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Water Sensitive Revitalisation of Informal Urban Settlements

By the middle of this century more than 6.3 billion people will live in urban areas, or 70% of the world’s projected population. Rapid urbanisation and the effects of climate change have a devastating effect on people around the world who live without adequate access to the most vital requirement for a healthy, stable and prosperous community – clean water.

Currently 2.3 billion people globally lack basic sanitation and more than one billion of those are living in urban informal settlements. The Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation, has awarded funding of $14 million to an international consortium led by Monash University for a five-year research  project  that  will  significantly  advance human health and well-being in slums – or informal settlements – by transforming water infrastructure, water management, and sanitation practices.

The ambitious project was one of only four chosen by the Wellcome Trust from over 600 applications globally. The research will focus on informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia. Two infrastructure projects will upgrade 24 settlements in Fiji and Indonesia, chosen because they represent typical challenges  to  providing  water  management  in  the Asia-Pacific region. The revitalisation work at each urban informal settlement will be designed through a community consultation process where tailored infrastructure solutions suitable to the local context can be introduced to harvest stormwater, recycle wastewater,  manage  sewage,  contain  environmental  contamination  from livestock and protect against flooding.

The project will evaluate wider impacts, including improved health outcomes, increased food production and employment, and decreased violence against women and girls, who will no longer have to travel long distances to find clean water or access toilets. The aim is to provide the basis for new long-term  infrastructure  policies  and  investment  strategies  for informal settlements.

Led by Professor Rebekah Brown, the Director of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, the consortium also includes Professor Karin Leder, Head of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University and Professor Tony Wong, the CEO of the Cooperative  Research  Centre  for  Water  Sensitive  Cities.

The recent global adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations, shows there remains a commitment to universal delivery of essential water and sanitation services.  Achieving goals such as health and wellbeing (Goal 3), improved water and sanitation (Goal  6)  and  sustainable  cities  and  communities (Goal 11) demands an integrated and holistic approach. This truly collaborative project involves Monash Engineering, Monash Sceince, Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA), the Monash Business School, and partner institutions including Stanford and Emory Universities  in  the  United  States  and The University of Melbourne.

This animation shows typical slum and squatter settlements in the Asia-Pacific region and the types of urban water management innovations that can be used to accelerate health gains and deliver more sustainable and environmentally compatible solutions. The design and delivery of settlement revitalisations will be site specific and determined via a community consultation and co-design process.

According to Professor Brown, access to clean water and sanitation is crucial and the centralised, energy-intensive ‘Big Pipe’ solution used for the past 150 years to pump water from reservoirs into cities, and sewage to centralised treatment plants, often overlooks informal settlements.  This  has  led  to  avoidable  health and social issues such as diarrhoea killing 760,000 children per year. By ensuring safer, more reliable water supplies and wastewater disposal, the goal is first and foremost to reduce exposure of communities to environmental faecal contamination.

Members of the consortium have already pioneered programs to improve water delivery systems in projects in Australia, Singapore, China and Israel. Building on the work that the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities has been doing with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through its Future Cities Program,  these  advances  will  now  be  applied to informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia.

With Asian cities growing at 120,000 people per day, and many of these ending up in slums, new solutions for delivering water and sanitation in ADB operations is urgently needed. This research should provide proof-of-concept of new water sensitive approaches to slum revitalisation where large, centralised  urban  systems  or  dispersed  rural services are not the most appropriate.

The five year study will commence in 2017 with the first six months focused on developing local partnerships with the communities involved to design the urban dwellings and local environment.