Dar es Salaam, Africa, Urban Planning,

Urban Planning and Density in African Cities

I recently read an interesting paper from the World Bank on the shape of African cities.  As I have lived in Dar es Salaam and I am currently staying in Accra, I’d like to think that I have a practical viewpoint to add to a discussion of the urban planning issues.

The research paper looks at spatial data  from Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Kigali, Dar es Salaam, and Dakar and puts it in context with similarly-sized developed country cities (Paris, New York City, Barcelona, etc).  Through a lens of population density  and land use patterns, the paper aims to make general conclusions about challenges for transportation planning in these cities.

The most interesting pieces of data were the the population density figures.  Overall density for nearly all of these African cities was at or around 50 people per hectare, while Barcelona and Paris had population densities of 150 and 200 people per hectare, respectively.    Taking  a more nuanced look at density, graphs were made of density at different distances from the central business district (CBD).  Nearly every African city studied had high population densities closest to the CBD that tailed off in a downward sloping curve.   Paris, Barcelona, London, etc all had much more smoothly/slowly tailing off population densities from the center of the city outwards.  Additionally, the African city density figures in first three to five kilometers from the CBD were nearly double that of the non-African cities.

The lesson here is that, while overall population densities were greater in the non-African cities, the African cities had the greatest densities closest to the city center.

One of the main reasons for this study was not just to understand urban density, but to also get a better sense of what all of this means for urban planning and transportation.  This is where living in an African city comes in handy when thinking about these things.

After years of living in Dar es Salaam and now Accra, I am comfortable making some common general assertions about transportation in a mega African city.  (Please do not be offended by my bluntness in these statements, as they are just general, reasonable assertions.)

  • Main roads are generally paved, secondary roads are compacted dust roads.
  • All roads are riddled with potholes of astounding sizes, often with open sewer channels alongside them.
  • Sidewalks don’t exist.  Everyone who walks, walks around the side edge of each road and cars and pedestrians are constantly in negotiation (with cars winning, of course!)
  • There is an astounding level of economic inequality and segregation of neighborhoods in many African cities.
  • The well-off drive in Range Rovers/Land Cruisers and have few transportation problems (outside of traffic), while just about everyone else walks and takes minibuses (dala dalas, tro tros, etc).

In this context, I imagine that you can see the scale of the problem.

One excellent solution that has been tried in Dar es Salaam, has been a major bus rapid transit (BRT) project.  The jury is still out in terms of effectiveness, but, having lived in the city I would say that it is starting to make some real positive change.  In particular, many of the stops are in the nearby and far flung informal settlements.  I await this evaluation of it.

What are your thoughts?  Have you lived in an African city?  

How do you think knowledge of the nuances of urban population density and land use can affect transportation and city planning in cities like these?

Hear No Evil: Not Listening to Stakeholder Feedback Stakeholder, accountability, governance, transparency, learning from failure

Hear No Evil: Not Listening to Stakeholder Feedback

Recently I read a few articles that made me feel quite disheartened about the willingness of NGOs to design, develop, and evaluate projects based on stakeholder needs.  I want to believe that these are exceptions to the rule, rather than being common, but they are worth mentioning either way.

At the World Bank ‘Development Impact’ blog, one blog post that is part of Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel’s “Learning From Failure” series noted the unwillingness of NGOs to participate in an SMS-based stakeholder study by IPA and Global Giving in Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador.  More than half of the ‘treatment’ sample – 13 out of 18 NGOs in a total sample of 36 organizations refused to participate in the study.

Main reasons for not participating included

1) a belief that the work was too sensitive.

2) the study would take too much time from the NGO.

3) some feedback might jeopardize donor funding.

The first reason is understandable and the second is arguably so as well, but the third is all too depressing.  Until and unless development projects learn to accept failure and learn from it, projects will never improve.  


Another blog post that I read recently was an article in The Conversation that described a sanitation project in Laos in which failure to listen to stakeholder needs resulted in continued open defecation and the use of the newly-built latrine to store rice!

Again, I am not naive enough to think that this is the only failed project or that it will be the only project to fail.  I just think that these examples serve as reminders that beneficiaries and their needs have to be part of project design.


I am not here to bash NGOs and CBOs.  I am just citing these examples as reminder to be circumspect about what is done in the name of development.  Additionally, it is worth noting that I could just as easily come up with examples of how local, district, or central government is neglecting its citizens  OR how the private sector, for various reasons, is not functioning well and thus neglecting potential customers in the context of service delivery.


Past project successes and failures, along with contextual information on a development sector’s enabling environment, are just part of the overall puzzle that should be analyzed before projects are designed or money is spent.  I’ve done this sort of analysis in the WASH sector, and I believe in its value.  If you do as well, and have any particular needs in this regard, feel free to send me a note.


water, cities, political economy, governance, access to water

Apples and Oranges: Acknowledging Intra-Urban Complexity of Access to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

I recently read an excellent paper on comparisons of infrastructure within cities (as opposed to the more frequent between/among city comparisons that are made in both the academic literature and the policy world.  As someone who appreciates water policy discussions at the intersection of academia and the real world, this was an enjoyable read.

In this paper, Colin McFarlane, Jonathan Silver & Yaffa Truelove discuss some of the factors within Delhi, Cape Town, and Mumbai that drive access to infrastructure services.  Many of these factors come as no surprise to a human geographer- political connections, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, and income.  Inequality of access within a city is certainly what I saw in my doctoral research in Dar es Salaam. In fact, I have seen situations in my hometown of Everett, Massachusetts (Greater Boston) where the ability of local businesses to contest chronically overcharging of water and sewer bills is dependent upon favoritism and access to the right people in the city public works department.

So, what are the implications for the real world?  

I believe that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professionals should look to this “radical shift”  that was recently highlighted on the World Bank’s Water Blog that calls for the policy world to think about WASH within the context of urban governance and city-level service provision, address issues of accountability and transparency, improve supply chains, train city leaders, and provide clear roles and responsibility.  

This is, of course, not an easy endeavor, not only due to weaknesses in the factors above, but also since city-level leaders in many countries still operate in a very centralized power structure in which ministry/cabinet-level decisions dominate.  What I see, therefore is a disconnect- between the need for local accountability and transparency in service delivery and the decentralized and empowered municipal governments who would be able to do this.


I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this.




WASH Decentralization, water , governance

Is Decentralization the Solution to Accountability and Improved WASH Services?

I have written posts about failed water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) governance, but in order to be more constructive one must go beyond what does not work and try to learn about what does.  In this post, I would like to talk about decentralization- both fiscal and administrative, cite a few examples of how this process has helped or hindered improved access to WASH services.

It may be a reasonable premise- in the WASH sector, and in any service delivery regime generally, that the closer the decision makers are (government or private sector) to households, the better the chance of accountable, representative, or transparent decisions are made.  It’s not that simple, however, as a recent OECD paper suggests:

“Theory suggests that local governments’ proximity to citizens gives the latter
more influence over local officials, promotes productive competition among
local governments, and alleviates corruption through improved transparency
and accountability relative to more centralised systems. At the same time,
decentralisation can generate negative effects if local political dynamics
undermine accountability or local governments have inadequate capacity
or face weak incentives to act as the theory predicts. “

In addition to the questions of accountability, the clarity of roles and responsibilities, levels of capacity at all levels, coordination, and the role of politics come in to play when discussing potential effectiveness of any WASH sector decentralization efforts.

Essential roles can include everything from being the institution with statutory authority for service provision (water supply, water quality regulation, etc), having the financial resources to carry out management activities, being the strategic and/or policy body with decision making powers, or a whole host of other relevant tasks.  Capacity development is also highly relevant at all levels of management, from the national/ministerial level, all the way down to the local level.  Coordination- before , during, and after decentralization processes- is also critical.  Specifically, there needs to be horizontal coordination across ministries or national-level agencies, vertically (in up and down directions)  through governmental institutions.  Also, locally, private / public sector and household market and non-market interactions are additional sources of chaos. Lastly, one cannot ignore the role of politics- strategic political choices and political will, generally.

I’ve just discussed much of this conceptually, but, what about examples of where decentralization worked/ did not work?

