Innovations in Sustainable Urban Services Driving Development in Low Income Countries
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Over the next decades, most of the world’s urban growth will take place in developing countries. By 2035 cities will house 2 billion poor people, many of whom will live in slums with little or no access to basic services such as sanitation, water, or health services.
Urban trends portend a bleak future for many, but in a number of urban areas in developing countries, new technologies and partnerships are empowering the urban poor to demand more of their governments, and in some cases to provide their own services. From Kenya to India to Indonesia, community mapping technology is enabling the urban poor to identify precise need and demand access to services. Elsewhere, new forms of partnerships between NGOs, local service providers and local communities are matching need to opportunities to sustainably improve livelihoods.
Community mapping brings invisible communities out from the shadows
The potential of community mapping programs has been clear since the Map Kibera project set out to map the largest slum in Africa nearly four years ago. Using consumer-grade GPS and freely available platforms like OpenStreetMap, an alliance of Kenyan organizations trained local youth to map their own community. They meticulously filled in a large blank spot on the map with evidence of their homes, landmarks, and networks. In the process, they shed light on what had been an invisible community. The initial project has since grown to encompass a citizen journalism network, and a platform for direct reporting by Kibera residents through SMS or directly through the Voice of Kibera website.
Similar citizen mapping projects are having community impacts elsewhere. Solo Koto Kita has compiled mini atlases of 51 neighborhoods in Surakarta (Solo), one of the most densely populated cities in Indonesia. Informed by extensive interviews with residents, the atlases highlight education levels, access to water and sanitation facilities, housing, poverty, and health services. Data at this level are not collected by the city or national governments, and as a result, the voices of the poor are not always heard by wealthier residents of neighborhoods. These maps and atlases help to inform the local participatory budgeting process, which can prioritize issues that better reflect evidence-based assessments of local needs, rather than vague perceptions or elite opinion.
In India, the NGO Prayasam led a youth-initiative to map a Kolkata squatter colony on paper. The goal was to convince authorities to provide clean water by visually communicating the absence of access points. With the help of ChildCount+ and the Bay Area Video Coalition, which matches social issue documentary teams with technology mentors, the project has grown into a high-tech initiative to vaccinate 100% of the population against polio by identifying and locating newborns and children who need the vaccine.
Partnerships for sustainable service delivery
While the Prayasam partnership model provides technical support for local initiatives, public-private partnerships foster investment and revenue-generating services that target the poor. In the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, Sanergy is growing a system of low-cost off-grid infrastructure that provides safe and affordable sanitation. Sanergy’s network of sanitation centers is franchised to local entrepreneurs who charge fees for use of toilets. Waste is collected and carted to a processing facility where it is converted into electricity and commercial-grade fertilizer. The electricity is sold to the national grid, and the fertilizer is sold to commercial and small hold farmers. In the first six months, 60 franchisees ordered over 80 toilets, 40 toilet operators were trained, and over 100,000 users visited the toilets, generating daily revenue for operators from $1.00-$3.30.
Sanergy’s model, which engages the urban poor in helping solve the very problems that the urban poor experience is one that we at USAID particularly support. We are committed to helping cities provide sustainable pro-poor services to manage the realities of increased urban growth. This is the aim our forthcoming policy on Sustainable Urban Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World, which emphasizes, among other development principles, citizen participation, geographic focus, and public-private collaboration. We are now revising the draft based on feedback that we received following a period of extensive review within USAID and—in a first for the Agency—by the general public. Stay tuned, as we expect to launch the final policy within the next few months.
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This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.
Update for April 20, 2021:
After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.
-Ron & Stewart
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