Water, sanitation innovations to transform urban slums

Schoolgirls getting drinking wate
Copyright: Panos

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  • The project aims to revolutionise water delivery, sanitation in urban slums
  • The blueprint is to provide greatly improved water solutions and sanitation
  • Its success will be measured by the health outcome of slum dwellers

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[SYDNEY] An international consortium led by Australia’s Monash University will begin a research project that could provide the blueprint for ecologically and economically sustainable water and sanitation solutions for the over one billion people living in urban slums mostly in developing countries.
The consortium, which includes the Stanford and Emory universities in the US, is one of the recipients of the US$10.5 million “Our Planet, Our Health” award announced Tuesday (24 January) by the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London. An additional US$9.83 million funding will be provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“Our goal is to reduce exposure of communities to environmental faecal contamination.”

Rebekah Brown, Monash Sustainable Development Institute


The project, led by Monash Sustainable Development Institute director Rebekah Brown, aims to redevelop urban slums in Fiji and Indonesia over the next five years. The two countries were chosen for their different cultural and climatic challenges. Researchers felt this diverse understanding would allow a wider application of their approach to trial decentralise water management infrastructure in urban slums with each slum recycling its own wastewater, harvesting rainwater, creating green space for water purification and food cultivation.   
Brown says, “We know the centralised, energy-intensive ‘big pipe’ solution used for the past 150 years to pump water from reservoirs into cities, and sewage to centralised treatment plants, often overlooks informal settlements. This has led to horrific health and social issues such as diarrhoea killing 1,500 children a day globally.”
The use of communal latrines, seepage into groundwater and faecal contamination pose a major health risk. “Our goal is to reduce exposure of communities to environmental faecal contamination by ensuring safer, more reliable water supplies and wastewater disposal,” Brown adds.  

How the system would work
urban slum project
  Click here to enlarge

These water-sensitive urban pilot designs will be rolled out in at least 12 of the poorest slums covering over 2,000 households in one city each in Fiji and Indonesia.
Drawing on systems already operating in Australia, China, Israel and Singapore, the project will use a community-led design approach, encouraging local communities to develop water and sanitation services that work best for them. Beginning mid-2017, the team will spend the first six months developing local partnerships with the communities involved in the pilot studies.

ADB’s senior urban development specialist Andrew McIntyre tells SciDev.Net that ADB and the project team “will spend two years working closely with the communities. We will be looking at buildings that can be extended upwards fairly easily given land space is an issue, and also retrofitting so that homes and buildings maximise the use of space and are climate resilient”.
This project will also deliver the first public health and environmental data on the outcomes of an alternative water management approach.
“The intervention will impact on water usage, waste management and sanitation. Lower levels of exposure to faecal waste is expected to result in less faecal-oral spread of organisms, reduced intestinal inflammation and carriage of fewer gastrointestinal pathogens,” says Karin Leder, head of the infectious diseases epidemiology unit at Monash University.
“Additionally, the intervention is designed to reduce flood-water inundations, which will limit breeding of vectors, such as mosquitoes and rats.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.