"The world has come to accept the unacceptable. It is a human rights imperative that informal settlements be upgraded to meet the basic standards of human dignity." Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing.

SERI’s Alana Potter and the Social Justice Coalition’s Axolile Notywala co-convened a session on informal settlement sanitation in the sub-theme “Sanitation and the SDGs - Leave No One Behind” on 19 February 2019. They joined the approximately 1,300 mostly international NGOs, donors, academics and practitioners who participated in AfricaSan, which was co-hosted for the first time by the fifth Faecal Sludge Management Conference

AfricaSan has grown from a conference to a movement that blends political, technical and knowledge exchange streams. From its inception in 2002 linked to the formation of the African Ministers’ Council for Water (AMCOW) during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) with just 13 ministers present, AfricaSan now includes political representatives from more than 60 African countries. AfricaSan continues to set and learn from progress (or lack of progress) against regional and national sanitation and hygiene commitments; to generate evidence to prioritise and invest in sanitation and hygiene, and develop strategies to improve sector performance.

AfricaSan2The first commitment in the N’gor Declaration, signed by African Ministers at AfricaSan IV in Dakar Senegal in 2015 states: “Focus on the poorest, most marginalised and unserved aimed at progressively eliminating inequalities in access and use and implement national and local strategies with an emphasis on equity and sustainability”.

The commitment to not only ‘leave no one behind’ but to actively prioritise sanitation services in order to eliminate inequalities, is one of least progress across countries. SDG and N’gor monitoring shows marked inequality in sanitation provision across African countries. As demonstrated by WASHCost research in five countries over five years, the poor pay more for poorer quality WASH services across the world.

SERI shared findings from informal settlement action research in Marikana (Cape Town), Ratanang (Klerksdorp) and Siyanda (eThekwini) to be launched in Johannesburg in April 2019. SJC discussed their campaign for dignified sanitation services in informal settlements in Cape Town, noting clearly that 66% of informal settlement latrines are temporary, pose safety risks, are culturally and socially inappropriate and are neither private nor dignified. In Khayelitsha, 83% of informal settlements were established over 15 years ago.

SERI also facilitated a session for the World Health Organisation (WHO) UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-water (GLAAS) on Effective National Sanitation Policies: Learning from Five Countries. SERI’s sub-theme focused on issues to be resolved in sanitation policies in order to enable equitable access to services. Outcomes will be fed into sanitation policy guidelines be published by the African Ministers Council for Water (AMCOW).            

10 Key messages:

  • AfricaSan1People are not left behind by accident. Poverty is structural and systemic. Notions of the poor as ‘undocumented’, ‘undesirable’ or ‘undeserving’ are entrenched in popular narratives and influence policy decisions and budget allocations.
  • In South Africa, inequalities persist despite the infrastructure developed and the targets met, partly because housing and services have been provided on the peripheries of urban settlements, far from economic opportunities. 
  • Poor people are left behind because government either does too much (by evicting them to the outskirts of cities far from economic opportunities or by redeveloping existing settlements), or because it does too little (by expecting the poor to provide their own services in a market based system). 
  • Self-supply places significant strain on local resources and differentiates access along social and economic lines, deepening the vulnerability of vulnerable groups. 
  • The productive use of services is essential to escape poverty and precarity. Greater quantities of water and power closer to households are needed to enable this. Housing needs to be near economic opportunities. 
  • Shared sanitation presents profound safety and privacy concerns, particularly for women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
  • Tenure security enables people to build livelihoods and resilience. Container based solutions are designed for temporary settlements. Many informal settlements in South Africa have been there for more than a decade. 
  • Communities are resourceful and make creative adaptations. Local norms, practices and agency are a resource to be built into in-situ upgrading of “sites and services” in informal settlements.
  • Leaving no one behind requires concerted effort and resources. It may mean policy changes. It means changing how we see and treat the poor. 
  • To reach the poor we need political will, better data, blended financing mechanisms, integrated planning and a nuanced approach to enabling and regulating the private sector.