A good job - unfinished?

Publish Date: 
Monday, May 29, 2017 - 12:45

How faecal contamination in the ‘last 100 metres’ of water provisioning hurts the urban poor and denies politicians a triumph

The last two decades have seen much improvement to drinking water supplies to millions of poor urban people across the developing world. However, potential benefits of improved water supply are severely compromised by faecal contamination at a critical zone around the point of use - ‘the last 100 metres (L100M)’ - where water is taken from the community standpipes to people’s homes. In short, urban, national and increasingly global architectures for sustainable development are falling short - just metres before the ‘finish line’. This has severe consequences for public health. But it also denies politicians and their development partners the opportunity to celebrate and take credit for the remarkable achievement of extensive water provision.

The Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that came into force on 1st January 2016 made it clear that access to safe water without safe sanitation means development is unsustainable (SDG 6). Yetresearch shows that most municipal governments in developing countries prioritise potable water provisioning over safe containment and removal of faecal matter. Water is usually provided via community taps (standpipes shared by a group of households) that have led to improved availability of potable water to many urban informal settlements.

However, it is in theL100M where water is carried from the standpipe to the home that problems arise. Unserved by sewerage systems, slum-dwellers rely on toilets draining into poorly constructed septic tanks or pits. Settlements are commonly located on low-lying and poorly drained lands, and the dwellers lack awareness of and provisions for safe handling and disposal of sewage - resulting in the contamination of settlements with faecal material. Through various pathways (e.g. dirty buckets, unwashed hands, insect and rodent vectors) potable water and food is contaminated, causing ill-health.

This challenge has attracted the attention of a group of world leading scholars, practitioners and entrepreneurs led by the UK’s Lancaster University-based Bangladeshi scientist – Dr. Manoj Roy. Since 2013 they have been conducting research to understand the L100M dilemma and find ways of resolving it. The team includes: six Bangladeshi organisations (BRAC University, Dhaka University, Dushtha Shasthya Kendra [DSK], International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh [ICDDR,B], Institute of Water Modelling [IWM] and Water Aid Bangladesh); one Indian organisation (Centre for Science and Environment[CSE]); two Tanzanian organisations (Ardhi University and BRAC Tanzania); and three UK institutions (Lancaster University, University of Manchester and British Water).

Two significant research projects have been implemented and are ongoing –EcoPoor: Urban poor’s access to ecosystem services (sponsored by UK Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme) and The Last 100 Metres: Safeguarding potable water provisioning to urban informal settlements (sponsored by the British Academy Global Challenge Research Fund’s Sustainable Development scheme). Both projects involve comparisons of Dhaka and Dar es Salaam - the commercial capital of Tanzania.

The research team will share their key findings at the Daily Star Roundtable, co-ordinated jointly by the team’s two Bangladeshi collaborators: Water Aid Bangladesh and Department of Architecture of BRAC University. The collaborators look forward to a policy-focussed discussion on how to transform infrastructure and practice in the L100M, leading to measurable improvements to ‘quality of life’ for poor urban people. The Roundtable will reinforce the need to develop a strategy to contain and remove faecal material from poor urban communities - to finish the good job of water provisioning to the urban poor.

Web link of the event covered by national news papers: