Integrated approaches to improving the urban environment in Asia

January 2006 to December 2008

Funded by the European Commission under the EC Asia Pro Eco II programme

The project aims to reduce environmental threats to the health and livelihoods of urban slum dwellers, thus helping to reduce poverty in four towns in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It will do this by developing and promoting an integrated approach to improving the urban environment, which works at the neighbourhood level in ways which are driven by, and improve the livelihoods of, poor women and men.

Sanitation, water and hygiene programme in Faridpur
Uttam Kumar Saha, Mansoor Ali, Lucy Stevens and Iqbal Karim (Practical Action)
This paper, prepared in collaboration with WaterAid, summarises the experience of Practical Action Bangladesh in promoting water, sanitation, waste and hygiene related infrastructure and services in the town of Faridpur, Bangladesh. (PDF, external link)

Integrated Approaches to Improving the Urban Environment in Asia project: inception workshop 15th May 2006, Kurunegala, Sri Lanka
A workshop on 15th May 2006 was followed by a field visit on 16th May to generate awareness about this project among all relevant stakeholders. Read full report

Why is the urban environment important to poverty reduction?

women collecting water from the communal pump in a Faridpur slum, one of the sites for this project

The urban environment and poverty are closely linked. The lack of clean water, refuse collection, adequate sanitation, shelter and drainage have devastating impacts on health. They eat up time as people care for the sick, queue for water or to use toilets, or struggle to move about the area. They cost money in medical bills and high charges. They rob people of dignity and emphasise their lack of power. A poor environment is a cause of poverty, and in turn poverty contributes to the poor environment. Urban populations in south Asia are expanding rapidly, placing enormous pressures on urban services. The proportion of urban residents living in slums is high and continues to grow.

This project focuses on those environmental problems which have the most devastating impacts on the poorest sections of the urban population.

The link between the urban environment and poverty are recognised internationally, for example in the MDGs. Goal 7 of ensuring environmental sustainability, for example, includes targets on access to drinking water and improving the lives of slum dwellers. The Sustainable Cities Programme (UNEP and UN-Habitat) recognises that environmental degradation threatens both social equity and the economic efficiency of the city as a whole.

What is an 'integrated' approach?

a participant in a workshop in Nepal presenting issues on slums

Participatory workshop in Butwal Municipality, Nepal, to identify and prioritise urban development issues

The livelihoods of poor people are the starting point for this approach. It looks in a holistic way at the skills and assets people assemble to make a living, their vulnerability to economic or environmental events, and the way they are affected by policies and regulations. The project is integrated in two senses:

  • Bringing together a set of activities which are mutually supportive and co-ordinated to help improve livelihoods.
  • Bringing together a range of partners in carrying out these activities.

Starting from a basis in community-capacity building and participatory planning, it promotes activities that improve both the environment and incomes (waste collection services, water and sanitation). In a second phase, these incomes can begin to be invested in improved housing and other services. The broad scope of activities means that no one agency can deal with them all. Partnerships are crucial not only to the project implementation, but to its long term sustainability too.

The approach intends to be sustainable for the long-term. A strong focus will be given to the business models and maintenance aspects important for communities to manage the services themselves. The focus will be less on large-scale delivery by the project, than showing what can work, and building capacities of all concerned to continue to expand the work in the future. This includes building skills, using and adapting the right technologies, tapping appropriate sources of finance, and influencing policies where necessary.

Building on lessons learned

This approach builds on Practical Action's experiences in towns and cities in Africa (Kenya, Sudan and Zimbabwe) and India through our partner the Society for Development Studies. Evaluations of this work have so far indicated that it can be a powerful approach to building the assets and capacities of poor communities. It has been a vehicle for encouraging wide-reaching partnerships with other NGOs and local authorities. These experiences, and those of other NGOs, has recently been documented in a new publication 'Confronting the Crisis of Urban Poverty: Making Integrated Approaches Work' (edited by Lucy Stevens, Stuart Coupe and Diana Mitlin).

Lessons from that work have led us to appreciate the importance of building a strong foundation for the work in partnerships and community capacity-building. It has also shown us the potential for tackling a range of aspects of urban poverty through the entry point of infrastructure services.

Main activities

  1. Developing neighbourhood plans for improving the environment and livelihoods and helping embed the plans and processes within the work of local authorities and other stakeholders
  2. Supporting the creation of partnerships between CBOs and other stakeholders to help deliver the plans
  3. Developing innovative and appropriate waste management and water and sanitation facilities, and raising the capacity of the communities to manage the facilities themselves
  4. Increasing access to other services and improved housing for residents
  5. Raising awareness and influencing policies on environmental issues


Practical Action UK
Overall project co-ordination and quality control, continuity with the approach adopted in Africa, inputs on participatory monitoring and evaluation.

Practical South Asia (Sri Lanka), Bangladesh, Nepal
Taking the lead on project implementation, with expertise in community capacity-building, participation, facilitating partnerships, and developing and adopting technologies.

WASTE Netherlands
Technical expertise in the design and implementation of waste management systems and appropriate technologies.

Partner NGOs, with good relationships of trust with the target communities who they work with on a day-to-day basis:

Sri Lanka
DEIHERM - Development Institute for Human and Environmental Resource Management (Galle)
SSPDF - Social Service Participatory Development Foundation (Kurunegala)

Society for the Urban Poor (Faridpur)

We will also work closely with Local Authorities in each location, other national and international NGOs, and academic institutions.

Project locations

squatter houses in Danda toleButwal, Nepal
Butwal is home to about 4,300 squatter households, almost all of which are located by the side of the river or on hazardous slopes prone to flooding or landslides. We will be working in 8 slums on some of the issues prioritised by the residents including waste management, water and sanitation, and housing. More details...

Faridpur, Bangladesh
The 22 slums in Faridpur town contain around 2,000 households. Large infrastructure projects and an active NGO sector have failed to have a real impact on environmental problems and poverty. Water pollution, including from arsenic, a lack of sanitation, refuse, and poor drainage are all problems. The project will work in 8 slums on waste collection and recycling, water and sanitation facilities (community blocks and arsenic-free water points), and flood resistant housing.

Kurunegala, Sri Lanka
This small town in central Sri Lanka is growing fast, and has large areas (around 4,000) households which are not reached by municipal services. The municipal waste disposal site is rapidly filling up. In the dry season there is a lack of drinking water. The project will work on waste collection and recycling, eco-sanitation, and small waste-water treatment facilities.

Galle, Sri Lanka
About 60% of the town of Galle, including the majority of poor neighbourhoods, was destroyed in the tsunami that struck on 26th December 2004. In the rebuilding process it is important to ensure that urban environmental services are properly considered so that problems of waste and pollution do not build up to their previous levels. Doing this in ways that boosts incomes is important too, where many families lost their main sources of income.

EU flagThis project is funded funded by the European Commission under the EC Asia Pro Eco II programme. It is part of Practical Action's Improving Access to Infrastructure Services programme (Aim 3).

Related project

Wastewater Agriculture and Sanitation for Poverty Alleviate (WASPA)
WASPA-Asia will address the practical problems of wastewater management for use in agriculture in the project areas, including policy and institutional aspects. The project will be undertaken in two different sites, Rajshahi in Bangladesh and Kurunegala in Sri Lanka for a duration of 3 years commencing December 2005. Both cities have areas with inadequate sanitation facilities, open sewers and areas where wastewater is used untreated to irrigate agricultural land. These cities were selected because they are representative of hundreds of similar cities across Asia and therefore provide an opportunity to test solutions that could be applicable to many other cities in the region.

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