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Marking World Water Day 2019

UCL-led consortium tackles water and sanitation in urban Africa

Marking World Water Day 2019

On World Water Day 2019, 22nd March, UCL Geography’s Professor Richard Taylor, who leads the AfriWatSan research consortium, declares that radical and unconventional solutions’ are required to sustain low-cost, clean urban water supplies and sanitation systems in rapidly expanding parts of Africa.

The consortium is assisting urban communities to secure access to safe water and sanitation in three types of settlement in Sub-Saharan Africa: a town (Lukaya, Uganda), a city (Kisumu, Kenya) and a mega-city (Dakar, Senegal). The lessons learned will have application to rapidly growing urban centres across tropical Africa.

AfriWatSan is a five year (2015-2020) collaborative project, including leading scientists, technicians and students from UCL, Université Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar (Senegal), University of Nairobi (Kenya), and Makerere University (Uganda).

The research is funded by the Royal Society and the UK government’s DFID, and supports the UN’s goal, to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030’.

The project involves analysis of the current water supply and sanitation infrastructure under conditions of varying population densities, climate and geology in each settlement. Researchers have conducted detailed mapping of on-site water supply and sanitation facilities and are monitoring how the systems operate. The aim is to inform the planning, development and operation of more sustainable on-site water supply and sanitation systems.

Richard explains:

“Current rates of population growth in urban Sub-Saharan Africa are more than three times faster than those experienced when infrastructural development in such cities was subsidised by historical colonialism. We therefore need radical, unconventional solutions to address the water-related challenges of these areas.

“Our team is developing the scientific evidence to inform policies and practices that sustain low-cost, on-site water supplies and sanitation systems in urban Africa, and strengthening the capacity of individuals and institutions to conduct this vital research.

Recognising the potential of water beneath the earth’s surface to provide a localised source of safe water and disposal facility for faecal waste requires careful development and management, informed by science.”

World Water Day 2019 raises awareness and makes the case for the sustainable management of freshwater. Over a quarter of the world’s population uses contaminated drinking-water, spreading potentially fatal diseases including cholera, typhoid and polio.

Richard adds:

“The impact of this research is both local and global. Locally, the team works with partners in each urban environment including local government, government ministries, community organisations, water vendors and charities. Working with these groups seeks directly to impact the development, operation and maintenance of on-site water supply and sanitation systems in ways that are sustainable and equitable. It aims to provide solutions of the same high quality as the conventional piped water and sewerage systems commonly found in higher-income communities.”



Researchers from AfriWatSan consortium testing the quality of water from a shallow well in Lukaya Town, Uganda

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