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:
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.
Rapid urbanization poses challenges for public authorities worldwide as they work to provide essential services to growing populations.
The U-STASIS project focused on understanding the relationship between basic service arrangements and urban equality in the Global South, with a specific focus on sanitation.
The project took a unique approach, examining the influence of power dynamics, political and social factors, and ecological considerations on urban social inequalities. It also developed a typology called the “sanitation bargain,” which categorized different models of service provision (household, utility, cityworks, enterprise) and highlighted how choices in provision were influenced by factors like private or public leadership and financing dynamics, thus impacting social equality.
One key finding was the significant influence of major development banks on the sanitation sector. Since the 1960s, these banks have shaped technology and institutional practices, using their investments as testing grounds for introducing new financial and institutional arrangements aimed at utility based sanitation systems, which do not always maximize public health outcomes.
The research emphasizes the importance of inclusive negotiation forums when determining sanitation bargains. These forums ensure that equity and fair public health outcomes are prioritized in decision-making processes. The study also highlights the need to move away from misleading terms like “stakeholders” and “good governance”, which can hide conflicting interests and assume that all actors are on equal footing, when they are not.
By challenging these assumptions, the research contributes to a better understanding of ongoing urbanization processes and their impact on inequality.
The findings of this project can inform urban planning efforts and provide insights into the complex interactions between urbanization and inequality.
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.
Multilateral development banks (MDBs) play a pivotal role in financing water and sanitation infrastructure projects and thus have a major impact on the development of basic services. Although information about the MDBs’ investments is publicly available, it is dispersed and not easily comparable. A comprehensive compilation of MDBs’ water and sanitation investments has long been lacking. To address this gap, we assess water and sanitation financing by the three MDBs most relevant to Africa and Asia between 1960 and 2020: the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. We compile a new dataset by drawing on 3,639 water and sanitation projects and assess territorial trends, technology choices, distribution of financial burdens, and reforms to institutional arrangements. We find that MDBs’ investments align with changing patterns of urbanization and increasingly finance sanitation infrastructures including non-sewered technologies. However, our results also suggest that institutional reforms have addressed utility efficiency through investment in equipment and skills rather than through increased commercialization and private sector participation. The leverage effect of MDB invest- ment on private financing is negligible, whereas co-financing from local governments dominates.
University of Neuchâtel
University of Neuchâtel
Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex
International Water Management Institute (IMWI), CGIAR Research Center
International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (Dhaka)
BORDA – Tanzania, Dar es Salaam
African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW)
World Bank, Water Global Practice
International Centre for Water Management Services (CEWAS)
Director of Water Growth & Inclusion at IMWI