Study: sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia have the least access to sanitation

Slums in Abidjan, Ivory Coast./Getty Images
Aerial view of streets in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.Flickr/UN Photo

New research from WRI Ross Center, Untreated and Unsafe: Solving the Urban Sanitation Crisis in the Global South, finds that, on average, 62% of sewage and human waste is unsafely managed at various points along the sanitation service chain across 15 cities in the global south.

Access to sanitation is generally lowest in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In three cities – Colombo, Sri Lanka; Caracas, Venezuela; and Karachi, Pakistan – researchers found that 0% of human waste was safely managed. For human waste sludge specifically, 5 out of the 15 cities did not have any management regulations in place.

One of the many informal settlements the city of Surabaya, Indonesia has upgraded since the 1960s with participation from residents./Photo by Peter Edelman

“No city can be healthy, or in the long term successful, without providing its residents with universal access to safe, affordable sanitation services,” said David Satterthwaite, lead author and senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development. “But the issue has received very little attention from most governments and aid agencies, especially for the urban under-served.”

“For too long, urban policymakers and governments have turned a blind eye to the problem of untreated human waste in cities, and pretended, because it was handled by households and out of sight, that the problem was taken care of,” said Victoria A. Beard, co-author, fellow at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University.

The report suggests certain specific actions that can be taken in struggling and emerging cities in Latin America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to improve safe sanitation access for the urban under-served:

-Extend the sewer network to household, communal and public toilets.

-In the absence of sewer systems, support and regulate on-site sanitation options such as septic tanks and pit latrines.

Support citywide, participatory upgrading of informal settlements that address the need for sanitation services.

Make a variety of sanitation services more affordable for low-income households.