Porto Alegre is the classic case of participatory budgeting, which is based on the simple concepts of accountability and transparency in decision making processes. At a national level, however, blanket decentralization is not that simple.  For example, recent reports in Indonesia show that uneven local level capacities have hindered decentralizing efforts towards SDG goals.   Additionally, a recent study of decentralized governance efforts in Sri Lanka faced challenges of local government corruption and mistrust.

…And do we know why?

These examples and their contexts are too few to draw any blanket conclusions, because individual situations and context matter.

Understanding the ins and outs of service delivery institutions where WASH projects are undertaken is critical to the success of each and every project in that context.

Compounding this with an inadequate assessment of recent and preceding projects can significantly reduce the chance that the next WASH project succeeds and sustains.

I have experience providing WASH sector assessments.  I would love the opportunity to help you make your next project more successful.  Contact me if I can be of assistance.  



water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

#WhatWouldMagufuliDo : Does Social Media Give Voice to Tanzanians?

After being sworn in as President of Tanzania in November 2015, President John Magufuli directed funds that would have gone to celebratory events towards efforts to battle a cholera outbreak.  Furthermore , he urged citizens across the country to make efforts to clean up their cities and towns and even banned government offices from giving Christmas cards at the taxpayers’ expense.

All of this thrifty behavior didn’t just gain plaudits but also earned him a meme on the internet:


This resulted in a rash of hilarious photos across the internet. These are some of my favorites:

























As someone who has known Tanzania reasonably well for the past twenty plus years, from my semester in Arusha with School for International Training to my extensive field research in access to water in Dar es Salaam while based at King’s College London to my recent work on rural sanitation with the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program, I am trying to put all of this in context.  This is a country where the urban private sector has been marginalized by the “Weka Jiji Safi” (Keep the City Clean), electricity outages and associated cholera outbreaks have occurred in the slums of Dar es Salaam, and the Tanzanian Parliament was dissolved in response to the Richmond Electricity scandal.

Don’t get me wrong- Tanzania is not the most corrupt country in the world.  Heck, some say that Kenya is jealous.

The main question I would like to ask is

Has social media played a positive part in improving the Tanzanian democracy and has this improved water, sanitation, health, or electricity service delivery?”

I am going to share this with as many Tanzanians as possible, because I would love to hear thoughts on this.

Asante sana.



water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Urban Redevelopment and Water in the Boston Area: Giving a Voice to the Mystic River

As far back as Mesopotamia, cities have developed along rivers.  Water that once fed the industrial revolution has been polluted for over a century, but sparked by voices like Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, water and environmental quality have bounced back over recent decades.  Waterfronts and nature will always call humans to them, for recreation and for less polluting land uses, let us hope.  This is where urban redevelopment comes in.

What I would like to talk about is this tiny sliver of waterfront, the intersection of Boston and three of its suburbs – Everett, Somerville, and Medford.  These four cities meet at the Mystic River, a river that has brought the area economic growth, but has the pollution to show for it.

What I would like to suggest is that the cities ‘pay back’ the river for its service, to bring it closer to its cleaner past.


While each of these cities, to some extent or another has had its share of industrial growth, I would like to focus on Everett.   Everett, a 2.5 square mile, often maligned inner-ring suburb of Boston, is home to a largely lower income working class population that recently decided to allow the redevelopment of a large section of waterfront that was once the home of a Monsanto chemical plant.

While the redevelopment of polluted urban lands should normally be met with applause, this plan has been met with extraordinary, grinding resistance, largely due to two issues– first, the fact that this area will be redeveloped as a casino (Wynn Resorts) and second, that this, like any other development will have an impact on traffic in an area where the geography (a narrow bridge over the Mystic forms the border between Everett and Boston) already makes vehicular traffic difficult.  [The casino has just been given the go-ahead, but my feelings about this have not changed]

While I will not detail the excruciating and bitter, endless drama that this development has brought on (this would take forever), I am summarizing the categories of resistance and making an argument that the missing stakeholder from this discussion has been the river itself.

On top of the numerous and repeated referendums and the strict licensing has followed, the talk of this casino has been imbued by paternalistic moralism about gambling.  This has been the idea- largely from people outside of the City of Everett-that the presence of gambling is bad for the poor and vulnerable residents of Everett and that, others’ (non-residents’) paternalistic perspective on what is good for the people of Everett should override both the state’s and the city’s approval of the development.  This is a bit much, in my view.  Having said this, safeguards for some of the social and economic externalities of gambling are fine (resources for potential gambling addicts, etc).

The other concern is essentially a mixture of understandable mitigation and, to some extent plain old NIMBYism. There has been resistance to the project by adjacent cities because of traffic.  This is very understandable, and numerous adjacent city agreements and mitigation plans have been negotiated.  This is a good thing- this is cooperative planning.

What has been missing from this discussion of the redevelopment along the river is the voice of the Mystic River. Redevelopment that remediates polluted land and water is good, and this is a major opportunity for an economically disadvantaged community to improve the environmental health of its waterfront.  Otherwise, the land and water will stay polluted and dilapidated.  

In the management of cities and natural resources, rivers need to have a voice.  

They cannot speak.  Sometimes we must speak for them.

water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

What’s Behind Rio’s Water and Wastewater Woes?

On top of the Russian doping scandal and the Zika virus fears,  the world has become shocked and worried by the water quality situation for the upcoming Summer Olympic games in Rio De Janeiro.  Numerous articles have come out with jarring statements like the following:

 The first results of the study published over a year ago showed viral levels at up to 1.7 million times what would be considered worrisome in the United States or Europe. At those concentrations, swimmers and athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water are almost certain to be infected with viruses that can cause stomach and respiratory illnesses and more rarely heart and brain inflammation …”

There are both bacterial and viral water issues.

Recent news reports have shown the level of fecal coliform colonies to be 400 per 100 milliliters (ml.), which is more than ten times the EPA standard of 35/100 ml. for marine water swimming.  (As an other guideline, the WHO states the risk of gastrointestinal illness for swimming in water with levels of  40 /100 ml. to be approximately 1%).

On top of the bacterialogical concerns is the issue of viral pathogens.  Ninety percent (90%) of sites tested in a 16 month long study in the waters around Rio De Janeiro found the presence of viral pathogens called bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria).  Although there is no water quality standard for these pathogens, they are associated with human illnesses such as gastroenteritis.

The sources of this problem are well-known.  Rio’s Guanabara Bay is the recipient of nearly endless amounts of untreated wastewater and solid waste and local canals pass through unhygienic “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial areas.  This problem, as WaterAid has recently rightly stated, should be put in context of a global set of urban water and wastewater challenges, and should be a call to action to improve health in Rio and similar cities across the globe.

What I would like to suggest in this post is that this problem exists and persists not just because of the real challenges of urbanization, economic development, poverty, urban planning, technology, and costs, but also due to government priorities and a lack of accountability to citizen demand to address this problem.    


For example, while early plans at the time of the awarding of the Olympic games to the city, slated for the development of seven waste treatment plants, only one was built.  Other solutions have also been suggested, including numerous dredging and waste picking/reuse projects and the development of constructed wetlands, but very little of this has materialized.  Mismanagement and bureaucratic infighting has been an issue, but so have protests in the informal settlements/favelas of the city about evictions and resettlement in advance of the Olympics.  Even more worrying is a recent Bloomberg report of the murder of Executive Coordinator of the Environmental Sanitation Program for the Guanabara Bay Area (this is something so bad that I do not care to speculate further on this).

These problems, this neglect, and conflict, rooted in class and economics, certainly existed before the run-up to the Olympic games, and aiming to paper over the extraordinary challenging economic and environmental problems in the city during the time of the Olympics is shameful.  Forced displacement is before the Olympics is unfortunately not rare, as we saw this ahead of the Beijing games.

