Business Plan 2020-2025 Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor

Water, sanitation and hygiene: a critical issue for cities

Water and sanitation are essential for healthy lives. People need water and sanitation to live, work and prosper. Yet today, 2.3 billion people lack access to basic sanitation, and nearly 1 billion lack access to even basic water services.

Increasingly, this is becoming an urban issue: Some 55% of the world’s population live in cities, and this is projected to reach 68% by 2050. The vast majority of this population increase will occur in Asia and Africa.

"The vulnerability of people living in informal settlements, often in exposed areas with inadequate infrastructure and low-quality housing, is exacerbated by climate change and the associated rising sea levels, flooding, landslides, heat stress, water scarcity and other threats" - UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019

Climate change is making living conditions much tougher for the poorest communities.

Increased frequency of flooding is damaging infrastructure, and increasing contamination of water sources.

In some urban locations, droughts are exacerbating water scarcity: disrupting water resources, slowing city development and impacting on residents’ health and prosperity.

As cities focus on improving their resilience to climate change, driving towards universal coverage of water, sanitation and hygiene must be a critical adaptation strategy.

"Vast amounts of water around the world are wasted through inefficiencies, with some of the worst problems in countries that are the most water scarce. Taking advantage of opportunities to save water and use it more productively promises quick and major gains and is essential to address the increasing stress that climate change will impose." - Global Commission on Adaptation, September 2019

The human cost of inaction

Children die as a result of diseases related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene, or do not reach their educational potential due to chronic infections.

Women are shamed by poor sanitation and may be afraid to use outside toilets, or open defecation sites at night because of the risk of rape.

The high monetary and time cost of getting hold of drinking water has a crippling impact on people’s disposable income and ability to work.

Poor sanitation is not just undignified and unhealthy - in extreme cases, it can kill. In Nakuru, Kenya, Mary's poorly built pit latrine collapsed one night last year. “If I was inside, I would have sunk with it,” she recalled. WSUP helped Mary get access to a new flush toilet and connect to a new sewer network in her community, improving well-being and safety for her and her tenants.

Our vision for change

WSUP’s driving vision is to create a world in which all urban residents, including the poorest, informal settlement dwellers, and women and girls, enjoy affordable, safe water and sanitation services of a high standard.

We believe in:

  • Change at a system level: improving the way that parts of the city work, so that those responsible for delivering services are able to do so.
  • Deeper capacity from national governments, international finance institutions and the private sector.
  • New partnerships to promote wider urban and economic development.
  • The transformative power of markets and innovation to create benefits for the poorest in society
"Policy and investment decisions made today will have a deep and long-lasting impact … because of the locked-in, long-term nature of urban systems – energy and water systems, transportation networks, buildings and other infrastructure." - UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2019

These are WSUP's Strategic Goals 2020-2025:

Strategic Goal 1: Integrated City Development

We will integrate water, sanitation and hygiene services within wider urban development to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

We will achieve this through developing partnerships that link water, sanitation and hygiene with other areas of urban development, such as housing, drainage and solid waste management and by connecting our work into broader urban development investment programmes.


WSUP’s approach will increase the visibility of water and sanitation service provision among city leaders.

As a result, water and sanitation will become an integral consideration in broader urban development, strengthening the effectiveness of urban resiliency programmes and facilitating investment into water and sanitation services.

At the same time, connecting WSUP’s work with other related city services will have significant impact on the quality of customer experience.

Strategic Goal 2: Stronger Service Providers

We will strengthen and expand our technical and business support to utilities, municipalities and water and sanitation enterprises.

We will drive innovation in technology, service delivery models and business design, linking this to systems change and investment mechanisms to take models to citywide scale.


WSUP’s approach will address the complexity of the water and sanitation service providers we work with, going beyond technical support for service provision, and instead considering business functions related to the overall effectiveness of the service provider.

As a result, these organisations will become stronger, and better able to provide sustainable and scalable services to low-income communities.

The allocation of the appropriate type of capital to assist these service providers to grow could be hugely influential in their path to scale.

Strategic Goal 3: Enhanced Partnerships

We will seek out and build partnerships to accelerate urban water, sanitation and hygiene provision at scale.

We will prioritise building and joining partnerships that enable us to influence more effectively and mobilise financing mechanisms to drive large-scale change in urban water, sanitation and hygiene.


WSUP’s approach will ensure that we collaborate more effectively with non-profits, multinational corporates, other businesses and investors working in water and sanitation and the wider urban development sector. This will be a key step in achieving scale and contributing to city development and resilience.

Working in partnership will also enable the flow of increased and better targeted capital to facilitate the development of citywide, inclusive services across Africa and Asia.

In turn, the cities supported will provide evidence of the success of this approach, helping to stimulate investment in other markets.

Strategic Goal 4: Effective Policies and Regulations

We will drive transformation within the urban water, sanitation and hygiene sector through rigorous research, data-driven learning, dissemination and influencing.

We will focus our efforts on regulatory change, policy development and other areas of the enabling environment, reflecting our experience that well-designed evidence-based learning activities and targeted research can be a powerful driver of global change.


WSUP’s approach will provide transformational impact within the sector from several angles.

It will build understanding of how business models focused on low-income customers can be successful and can have a major influence on design of large-scale city development programmes.

Learning-based advocacy will result in policy changes that can have a long-term impact across entire cities, regions and even at the national level.

WSUP’s enhanced learning portfolio with partners will play a positive role in improving working relations with major global institutions, increasing credibility and justification for action.

Strategic Goal 5: Increased Scale

We will implement a considered strategy of geographical expansion, to increase our scale and impact.

We will build upon the opportunities arising from new financing mechanisms, especially those that are able to unlock service provision for the poorest residents, to increase our global footprint.


WSUP’s approach will result in new geographies benefitting from our and our partners’ expertise, and from access to investment opportunities.

This includes expansion into new cities in countries where we already operate, as well as the possibility of entering new countries.

This expansion will provide an impetus for transformational change in these markets, taking to scale those models that are proven to provide water and sanitation services to those most in need.

"Cities need to move the focus away from individual settlements and replace this with a substantive commitment to upgrading informal settlements citywide and connecting them to core public service systems." - Unaffordable and Undrinkable, World Resources Institute 2019
“There was rejoicing in my home in Ghana the day we had our first flushing toilet. But today, a lack of basic water and sanitation is still a major challenge for many communities. As a result, too many in our world remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, for without these essential services, they are denied health, education and employment opportunities.”

Lord Paul Boateng, Chairman, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor

Work with us to help cities create a water-secure future.

“The time to act on SDG 6 is now … The targets present challenges for all countries but continuing with business as usual will not suffice.” - SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation