Global slum revitalisation research looks at water, sanitation and sustainable development

A global charitable foundation has awarded an AUD $14 million grant to an international research consortium led by Monash University that will potentially improve the lives of the more than a billion people living in urban slums globally.

Part of the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Our Planet Our Health’ funding program, Monash will use the grant for a five-year research project that will significantly advance human health and wellbeing in slums – or informal settlements – by transforming water infrastructure, water management, and sanitation practices.

The research project will deliver the first ever public health and environmental data on the outcomes of an alternative water management approach. The outcomes could potentially provide the basis for new water infrastructure policies and investment strategies for urban informal settlements worldwide.

The research, which will focus on informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia, will commence this year. It will also be integrated in those countries in two infrastructure projects, which are currently being prepared for financing by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank.

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About the Wellcome Trust

Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. It is a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. Wellcome supports scientists and researchers, takes on big problems, fuels imaginations and sparks debate.

About the Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank is committed to improving the lives of people in the Asia-Pacific region through partnerships with developing member countries and other stakeholders. It seeks to alleviate poverty and help promote sustainable, inclusive growth through loans, equity, grants and co-financing as well as through policy dialogue.

Research project leadership team profiles

Project Leader – Professor Rebekah Brown, Director - Monash Sustainable Development Institute

Professor Rebekah Brown As Professor of Social Science with a background as a civil engineering practitioner, Rebekah Brown is ideally positioned to lead this complex interdisciplinary project. She is internationally recognised for introducing a sociotechnical dimension to what had been almost exclusively an engineering focus on urban water. She pioneered the model that became the precursor to the water sensitive approach that is highly influential in the development of urban water policy globally. Her work is cited in UN-Habitat’s formulation of policy on urban drainage (2014–2017); in a major UNESCO analysis of 33 cities (2012) and by the Asian Development Bank to help frame water infrastructure investment strategies for its client nations. She has published in Nature, Science, and premier journals in her field, including Global Environmental Change and Water Research.

Professor Brown co-led the successful application for an AU$120M national research centre to make water sensitive approaches a reality in Australia; as Chief Research Officer, she led the integration of research outcomes from ≥100 researchers and 40 doctoral students from multiple institutions and 20 disciplines. Brown’s work underpins transformations to sustainable water-management in Singapore, Vanuatu, and recently Indonesia.


Professor Karin Leder – Head of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University

Professor Karin Leder As an infectious disease physician specialising in illnesses common to tropical regions, Professor Leder has specific expertise in gastrointestinal, respiratory, vector-borne and skin infections that are seen among those from resourcepoor areas. She has investigated the epidemiology of, and risk factors for, imported infections among travellers and immigrants, and her results have been incorporated into international travel health guidelines.

Professor Leder leads the only research group in Australia that focuses on water and human health issues. The group’s research has analysed exposures, risks, and health outcomes associated with drinking and alternative water sources (rainwater, greywater, and recycled water). The outputs have been translated into national guidelines and public health policy.


Professor Tony Wong – Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities

Professor Tony WongProfessor Wong is Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (hosted by Monash University). A civil engineer with a PhD in Water Engineering and over 30 years’ professional experience, Wong is internationally recognised for his work in integrated urban water cycle management and Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD).

His expertise has been gained through consulting, research, and academia. Professor Wong is a pioneer in the water sensitive cities approach, which takes a uniquely socio-technical approach by concurrently addressing the social, environmental, and economic challenges faced by traditional urban water management. In developing this approach, he has led significant advances in R&D, technology, urban design, and policy. His early work on WSUD has been disseminated globally, and his subsequent transformation of WSUD into the more holistic, water sensitive cities approach has been mainstreamed across Australia, and increasingly in developing nations.

Project Investigators

  • Professor Rebekah Brown (Director, Monash Sustainable Development Institute) – Project Director
  • Professor Karin Leder (Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University) – Assessment Team Leader
  • Professor Tony Wong (CEO, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities) – Intervention Team Leader
  • Professor Diego Ramirez-Lovering (Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Monash University) – Design and Engagement Leader
  • Professor Steven Chown (Faculty of Science, Monash University) – Ecology and Environment Leader
  • Professor Steven Luby (Stanford University, USA) – Human Health Leader
  • Associate Professor David Johnston (Monash Business School) – Wellbeing Leader
  • Professor Thomas Clasen (Emory University, USA) – Policy and Investment Leader
  • Professor Daniel Reidpath (Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia) – Data Management Leader
  • Professor Mohamed El-Sioufi (Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Monash University) - Design and Engagement
  • Associate Professor David McCarthy (Faculty of Engineering, Monash University) - Ecology and Environment
  • Professor Andrew Forbes (Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University) - Human Health
  • Associate Professor Julie Simpson (University of Melbourne) - Human Health
  • Professor Pascale Allotey (Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia) - Wellbeing
  • Professor Bruce Cahan (Stanford University, USA) - Policy and Investment

Participating Universities

  • Stanford University (USA)
  • Emory University (USA)
  • University of Melbourne (Australia)

Collaborating Universities

  • Hasanuddin University (Indonesia)
  • Fiji National University (Fiji)
  • The University of the South Pacific (Fiji)

Project partners

  • South East Water – expertise in infrastructure design and capacity building for operation and maintenance of systems.
  • Melbourne Water – expertise in flood analysis and protection; training and capacity building for design engineers.
  • World Health Organisation - expertise in developing water and sanitation safety plans and conducting risk assessments.
  • Oxfam Indonesia - expertise in working with in-country networks to support the implementation of development initiatives.
  • Oxfam Pacific - expertise in community engagement and inclusive governance, as well as facilitation of local networks.
  • Australia-Indonesia Centre - expertise in facilitating relationships in Indonesia and promotion of impact research.
  • WaterAid Australia - expertise in community engagement, training and capacity building for operation and maintenance of systems.
  • SDSN Australia Pacific - expertise in facilitating relationships with local sustainable development networks in the region.