Mobilizing for Adequate, Accessible, and Affordable (A3) Water and Sanitation Services

In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the environmental health research community remains focused on significant problems with the accessibility and/or adequacy of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) – and largely in rural areas. However, especially in the region’s vulnerable urban settlements, where populations are set to grow most rapidly over the coming decades, and where the cost of living is higher on average than in most rural areas, it is also critical to understand the instrumental role played by affordability in defining and addressing WASH challenges. In short, a triple lens – namely of accessibility, adequacy, and affordability (or A3) – better explains how WASH issues are related to and influence the resiliency of vulnerable populations in urban and peri-urban environments in SSA. 

The study envisioned here connects the A3 water and sanitation inquiry with physical planning for public resources and urban governance therein at the neighborhood level by ascertaining relational linkages between costs for water, sanitation, and other neighborhood resources/services (transit, electricity, etc.) and civil society relationships with government at the neighborhood level (perceptions of public responsibility for services and subsidies; familiarity with governing structures, etc.).  I will travel back to the Mozambican capital of Maputo with MIT students, who will work in partnership with faculty and students from the University of Eduardo Mondlane (UEM), as well as a community-based NGO called AJUK, which is dedicated to neighborhood stewardship in Maputo’s peri-urban district of KaTembe.   Together we will survey households and neighborhood resources in KaTembe to begin recording the dynamics between the affordability concerns of income-poor residents, their current water and sanitation provisions and hygiene practices, and neighborhood-level resources in transit, health, and education.  This data will be complimented by the mapping of observed neighborhood resources (transit routes/stops, health centers, schools, etc.) recorded during surveys.    

As such empirical data has become increasingly central to policy design and planning, a reflective turn on data production and activation is also a key element of this study.  Rather than allowing apprehension to govern in-field relations between planning researchers and the communities and environments they study in the global South, we will engage communities in the formal recording of data, primarily about themselves and their environments, strengthening our research-based relationships but also importantly helping to foster the community’s expectations of themselves and their leaders.  To deepen the typical cycle of survey work, we will provide heuristic training, alongside MIT and UEM students, to the locally-based NGO, AJUK, to conduct future household surveys and to engage in the monitoring of local water systems, independently of this research project.  The survey training for AJUK would be achieved through their accompaniment of MIT and UEM students in KaTembe, both in pre-survey methods workshops in Maputo as well as in-the-field household and neighborhood survey work.  In addition, AJUK leadership and UEM planning faculty and students will return with the MIT team back to Massachusetts for a presentation of our collective efforts and for an exchange workshop on experiences with ‘activating’ community-gathered scientific data in the Boston area with the Mystic River Watershed Association.