Urban Infrastructure

Urban infrastructure consists of many different systems and structures. Among them the following three are the most important and pertinent to the safety and quality of life of urban residents:

  • Safety of built environment
  • Safe/clean water and hygiene promotion
  • Solid waste management
  • Public transportation systems

With inadequate or non-existing public services, the urban poor live in risky conditions and endure constant threats to their physical and psychological security. They cope with daily hardship and are continuously at risk from malnutrition, poor health care, and limited access to clean water and sanitation, inferior housing, no livelihood and illiteracy. 

Any differential in access to urban resources and services, and/or differences in urban health outcomes, are always expressions of inequality and/or injustice.

In many cities, low-income groups often migrated from rural areas mostly reside in informal settlements. These areas cannot secure access to improved water supplies even when local water resources are plentiful. Such households often lack access to the urban piped water network and depend on less reliable, less convenient, less healthy and sometimes considerably more expensive supplies. Some informal settlements are far from the piped network, while others may be refused access because they are on land that they do not own or on which residential development is not formally allowed.

As an example of inequity in cities, in many cities few people are aware that poorer households pay more for water than wealthier households in relative and most cases absolute terms. There may be further scales of injustice if the wealthier households use potable clean water, for which they have paid less, for watering their gardens or filling their swimming pools, while poorer households pay more per liter for water that is contaminated and a risk to their health.

Local and National Government


Safety of built environment: In many developing countries poor urban planning and construction practices and lack of effective enforcement of building codes generates significant threat for urban residents, especially in earthquake prone cities. Unsafe buildings pose even a bigger threat to low and middle income groups in big cities since they tend to live in multi-storey apartment buildings.  Similarly most of the work places and public facilities are highly vulnerable to disasters due to unsafe construction practices.

Moreover, buildings where the children and the youth gather (ex: schools, orphanages, community centres/playgrounds) is often low priority projects built on least valuable pieces of land, susceptible to flooding, earthquakes and landslides. Schools are already an entry point for many community-based projects and can be used as emergency shelter during disasters. Yet, few national and local investment and emergency response plans pay attention to retrofitting them or relocating them entirely to safer ground.

The following is a list of potential areas that NSs could collaborate with local governments to improve safety of the built environment:

  •  Advocating for enforcement and/or changes in policy and legislations that promote:

Safe construction practices and enforcement of building codes based on acceptable safety standards.

Retrofitting existing public buildings, especially schools by engaging with stakeholders with sound technical capacity.

  • Implementing community based non-structural mitigation education particularly for practitioners in the construction sector.  
  • Education and awareness rising on activities that would reduce disaster risk in informal settlement areas such as how to make homes safer from risk of fire and floods and to protect themselves from earthquakes.

Safe/clean water, sanitation and hygiene promotion: Cities cannot be sustainable without ensuring reliable access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and good hygiene practices. Lack of access to safe water and sanitation has enormous consequences on human health and well-being and those who suffer the most are the urban poor, often living in slum areas or informal settlements. The lack of adequate water and sanitation facilities leads to health issues such as diarrhea, malaria and cholera outbreaks. Investing in urban water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion in dense urban environments along with improving health systems can provide significant gains in child mortality, maternal health, and preventable diseases.

The following is a list of potential areas that NSs could implement programs in collaboration with local governments to improve water and sanitation services in urban areas:

  • Advocating for:

Enforcement of risk mitigation and reduction measures such as developing protected shallow wells and bore holes.

Ensuring equality and equity in the provision of water and sanitation services (better tariffs and targeting of poor).

  • Building/rehabilitating sanitation and water facilities.
  • Raising awareness and providing public education on safe drinking water, adequate sanitation good hygiene practices.
  • Promoting proper store of and use of household water and rain water harvesting.

Solid waste management (SWM):  Urban solid waste generation and disposal are one of the biggest challenges in urban infrastructure. It presents a huge opportunity of window for RCRC to make an impact in improving the resilience of urban communities. The SWM system is largely a matter of urban governance issue but it can get better or worse depending on the people’s behavior.  In many cities, especially in slum areas, people dump their solid waste in rivers, canals, gullies or empty lots, clogging drainage systems that increase the risk of flooding and creates human hazards and environmental degradation. Untreated waste and incorrect disposal also increases carbon dioxide emissions and generates methane, worsening the negative impacts of climate change.

The following is a list of potential areas that NSs could implement programs in collaboration with local governments:

  •  Raising awareness and providing public education on the importance of proper solid waste management, waste prevention, recycling, composting and controlled burning.
  •  Community based solid waste collection programs to:

extend the coverage of waste collection;

promote proper disposal of garbage and

reduce the use of the traditional plastic bags.

  • Setting up facilities for compositing of organic material and recycling of inorganic waste by communities and markets.
  •  Re-greening projects to expand/restore green spaces.

Public transportation systems: Transportation systems are the life lines of the cities. Accessibility and safety of transportation routes are critical not only in times of disasters (for access and evacuation) but also in sustaining the daily life. It is the mandate of local governments to plan, invest and maintain different modalities of a sustainable, energy efficient (non-polluting) transportation that serves the needs and priorities of all of the residents of the cities.   Urban transportation policies of local governments can exasperate or reduce the inequality and inequity (see below), thus the vulnerabilities of disadvantaged groups. Regulation of motor vehicles and promotion of clean public transport and other forms of movement such as cycling and walking can both ensure clean urban air and reduce road injuries and deaths. 

Traffic accidents rank high in the list of hazards in many cities in the developing countries caused by non-compliance to traffic regulations and widely used motorcycles by untrained drivers among others.  Many NSs implement road safety programs often associated with first training programs.

 In addition, NSs could advocate for clean and affordable public transport systems that:

  • Supports the freedom of movement, giving fair access to opportunities and services to all, including less affluent, elderly or disabled.
  • Ensures the infrastructure (roads, bridges) are resilient to shocks and hazards and maintained properly to ensure the safety of the users.
  • Provides evacuation routes for all including the inhabitants of informal settlements.
  • Provides alternatives for people and encourages them to walk, cycle and use public transport.
  • Promotes traffic (road) safety (for motorist and pedestrians) through putting proper signs, awareness campaigns and school education programs.
  • Regularly informs public about the existing and planned public transport network, using the communication channels of the different partners involved (such as public transport news in the city’s monthly magazine, links to the partners’ websites, etc.. publish a city map providing information).