Innovations in Sustainable Urban Services Driving Development in Low Income Countries
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.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Read more from the Meeting of the Minds Blog
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Many of the AV companies developing this technology are developing small shuttles, neighborhood circulators, and other types of micro-transit. These have the ability to travel on neighborhood streets, move multiple passengers and truly transform mobility, especially in sprawling urban areas such as Phoenix. One way to explore these benefits is to build partnerships with AV companies – both those developing micro-transit and those developing more traditional ride-share services.
The focus on the co-benefits of adaptation has proved to be important. Demonstrating that adaptation does not need to be only about preventing disaster, but can also improve the livability of the city by creating new recreational spaces, greening the city, and making it a nicer place also when it is not raining has been a key factor in the popularity of the cloudburst management plan.
While 2018 was filled with a number of successful smart city deployments, it also revealed significant challenges that will only intensify in years to come. The most pressing challenge to be addressed throughout 2019 is earning the public’s trust in smart city projects. Towards the end of 2018, we saw major data privacy concerns emerge from citizens. From these concerns a heated, but healthy discourse between citizens, local governments, and private sector companies rose to mainstream media prominence. Citizens’ expectations of privacy have begun to challenge the murky data privacy policies described by many in the private sector. 2019 will be the year of the smart city for the citizen.