Background and issues

2.4 billion people in the world still don’t have access to a toilet. Sanitation remains the forgotten sector among basic services. In high-growth cities, and especially in poorer neighbourhoods, this deficit is a ticking time bomb with repercussions for sanitation and the environment over and above the economic consequences of inaction.


Actors in the sector are caught up in debate and advocacy around this issue. In parallel, private players are developing new technologies and economic models to tackle the problem. However, public health and environmental externalities, the coordination required between water, road and waste collection services, and the complexity of addressing all the components of the sanitation value chain at once limit upscaling of such initiatives as well as the ability of market mechanisms alone to ensure sustainable and inclusive sanitation services. While these initiatives hold great promise, the role played by local authorities in their coordination remains inescapable.

Unfortunately, this interest from the private sector is struggling to induce mobilization from local public bodies, as they are deterred by the high cost of investment, the complexity of interactions between informal players and essential but difficult inter-sectoral coordination. As a result, the emergence of urban policies which can truly develop integrated sanitation services, both spatially and financially, remains tentative.


This project rests on the assumption that the obstacles to such policy development are rooted in urban governance issues. If technological solutions do exist and business opportunities are emerging, then the challenges must be institutional in nature.

How can implementation of initiatives be upscaled? How can political leadership be motivated to address culturally sensitive issues? How to break away from centralized infrastructure models towards alternative models? How can balanced financing plans be developed? What kind of regulation would be needed in a hybrid system offering a wide range of sanitation services? What can be done to anticipate urban growth and provide services that cater for the needs of the most vulnerable sections of the population?

By organizing workshops bringing together experts, public funding bodies, private operators and NGOs involved in urban sanitation, IDDRI is offering a platform for exchange. Building on lessons learnt from the water and solid waste management sectors, the challenges of local governance related to the sanitation services − such as knowledge deficits, administrative fragmentation, regulation of small players, incentives to fund and pay for these services, articulation with overall urban planning − will be discussed.

The objective is to develop policy scenarios which are both coherent and feasible, and design urban sanitation policies and strategies which are in touch with the challenges and on-ground capacity of developing cities, so as to ensure their appropriation by local policy-makers.