With a backdrop full of chaos that includes a nearly impeached president, a bankrupt state government,  and most recently, protests of the Olympic Games themselves, it is critical to take Rio De Janeiro’s corruption and government accountability challenges seriously when asking what’s behind their water and wastewater problems.  It would be real progress if the spotlight on these social and environmental challenges led to serious improvements, but, in order to do so, we cannot forget that environmental problems are social and environmental problems.


water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Seeing WASH Trends – Thoughts on the IRC 2016-2025 WASH Trend Report

As a WASH researcher who has read more project and program evaluations than I care to admit, I find it to be a rare pleasure to read a broad sector trends analysis document that can see the forest for the trees.  The IRC Trends Analysis, 2016-2015 report is such a report.  While I do have specific critiques of the report, it does a solid job of outlining major trends that will have major effects on access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services for the under-served world. Briefly noting trends in economic growth and inequality, urbanization, water scarcity, governance, the aid landscape, domestic finance, information and communication technologies (ICT), persisting service and access gaps, and service delivery models, this report both acknowledges progress and future needs.  Some of my criticisms are really not criticism of approach per se, but criticism of detail.  If anything, I believe that each section warrants its own analysis.

In terms of economic growth, I think it’s critical to develop further an emphasis on economic growth and inequality. Anyone who has ever lived in a developing country city has seen the stark differences between how the middle and upper classes live and how the other half (more than half, really) live.  What’s really needed is a discussion that goes beyond country-level statistics and Gini Coefficients and the identification of specific ways in which interventions that build wealth at the lowest rungs of society and reduce inequality can improve access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.  Case studies of successful informal settlement upgrading and tenure reform are clearly relevant here. Research papers from Plan International and the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) have noted the importance of tenure to sanitation, for example.

Urbanization is a clear trend that this report rightly identifies, as it is a pronounced trend in the poorest countries of the world.  While one can debate whether limited funds in a given country should be focused on the areas of lowest access (rural areas, generally) or towards the areas of most rapidly increasing need (urban areas), I think that the linkages between rural and urban areas can provide some insight.  For example, one perspective on household income and ability to improve rural household sanitation infrastructure (an idea I heard while doing sanitation sector research at the WSP last year) is the idea of harnessing urban-rural remittances– in the cases where children of existing rural households have moved to the city and can help their parents fund latrines or other sanitary improvements at their rural home.

I found the section of water scarcity to be a bit too simplistic for its usefulness.  Water at the scale of agriculture is quite different conceptually from drinking water.  The narrative of water scarcity is all too often mischaracterized at the level of most advocacy messaging.  The Malthusian notion of not enough water for too many people is misleading when the realities are more driven by inefficiencies, mismanagement, and misallocation.  Reliable access to water has more to do with effective utilities, accountable governmental provision, and affordability in public and private supply regimes.  Poorly managed water resource management at the national or basin level is another ball of wax.

The section on governance is one that I feel had some thoughts in the correct direction, but would need a whole lot more detail.  [I admit to being biased, as I did a PhD on water governance.]  I believe that one must start with the notion embedded in most basic conceptualizations of water service delivery models for the poor (the 2004 World Bank World Development Report, for example) that affordability and accountability are central to any discussion of water governance.  Simply citing a country-wide Democracy Index or even the more useful Corruptions Perception Index is way too simplistic.  I would make the argument that government decentralization and the effective regulation of the private sector are the most effective starting points when discussing what sort of water governance regime exists in a given country.  One great recent example of such a discussion is by Johanna Koehler at Oxford.

Additionally, I feel that the topic of information and communication technologies (ICT) can be linked to discussions of both management and governance, as the collection of data on infrastructure is step one.  Governments and other actors responding to these identified needs is the second step of any monitoring plan.

I believe that this report did hit the topics of aid effectiveness and utility finances pretty well.  The authors rightly pointed to an overall them of short-term goals and programming that often resulted in a lack of long term effectiveness.  Poor tariff collection and the difficulty to finance rural WASH initiatives are perennial challenges as well.

In summary, I find these sorts of trend analysis exercise to be useful.  I would love to see broad lessons in both individual program evaluations and sector analyses acted upon, but these are challenges of a much greater scale.





water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Urban Africa and Asia Need (Good) Sprawl?

I recently read an article in the Economist that made the argument that, given high rates of current and future urbanization throughout Asia and Africa, what is needed is good and orderly sprawl, in which rights of way are planned out and property rights are upheld and landowners are compensated for development of public ways.

I found this article to be quite simplistic and, to some extent, misleading.  Furthermore, it seems to ignore realities of infrastructure and the populations served by it.

