Urban slums in Asia will benefit from innovations in water and sanitation


An international cooperative headed by Monash University, Australia, will soon initiate a research project that has the potential to be the model for sustainable water and sanitation solutions that are economic as well as ecological for the population numbering more than one billion living in urban slums most found in developing nations.

The cooperative – which includes the likes of Emory University and Stanford University from the Unites States of America (USA) – was one of the beneficiaries of the USD$10.5 million ‘Our Planet, Our Health’ Award given by the Wellcome Trust, a London-based medical research charity. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) awarded them a further USD$9.83 million in funding.

Led by Rebekah Brown, Director of Monash Sustainable Development Institute, the project’s goal is to redevelop some of the poorest urban slums in Indonesia and Fiji, chosen for their vastly different climates and cultures, over the next half decade. Research scientists felt that the diversified understanding and knowledge gained from the programme would enable a broader application in their attempt to decentralise water management infrastructure in the urban slums, with each slum managing the recycling of its own wastewater, collection of rainwater, and process of water purification.

“We know the centralised, energy-isive ‘big pipe’ solution used for the past 150 years to pump water from reservoirs into cities, and sewage o centralised treatment plants, often overlooks informal settlements. This is has led to horrific health and social issues such as diarrhoea killing 1,500 children a day globally,” Brown said.

Shared lavatories, faecal adulteration, and leakage into groundwater all present a huge health risk. “Our goal is to reduce exposure of communities to environmental faecal contamination by ensuring safer, more reliable water supplies and wastewater disposal,” Brown continued.

The designs will be realised in at least 12 of the poorest urban slums encompassing upwards of 2,000 households in one city each in Indonesia and Fiji.

Taking inspiration from water systems already up and running in Singapore, Israel, Australia and China, the project will have the communities lead in the designs, in order to encourage the populations to create and develop water and sanitation services that are best suited for their needs. When the programme first begins in mid-2017, the team will spend the first half-year fostering local partnerships and relationships with the communities involved in the research project.

 Andrew McIntyre, Senior Urban Development Specialist of ADB stipulated that the team and Bank “will spend two years working closely with the communities. We will be looking at buildings that can be extended upwards fairly easily given land space is an issue, and also retrofitting so that homes and buildings maximise the use of space and are climate resilient.”

The research work will also be able to produce the very first public health and environmental data on the results of an alternative method to water management.

“The intervention will [have an] impact on water usage, waste management and sanitation. [A lower level] of exposure to faecal waste is expected to result in less faecal-oral spread of organisms, reduced intestinal inflammation and carriage of fewer gastrointestinal pathogens.” Karin Leder, Head of the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit at Monash University, said. “Additionally, the intervention is designed to reduce flood-water inundations, which will limit breeding of vectors, such as mosquitoes and rats.”

System design and how it will work. Photo credit: Monash Sustainable Development Institute