The project SMALL

This innovative and interdisciplinary research focuses on water and sanitation management in small towns of Sub-Saharan Africa. In these towns at the intersection between urban and rural, existing coverage of basic public services is lagging behind, hindering the achievement of SDG6 if concrete actions are not taken urgently.

The research aims to assess existing models of water and sanitation provision by studying to what extent current infrastructural and management models reflect the specificities of small towns. The way technological solutions are being selected, and how financial, operational and commercial risks are allocated and distributed will be studied to transform the provision of water and sanitation services in an informed, inclusive and sustainable process.

This research puts users at the forefront by integrating public health protection into the management models, leading to a positive impact on health of users in the long run. To this end, all partners in the project in close coordination with implementing agencies and operating staff, will document current practices and apply comprehensive system-assessment tools such Water Safety Plans to identify risk points and develop strategies to readdress these. Moreover, this research will explore the implications of existing and proposed management and infrastructural models and interventions on the users. In doing this, the project identifies the local dynamics that define interdependencies between water uses, systems and urban and rural realities.nd users.

From local impact to global relevance

In order to meaningfully contribute to the achievement of SDG6, this project aims at raising small towns in the research, practitioners and development agendas. In doing so in a practical manner, SMALL prioritizes impacts at local level by working together with local implementing agencies. This project will contribute, in coordination with local partners, to the development of new models for water management and provision of water and sanitation services, which will potentially result in more sustainable outcomes for service providers and users.

Why Small Towns?

'' how little we actually know about the dynamics of small town growth, about local decision-making and about what people really want in their towns' (Choguill, 1989: 274)

In understanding the provision of water and sanitation services in small towns, there is still not much available beyond the broad understanding that small towns surpass the needs of typically rural systems, but have yet to achieve the scale designed for typically urban systems. As a consequneces, the percentage of households withour access to improved water and sanitation serices is highest in urban settlements under 100.000 inhabitants.

Despite the incipient efforts from academia and, mostly, development agencies in readdressing this problem, literature and documentation on the specific needs of small towns remains  virtually inexistent. For example, WaterAid initiated a new research line on small towns. The publications they made available offer a very comprehensive understanding of small towns, and lead to the formulation of more specific questions that can potentially complement their work. 

Notwithstanding the little interest they have seemed to gather in national and international agendas small towns are becoming increasingly relevant. The total population of small towns in Africa is projected to grow in the coming decades. At the beginning of 2000s, small urban areas in low income countries were already reported to be the fastest growing urban areas in these countries. Even though migrations led by job opportunities will remain to be concentrated in and around bigger urban centers (metropolization), experts in population studies argue that migration to small urban areas should not be underestimated. Furthermore, the development of small towns could offer the opportunity to release the migratory pressure to the big cities.

Choguill, C. (1989). Small Town and Development: A Tale of Two Countries. Urban Studies. 26 (2): 267-274