“Sprawl” and any sense of order (“It would be vastly cheaper and better to do sprawl properly from the start.“) are antithetical, since sprawl is seen as unplanned and growth and order is order.  Since comprehensive planning takes too long, the article asserts, the main roads and parks, at minimum, have to be planned.  If the roads are being planned, is the resulting development even considered “sprawl”?

What’s most striking in this article, however, is the implicit focus on the likely (very) small percentage of the new urbanites who would be served by planned communities and the dismissive tone towards doing anything within the existing unplanned areas:

In some unplanned African suburbs as little as 5% of the land is road. Even middle-class districts often lack sewers and mains water. As for amenities like public parks, forget it.”

What I am confused by is the complete giving up on existing unplanned settlements inside or outside the city center. Is it good policy to just ignore both the poor unplanned and the middle-class unplanned districts simply because these areas have poor roads and do not have sewer or water?  I find this to be completely wrongheaded, when regularization of tenure, upgrading or roads, extension of the water utility through relatively low-cost kiosks, and improvement of sanitation options in existing dense areas make a lot more sense than focusing just on new suburban developments for a small fraction of the anticipated urban population.

water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Corruption in the Water Sector: Do ‘Water Mafias’ exist?

Given the Hollywood treatment through the movie Chinatownwe see the California ‘water wars’ in action.  Conflicts between private landowners, municipalities, etc. exist to some extent or another, as does the general issue of sectoral (urban, agricultural, industrial) use and allocation.  While, there are varied perspectives on how this issue plays out (“whiskey is for drinking. water is for fighting over” ? ) on the large integrated water resource management (IWRM) level (‘Big Water’) [and I often defer to those with IWRM expertise, to people such as David Zetland at Aguanomics or one of my PhD supervisors (2008 Stockholm Water Prize Winner) Dr. Tony Allan],  this post focuses on what I like to call ‘Small Water’, or water at the level of the provision of and access to water.

At the level of household drinking water, water can perhaps be considered a (continuous, flowing) service if it is delivered though a utility service connection, but the reality for many in developing countries is water purchased in discrete units.  Many of us have seen the ubiquitous 20 liter jerry cans in which water is sold and re-sold in urban areas.

Since water is therefore a product, rather than a service, it is not unreasonable to look at corruption in water as a market imperfection and/or something that happens as a result of poor market regulation.  Water mafias have been documented in Nairobi, Delhi, Karachi, and many other places.  Water mafias aim to collude, control markets, restrict supply, and keep shortages high.

I will always think back to this failed water supply initiative in the Kibera informal settlements of Nairobi as a classic case of the water mafia.

“The attitude and behaviour of city godfathers [emphasis mine] was considered by many to be the greatest hindrance to private sector participation in Kibera. It has been difficult to pass decisions aimed at improving distribution networks, billing, metering and putting together a coherent and sustainable system involving the various interested parties. In addition to this, it is known that City Council workers collude with unscrupulous persons to frustrate officially recognised connections…

In Kibera, there are power structures within the community that benefit from the opportunities for rent-seeking associated with the existing water supply system [emphasis mine] . There are vested interests within the local administration, to some extent embodied in the positions of the village elders. Political parties have also contributed to the form of the current water system, and people’s positions on water issues are influenced by party affiliations….

water sellers in the settlement are often linked to these power
structures [emphasis mine]…

Since water vendors and kiosk owners are private enterprises, it can be said that there is private sector participation. However, the relationship between these private enterprises and local officials is not the kind of public-private partnership envisaged by proponents of private sector participation [emphasis mine]…

Viewed as a whole, the project did not work. The objectives of the project have clearly not been met. There has been virtually no improvement in distribution, and water prices have not fallen. What remains is a sense of failure and frustration that may well undermine future initiatives.[emphasis mine]…

It might have been better if the project had never been started. [emphasis mine]”

What does this mean in terms of practical purposes for any new water supply initiative?  The complete terrain of formal and informal participants in the supply, management, and distribution of water must be known and the government must be doing something to address any theft, control, or collusion. The Water Integrity Network (WIN) is a great resource for further reading in this area.