Urban Sanitation Technologies as International Power Structures (U-STASIS)

Why and how does centralized design prevail as a global gold standard for the urban sanitation sector even in the light of crisis and how does it influence project implementation under SDG6?

Project Summary

Sanitation is in crisis. Two billion people lack access to safe sanitation. The crisis is especially prevalent in unplanned, densely populated urban areas, where the current gold standard of flush toilets – large scale sewer networks and centralized treatment plants – is neither affordable nor implementable.

Numerous calls for international action have been stirred to address this sanitation crisis and reach SDG6.2 by 2030. Governments, UN agencies and even sector leading corporations have come together in joint missions to outstrip the one size fits all design of centralized sanitation infrastructures and call for city wide and inclusive approaches to sanitation. However, to date, low-cost technologies and adaptive planning approaches have failed to scale. There is little attention amongst scholars and policy analysts to the strong economic and political forces that perpetuate the urban sanitation crisis. Thus, this multidisciplinary and collaborative project asks:

  • Why and how do centralised sanitation infrastructure persist despite continued crisis?
  • What is the international political economy of defining and implementing SDG 6.2?
  • What is the role of multilateral development banks in the provision of urban sanitation infrastructure?

Starting from an international political economy perspective this project focuses on multilateral development banks, which are key intermediaries through funding, knowledge brokering, and project implementation under SDG 6.2. Methodologically the project links automated large scale document analysis with in depth case studies to grasp the multilevel dimensions of persistence in the urban sanitation crisis.

The team brings together academic researchers, international and local organizations and combines expertise in international political economy, global power, SDGs, urban sanitation, and interdisciplinary research.

The proposed U-STASIS research project aims to explain the persistence of centralized Urban Sanitation Infrastructure (USI) from an international political-economy perspective. The expected results will provide new entry points for overcoming the deadlock and advancing the implementation of SDG6 and the more rapid expansion of inclusive urban sanitation coverage.


On whose terms: utilities, enterprises or communities? The territorial political economy of water and sanitation sector reforms in Dhaka

Citywide inclusive sanitation (CWIS) is becoming the dominant paradigm for achieving safe sanitation for all by 2030. Its technical benefits have been explored, but the bargaining over financial and organizational changes CWIS entails have not yet been adequately addressed. Our case study explains the stalled rollout of CWIS in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We analyse policy pathways over the past 30 years through a combined territorial political economy and power perspective to understand their effects on equality. We highlight how donors link the introduction of CWIS to the organization of sanitation through a market; how the utility uses CWIS as an opportunity to avoid costly responsibilities in non- sewered sanitation; and how service co-production through community-based solutions is neglected. CWIS has successfully overcome the dogmatic technological focus in the sanitation system, but for citywide sanitation to be scaled inclusively, the dogmatic focus in the organization and financing of the sanitation sector must also be overcome.

Research Team

Olivier Crevoisier
University of Neuchâtel

Christoph Lüthi

Andri Brugger
Principal Member
University of Neuchâtel

John Gaventa
Principal Member
Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex

Josiane Nikiema
Principal Member
International Water Management Institute (IMWI), CGIAR Research Center



Mahbub Ul-Alam
Principal Member
International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (Dhaka)

Tim Fettback
Principal member
BORDA – Tanzania, Dar es Salaam

Sareen Malik
Associated member
African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW)

Martin Gambrill
Associated member
World Bank, Water Global Practice

Johannes Heer
Associated member
International Centre for Water Management Services (CEWAS)

Alan Nicol
Associated member
Director of Water Growth & Inclusion at IMWI