More than 50% of the world's population now live in urban areas and every day a further 180,000 people move to cities from the country. As more poor people migrate to towns and cities to escape rural poverty and seek better opportunities, the populations living in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in urban slums continue to rise.
A water point funded by WaterAid in Tanzania's largest city Dar es Salaam.
Credit: WaterAid / Marco Betti
There are now at least 750 million people living in urban squatter settlements without adequate shelter or basic services and without legal title to their land. The numbers of people living in these settlements is expanding so rapidly that governments are unable to keep up with the necessary infrastructure development and services like water and sanitation are woefully inadequate.
Because of the increasing need WaterAid has pledged to increase our urban work to help ensure that these, some of the world's poorest people, gain access to water and sanitation.
Our projects were initially all in rural areas until 1990 when we began working in urban areas on a small scale. Now we have, or are developing, urban projects of differing scales in all of the countries in Africa and Asia where we work. We are aiming to allocate around 30% of our funds to urban work in the future to help address this huge, growing problem.
A child surrounded by flood water in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Credit: Brent Stirton
The scale of the problem varies greatly from city to city and town to town. In large urban centers like Dhaka, Bangladesh, the problem is vast; here the population has risen from 250,000 in the early 1970s to more than 12 million today. Millions of people live in the city's slums in such crowded conditions that many are even forced to live on the wrong side of flood barriers, in homes that flood annually.
Across the developing world in towns and cities of all sizes there are thousands of similar unplanned squatter settlements without facilities. Millions live "off the map" in communities that are unrecognized by the authorities and ignored in city development plans. Different solutions and approaches are needed for each problem but we are developing models of working in urban contexts that can be adapted to each situation.
Much of our experience of working in urban areas is from Asia and we are now taking lessons from there to expand our work further into the towns and cities of Africa.
Download WaterAid's information sheet on urban work
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Communal sanitation block
Hasina (pictured left), aged 30, is the caretaker for the communal water and sanitation block built with WaterAid's support in a slum area of Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka.
As well as creating a job for her, the block has meant huge improvements to her own water and sanitation situation, along with the rest of the community's, as she explained:
"Before getting this sanitation block I used to be lucky to get a wash once every three days. I had to travel to the market and buy 20 liters of water for 1 taka which was even more money back then considering I had no regular income. I would have to carry this home quite some distance. I would also wait for the rain and stand in the rain for a wash. Now I bathe every day and feel so much more clean and comfortable.
"About 100 families use this sanitation block which is split into male and female facilities for privacy. Our community also gets some income from truck drivers and other people from outside the community that come to use our facilities.
"Also our children are much cleaner more healthy now. Our community decided that all children can use the facilities for free. As women we have more time now to spend on our household duties and can feed and clean our children better with that time.
"Before the block it was so difficult to find a place to defecate, especially for women. The conditions are so crowded here that there isn’t a spare place and having no privacy whatsoever was awful."
Photo: WaterAid / Abir Abdullah