Out of sight, out of mind: Understanding the sanitation crisis in global South cities

Victoria A. Beard, David Satterthwaite, Diana Mitlin, Jillian Du

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Global monitoring efforts do not provide a clear picture of the challenge of managing human waste at the city scale. Where cities do not provide universal access to publicly managed sanitation systems, households and communities find their own solutions resulting in a patchwork of approaches to removing human waste from places where people live. In dense urban environments, the absence of a coordinated approach can create serious public health problems. In the absence of comparable city-level data, we analyze primary and secondary data from 15 cities and 15 informal settlements in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Across these regions, our study finds that 62 percent of human waste is not safely managed. We also find that, while many cities have a proportion of households connected to sewers, none of the 15 cities safely manage human waste at scale. In the absence of sewers, on-site fecal sludge management systems place enormous responsibility on households and private providers, and unaffordable sanitation options result in risky sanitation practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114285
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date10 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2022


  • Affordability
  • Human waste
  • Infrastructure
  • Planning
  • Public health
  • Urban sanitation

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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