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Shifting the perspective: how urban CLTS can contribute to achieving universal access to sanitation

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Urban sanitation differs from rural sanitation in many ways however one of the fundamental differences is that in urban areas one group, (usually the wealthy), benefits from the public provision of sanitation at the expense of others  (usually the poor). Poor households in urban areas must often find their own solutions to failures in sanitation services. During a workshop on urban CLTS (U-CLTS) held in Ethiopia and hosted by Plan International, we explored the potential of CLTS to support safely managed, city-wide sanitation.

We heard how communities in Ethiopia, Mauritania, India, Madagascar, Kenya and Nepal have participated in the design and management of sanitation services and exerted influence over public and private service providers through a U-CLTS approach. The examples highlighted how the collective nature of sanitation means that community structures, rather than individual choices, are critical to sanitation service delivery. The case studies illustrated how the ‘community-led’ aspect of U-CLTS has resulted in: (1) provision of sanitation facilities to substitute for public/private sanitation providers and to compensate for weak government institutions, (2) collaboration between communities and government to coproduce a range of services across the sanitation chain as well as (3) increasing poor people’s ability to make demands on government for universal access.

(1) Substitution of service delivery
We heard examples of how communities and households have installed their own sanitation facilities or else managed some aspect of sanitation service (like pit latrine emptying), supplementing the limited resources of public agencies. Innovation was seen in how urban communities are identified and triggered: for instance in Rosso, Mauritania communities were triggered on the basis of common concerns or interests (such as jobs, lifestyles, values and aspirations) ‘communities of interest’ rather than geography or communities of place. The comparative advantages of community-led provision included flexibility, responsiveness and experimentation. However, the public good characteristics of sanitation mean it is impossible for household or communities themselves to provide all the services required across the whole sanitation chain. And if not carefully managed, regulated or co-ordinated with the public (and private) sector such substituion could lead to fragmented service delivery, duplication, competition for resources, public health risks, poor quality of services/sub-standard work.  There is also the potential for accountability gaps when households encounter problems with sanitaiton services.

(2) Co-production
Co-production models on the other hand, have been used to successfully improve sanitation in a number of urban settings including in Brazil and Pakistan (Orangi Pilot Project and Anjuman Samaji Behbood) as well as more recent innovations such as the Community-Led Urban Environmental Sanitation approach (Tanzania, Nepal and India). These examples show that households and service providers can co-produce sanitation by effectively combining centralised provision of trunk lines and household engagement in financing, maintaining and designing household connections. This kind of collective action through U-CLTS can result in better-managed and maintained services, contingent on whether there are strong institutions and structures of government (municipalities, politicians, public agencies, ministries (such as water, health, environment), and agencies of restraint i.e. watchdogs and regulators).

(3) Politics of service delivery
The human right to sanitation focuses attention on those with less social, political and economic resources. However the continued dependency of the poor on unsafe options (such as flying toilets) or patron-client relations to ensure access to shared sanitation services reflects their inability to enforce legitimate rights. U-CLTS holds the potential to challenge existing power relations in society by mobilising collective rights and obligations. U-CLTS could be an empowerment approach, which leads poor people reflecting for themselves on the reasons for their lack of access and how they can take action on a collective basis to change their situation. Thus, U-CLTS brings ideas of social solidarity, social justice and a moral basis to sanitation– rather than an individualistic relationship of a person or a household to a facility or a service. During the workshop we dicussed how U-CLTS could increase citizen’s control over policy making, planning, operating, regulating and financing urban sanitation. Participants shared examples of increasing the voice and involvement of citizens in sanitaiton services such as user committees in Kenya and consumer watchdog groups in Zambia. This kind of engagement in service provision can act as a proxy for property rights and so provide incentives for individuals to engage in defence of their sanitation services (in both collaborative or adversarial ways). In Mathare for example we heard how a crisis in urban sanitation (cholera) mobilised and unified a community to defend sanitation. U-CLTS in Mathare increased citizen’s expectations, changed political consciousness, expanded what people know about government and service providers, enabled better evaluation of performance, and placed government and service providers under greater scrutiny.

Achieving safely managed sanitation at scale in urban areas will require a change in perspective. U-CLTS shifts attention from the relationship of a person (or a household) to a sanitation facility, product or service to the relationships within the community and between communities and government. As an approach, U-CLTS has the potential to promote citizenship and social justice by offering mechanisms through which the voices of citizens can be heard for decision-making and control for universal access to sanitation.

Sue Cavill is an independent WASH consultant.

Date: 6 July 2016