integrated Development Plan was developed for the area, where 100,000 people live.

Connecting water and sanitation to land rights

In Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, the need to improve sanitation facilities in one of its low-income communities, Chamanculo C, required a very basic issue to be addressed first: legal occupation rights. The organisation Arquitectura sin Fronteras led the process supporting residents to acquire improved legal status, while WSUP addressed sanitation issues.


The combination of the work on the legal framework and sanitation improvements allowed WSUP to make better decisions, with the direct participation of members of the community, about the location of toilets. That included discussions about road access to those facilities, so they could be regularly and safely emptied.

Just like the cleaning operation in Madagascar, a previous programme aiming at the general improvement of the area, called PROMAPUTO, improved stormwater drainage, reducing the risk of flooding and overflow of septic tanks during the rainy season. Other general works in the community, from new pavements to cleaning of alleys, improved residents’ perception of their own neighbourhood. All of this contributes to efforts in water and sanitation and its crucial role in making those communities more resilient to a changing climate.

Towards an integrated approach

The reality in marginalised urban communities highlights how difficult it is for any sector to reach positive results while working independently. Without roads, toilets cannot be cleaned. If homes do not have their legal status settled, there is no responsibility over their conditions and their environmental role. Without lights or security, toilets cannot be properly used or maintained. If water and sanitation cannot be provided safely, in a resilient and flexible manner, vulnerable urban communities will suffer immensely from the effects of climate change. Actions on water and sanitation cannot be taken in isolation. They require integration with wider city resilience.

Top image: Resident of the city of Beira, in Mozambique. Credit: Stand Up Media