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Can CLTS Work in Urban Areas?

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This was the question being considered at a recent IDS CLTS Knowledge Hub event held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, organised with Plan International Ethiopia. This useful and productive learning and sharing event entitled “Using a CLTS Approach and Tools in Peri-Urban and Urban Environments” took place from 13th to 15th June 2016.
The workshop was preceded by a field trip to the city of Hawassa, around 275km south of the capital. Eleven people attended the field visit and a total of 25 participated in the workshop. It was an excellent opportunity for participants to share early experiences in applying the CLTS approach in different types of urban areas.

What is the state of experience with Urban CLTS?

Seven experiences were shared where the CLTS approach was used in an urban context: two from Ethiopia (Plan International Ethiopia and World Vision Ethiopia / Unicef); two from Kenya (Practical Action Kenya and Plan International Kenya / Sanergy); Mauritania (Unicef); Nepal (Practical Action Nepal) and Madagascar (Seed UK / Azafady Madagascar). These covered a range of different urban contexts including peri-urban settlements, small cities, and densely urban informal settlements. The differences between rural and urban contexts, and between different types of urban context, were key themes of discussion. 


Some non-CLTS urban WASH practitioners also participated, offering their experiences and suggestions for linking CLTS into urban WASH. These included experiences with the CLUES (Community Led Urban Environmental Sanitation) methodology in Nepal and Tanzania (EAWAG and ACRA), insights from the Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) Programme, and reflections around links to participatory planning in India (Praxis).

Some emerging lessons for future practice

It was acknowledged that urban contexts tend to be more complex than rural ones in a number of ways. The unit considered as a ‘community’ is much harder to define, with greater heterogeneity, more transient populations, and potentially less social cohesion. Defining open defecation is less simple than in rural areas as people often have toilets but they are may be shared, poorly maintained, and systems may not be in place for safe emptying and disposal of faecal sludge.  Lack of space for building toilets and landlord-tenant relationships further complicate the issue. 


A number of lessons emerged from the discussions which will be relevant for those planning to try CLTS in an urban area. The greater complexity of the urban sanitation context calls for a comprehensive situation and stakeholder analysis as part of the “pre-triggering” stage. Whilst many of the same triggering tools can be used in urban areas, they may need to be used more innovatively, and triggering should be done fast to keep the interest of busy city-dwellers. Multiple triggering events may be needed: within plots or compounds, in market places, on different days of the week, etc., to reach as wide a target as possible. 

Access to appropriate technologies, including suppliers or skilled artisans for construction, is more relevant in urban areas. A simple, unlined pit may not meet urban planning regulations or space may not permit digging another pit when the first is full therefore it must be stable enough to withstand being emptied.

Linking ODF to wider sanitation related issues, such as access to clean drinking water, and management of solid waste and waste water, is common in urban CLTS. This requires building relationships with municipal service providers to ensure that they meet their obligations towards the communities. The community can play an important role in advocacy and rights claiming.

Dealing with faecal sludge is another important consideration in the urban context if ODF is to be sustainable. Where toilets are shared, they fill up fast. In densely populated areas there may be no room to dig another pit. Therefore, emptying, transport, treatment and reuse or disposal of faecal sludge must be addressed, whether by the municipality, private agencies, or community enterprises.

Lessons and recommendations are being documented

Workshop participants recognised that there may be challenges ahead trying to convince urban sanitation practitioners and funders that CLTS can be transferred from the rural to the urban context, if certain adaptations and additions are incorporated. The experiences shared in the workshop represent a growing body of evidence.  The insights, lessons and recommendations which emerged from the workshop are currently being documented and will be shared on this website when available. They will hopefully encourage other agencies to experiment with urban CLTS and contribute to an ongoing process of lesson learning.

Katherine Pasteur is an independent development consultant.

Date: 27 June 2016