How can the world provide informal settlements and slums with sanitation and clean water?

Villagers in Niger queue for water in 2009. Image: Getty.

Polluted water and inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene cause around 80 per cent of diseases and one in four deaths in developing countries. The world is recognising that existing strategies simply aren’t working.

We are starting a five-year project early this year to implement an innovative water-sensitive approach to revitalise 24 informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the project aims to turn informal settlements into independent sites that:

  • recycle their own wastewater;

  • harvest rainwater;

  • create green space for water cleansing and food cultivation; and

  • restore natural waterways to encourage diversity and deal with flooding.

Working with local slum communities, the project will design and deliver modular and multi-functional water infrastructure. This will be tailored to their settlements. Providing secure and reliable water and sanitation services and flood management should improve public health and create more resilient communities.

This project aims to reduce both environmental contamination itself and the likelihood of human contact with contaminants. In doing so, it will provide some of the first quantitative data on the link between improved environmental health and better community health.


Water management innovations in slums can deliver healthier, more sustainable and environmentally compatible solutions.

Time to rethink failed approaches

In 2010, the United Nations recognised that access to safe water and sanitation is a human right. Five years later, the UN acknowledged it had failed to provide 2.4bn people with improved sanitation, a goal set 15 years earlier.

The conventional hydraulic engineering solution to these challenges has changed little in 150 years. This approach has major financial, environmental and social costs.

The conventional approach is also an unlikely option for informal settlements this century. These are typically found in developing countries with high rates of urbanisation. These countries are struggling with inadequate resources for basic infrastructure for growing national populations, let alone the poor and vulnerable in informal settlements.

Traditional urban upgrading projects generally focus on basic infrastructure such as housing and drainage. This is delivered primarily via one-dimensional technical solutions. The problem is that these typically don’t take account of the existing local and environmental context.

The landscape, environment and community health are intimately linked. Image: author provided.

These approaches often fail to allow for the high rates of urbanisation that characterise informal settlements. This, in turn, exacerbates the inextricably linked challenges of sanitation, water supply and public and environmental health.

The benefits of a new approach

Drawing on programs in Australia, China, Singapore and Israel, the project will alter the biophysical landscape to greatly reduce communities’ exposure to faecal and other hazardous contamination in the environment, while also improving biodiversity.

We anticipate multiple benefits. These include better community health, fewer infections with disease-causing bugs resulting in less diarrhoeal disease, and better intestinal health among children leading to improved growth.

The changes in the living environment should also improve wellbeing, increase food production and decrease violence against women and girls who will, for the first time, have access to domestic sanitation facilities and reliable water supplies.

Before: an obviously unhealthy informal settlement environment. Image: author provided.

After: locally tailored approaches to water management can have a transformative impact. Author provided.

Importantly, the project begins with a two-year baseline data assessment of both environmental and human health. The infrastructure upgrades will be delivered in year three. These will be followed by another two-year assessment of environmental and health impacts.

A local focus to achieve global goals

The recently adopted UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) renewed the commitment to universal delivery of essential water and sanitation services.

This global agenda includes goals such as health and wellbeing (Goal 3), improved water and sanitation (Goal 6) and sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11).

While these goals are clearly important, achieving them demands an integrated and holistic approach. Trying to solve each goal individually is not only inefficient in terms of time and money, it can have unintended consequences as it misses the intrinsic connections and feedback loops between them. Our project aims to avoid these pitfalls.


The project includes a significant capacity-building dimension in Fiji and Indonesia. Through dedicated training programs, we will develop in-country communities of practice around the intervention (design and implementation) and the environmental and public health assessments.

Project personnel will provide training and transfer knowledge on the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the technologies.

We will collaborate with local engineers, contractors, governments and community organisations. By building local capabilities around water-sensitive infrastructure, together with our in-country partners, we hope this in-depth engagement will leave a lasting legacy.

An international consortium led by Monash University will deliver the project. It brings together leading researchers in medicine, architecture, engineering, ecology, economics and social sciences, across Monash, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, Stanford University, Emory University and the University of Melbourne. Other partners include the Asian Development Bank (funding the infrastructure upgrades), Melbourne Water and South East Water, World Health Organisation, Oxfam International and WaterAid.

Our hope is that this project will provide an evidence-based proof of concept that will improve slum upgrading and revitalisation. Providing essential water services and cleaning up the environment should deliver radically enhanced health outcomes for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

This, we believe, is a real-world solution to achieving what everyone recognises is a global human right: access to clean water and sanitation.The Conversation

Rebekah Brown is professor and director of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, and Karin Leder a professor and head of the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit, at Monash University. Tony Wong is professor and CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.