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Can Citywide Inclusive Sanitation promote access to water and sanitation for all?

Image: Sanitation is a major issue in Asia’s cities with over 600 million people in the region lacking access to a safe water supply, and at least 1.2 billion who do not have to access basic sanitation services.
Photo by: Rakesh Sahai (ADB)

October 2022

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), through TA 9897-REG: Accelerating Sanitation for All in Asia and the Pacific[1] has published a series of guidance notes on Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS), a new approach to addressing sanitation issues that is highly contextual and steers away from the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’, centralized sanitation systems. The CWIS approach is looking to accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 6 to provide access to water and sanitation for all.[2]

Due to rapid urban expansion, many cities in Asia face considerable challenges in providing access to safe, clean drinking water and effective sanitation facilities. Across Asia and the Pacific, 600 million people in urban areas still lack adequate water supply and sanitation.  ADB’s Key Indicators Database reveals that half of the population of  eight countries in Asia do not have access to safely managed sanitation (see Figure 1). A large proportion of the ADB portfolio between 2011 and 2020 was in sanitation-related projects across the region, with investments of close to $5 billion during this period.

Figure 1: The proportion of populations using safe sanitation in 2020.

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However, in spite of this considerable and sustained effort, progress towards safe and sustainable water use and sanitation has not been rapid. The new ADB guidance note What Is Citywide Inclusive Sanitation and Why Is It Needed? explains that one of the main problems with traditional sanitation services is that they focus on large scale networked systems which will are impossible or very expensive to build in densely populated urban areas where many of the poor and vulnerable live.

It also highlights that this approach does not target the most vulnerable citizens well, with many living in those areas that are least prioritized for costly infrastructure programs. Operating and maintaining sewers and wastewater treatment plants is also particularly challenging in many developing cities leading to water pollution and adverse health outcomes.

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Figure 2: Selected sanitation-related investments made by ADB between 2011 and 2020. Source: ADB

Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS) looks to shift the urban sanitation paradigm, by taking a flexible and pragmatic approach that adapts to local context. CWIS promotes a range of solutions that can be onsite or sewered, centralized or decentralized depending on the specific context in the city. The focus of CWIS is on the service provision rather than having pre-determined ideas about the types of infrastructure or investments that should be installed. The CWIS method is participatory and inclusive, allowing for local input to decide the best, and most cost-effective solution.

Applying CWIS requires city and national sanitation policies, strategies, and investments that address the entire sanitation service chain, from the toilet to treatment and reuse or disposal. CWIS comprises four elements—capable institutions, safety and reliability, equity and inclusion, and sustainability—with associated actions to achieve the desired outcome (see Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Citywide Inclusive Sanitation House

To implement CWIS effectively, there needs to be a reassessment of how sanitation infrastructure is funded, and challenge approaches that favor certain types of investments over other potentially more effective options. It also requires the active participation of local communities and stakeholders to implement effectively and must follow a gender-sensitive approach in order to deliver sustainable urban sanitation services for all.

ADB’s guidance notes on inclusive finance mechanisms for CWIS and on addressing gender equity and social inclusion in urban sanitation projects highlight these issues and provide recommendations to inform the design and implementation of effective CWIS programmes.

Citywide Inclusive Sanitation (CWIS) Guidance Notes:

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1. Inclusive Financial Mechanisms: Improving Access to Sanitation Services for Poor Households

Funding for sanitation must be utilized effectively to reach those most in need of support. This guidance note explains how different financing mechanisms can be applied to provide affordable sanitation services to poor households. It is part of a series that aims to share essential knowledge to embed CWIS principles in planning and delivering sanitation services to ADB developing member countries.  ADB’s Water Sector Group prepared these learning materials, which were structured along the ADB project processing cycle.

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2. Addressing Gender Equality and Social Inclusion in Urban Sanitation Projects

Funding for sanitation must be utilized effectively to reach those most in need of support. This guidance note explains how different financing mechanisms can be applied to provide affordable sanitation services to poor households. It is part of a series that aims to share essential knowledge to embed CWIS principles in planning and delivering sanitation services to ADB developing member countries. ADB’s Water Sector Group prepared these learning materials, which were structured along the ADB project processing cycle.

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3. What Is Citywide Inclusive Sanitation and Why Is It Needed?

Funding for sanitation must be utilized effectively to reach those most in need of support. This guidance note explains how different financing mechanisms can be applied to provide affordable sanitation services to poor households. It is part of a series that aims to share essential knowledge to embed CWIS principles in planning and delivering sanitation services to ADB developing member countries. ADB’s Water Sector Group prepared these learning materials, which were structured along the ADB project processing cycle.