Skip to content

Water Sensitive Revitalisation of Informal Urban Settlements

By the middle of this century more than 6.3 billion people will live in urban areas, equating to 70 per cent 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, awarded funding of AU$14 million to an international consortium led by Monash University for a multi-year research program that aims to significantly advance human health and wellbeing in informal settlements by transforming water infrastructure, water management, and sanitation practices. The program commenced in mid-2017.

The program, Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE), was one of only four chosen by the Wellcome Trust from over 600 applications globally. The action-research focuses on informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia. Infrastructure projects will upgrade 24 settlements in Fiji and Indonesia, along with an additional two demonstration projects, chosen because they represent typical challenges to providing water management in the Asia-Pacific region. The revitalisation work in 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

RISE 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.

The global adoption of the 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 program is being led by the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and brings together five Monash University faculties (Art, Design and Architecture, Business and Economics, Engineering, Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, and Science), Monash University Malaysia, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, Stanford University, Emory University, The University of Melbourne, University of Cambridge, Fiji National University, Hasanuddin University, The University of the South Pacific, United Nations University, Melbourne Water, South East Water, Oxfam, WaterAid, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and Live and Learn.

This animation shows typical informal 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, Senior Vice-Provost, Monash University, access to clean water and sanitation is crucial and the centralised, energy-intensive ‘big pipes’ 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 more than 500,000 girls and boys 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.

With Asian cities growing at 120,000 people per day, and many of these ending up in informal settlements, new solutions for delivering water and sanitation is urgently needed. RISE research aims to provide proof-of-concept of new water sensitive approaches to informal settlement revitalisation where large, centralised urban systems or dispersed rural services are not fit for purpose.