Water scarcity or hygienic shortcomings of water occur in densely populated areas in particular. In such areas, the human footprint places a correspondingly high burden on water bodies and the distribution of water is becoming increasingly difficult. Urban areas have therefore always been confronted with major water supply challenges.


The population of cities rarely develops linearly. There are phases of intense urbanisation, sub-urbanisation and de-urbanisation as well as periods of constant population size. Many cities have undergone rapid urbanisation in the transition to industrialisation; a key factor in the development of economic prosperity, culture and innovation, but also of poverty and inequality.

Urbanisation in itself is neither good nor bad. Depending on the speed of growth or the type of economic transformation, it can bring prosperity or poverty.

Example of Lucerne

In the 19th century, Lucerne developed into a thriving city of trade and commerce. Between 1850 and 1950, the population grew from 10,000 to 60,000. At the same time, production intensified. This led to an increase in the demand for water and the discharge of polluted water into the environment. There were regular epidemics of waterborne diseases such as cholera. The urban water supplier was overwhelmed by this rapid transformation and began to expand its water supply. Initially, mainly the wealthier urban areas benefited from this. Poor areas continued to depend on wells, some of which were unsafe. It was not until the development of Lake Lucerne in the 1960s that the city was able to supply all its inhabitants with clean drinking water. After a phase of intensive sub-urbanisation until the turn of the millennium, the population of the city and the agglomeration stabilised.

Population Growth Luzern

Global Urbanisation

The demographic transitions that Lucerne has experienced are also visible elsewhere. Yet, in a completely different context and to a completely different extent. Many cities worldwide are in the midst of intensive phases of urbanisation. Young people in particular hope for better economic prospects in the city compared to rural areas. For the first time in several years, more people live in cities than in rural areas. This trend is set to continue: 66% of the global population, over 6 billion people, are expected to live in cities by 2050.

The total number of people living in urban areas is growing by two per second worldwide. Over half of all cities suffer from water shortages.

Enormous Speed in Sub-Saharan Africa

By far the largest share of city residents is found in Asia where around 2 billion people already live in cities. In the next 30 years, however, cities in Africa will experience the greatest growth. This is on the one hand a result of large influxes from rural areas into cities and a high population growth due to a high birth rate and a slightly declining mortality rate on the other hand. In rural areas, poverty as well as access to drinking water and basic sanitation is still more precarious than in cities. Migration to urban areas consequently represents a hope for improvement for many.

Grafik Wsup De

Kanyama Community Market

Africa's urban population is expected to grow from 400 million to 1.26 billion by 2050

By 2035, 50% of Africa's population will live in urban areas

Example of Lusaka, Zambia: Since 1990 the population has risen from 700,000 to 2.5 million people

Example of Mozambique: The nationwide urban population will increase from 8 million to 24 million people in the next 20 years

Consumer Cities instead of Production Cities

Today's urban development in Sub-Saharan Africa is different from that of Europe in the 19th or Asia in the 20th century. There has been neither a green nor a significant industrial revolution. In fact Africa seems to be skipping the phase of industrialisation. Accounting for almost 60% of African GDP in 2014, the service sector is the most important driver. The emergence of consumer cities instead of production cities means that the majority of workers are engaged in low-skilled activities in the informal services sector.

The share of the manufacturing industry of total GDP in Africa is only half as high as in other regions with the same degree of urbanisation.



Lack of infrastructure as well as labour market capacity and informal housing mean that the costs of urban concentration (overcrowding, congestion) outweigh the benefits. Infrastructure deficits are the result of decades of underinvestment.



Cities consist of a large number of disconnected neighbourhoods. The lack of a reliable transport infrastructure causes long journeys and limits employment opportunities for workers.



Companies have to pay high nominal salaries due to rising food, housing and transportation costs. Investors are discouraged by the high labour and transaction costs because these costs ultimately have to be generated by selling the products in a competitive global environment. This is especially true for regionally and internationally tradable goods.

Economic Water Shortage in Sub-Saharan Africa

Climate change and increased consumption of water are changing its availability and making it scarcer. At the same time, many regions in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing economic water shortages. The challenge therefore lies primarily the distribution of water, not the procurement. However, local water suppliers often lack the financial means for the necessary expansion of the infrastructure as well as sufficiently trained personnel at the management and craftsman level. They are also dependent on long-term economic viability in order to guarantee the maintenance of the infrastructure. As a result, water suppliers are often reluctant to make major investments in new infrastructure in poorer urban areas. The inequality felt by large sections of society is thus exacerbated.

Municipal water utilities must be economically viable in order to cushion the huge influx of immigrants in the long term. As a consequence, they often hesitate to invest in the poorest areas of the city. Inequalities are thus further exacerbated.

Consequences of Inadequate Water Supply and Sanitation

Many cities are unable to cope with the high level of immigration. Growth is often deregulated. Informal neighbourhoods are created with inadequate infrastructure for drinking water, sewage, sanitary facilities or drainage. As a result, local residents have only a limited amount of water at their disposal, have to walk long distances to procure it or buy it for a high price. Pit latrines are often built and later replaced by new latrines instead of maintained and emptied. The infrastructural deficiencies lead to problems especially during the rainy rainy season. Holes fill up and become unsafe, open latrines are under water. This leads to a devastating cycle: insufficiently treated drinking water is contaminated by pathogens. People come into contact with the pathogens and become ill as they use water every day. Due to inadequate sanitary facilities, these pathogens get into the soil via faecal matter and thus into groundwater and drinking water. As a result, waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever spread. This situation has a far-reaching impact on the health and dignity of those affected and considerably reduces social development.


Growing informal settlements
Worldwide, over 1 Billion people live in informal settlements with lacking sanitation and access to clean water.

The City as a Perspective

Understandably, urban water suppliers cannot keep pace with the enormous increase in demand. Targeted measures are therefore needed to strengthen the institutions. Because safe access to water and basic sanitation is the basis of all social development. Successfully improving the access points for everyone and tapping into the great potential of the urban population will open up the possibility of creating a secure basis for a more dignified life for millions of people. After all, cities make an important contribution to the structural transformation of an economy by shifting economic resources from areas of low productivity such as traditional agriculture to areas of higher productivity such as manufacturing. As a result, they are always catalysts for innovation and prosperity.

New Water Kiosk  Linda2

Water Kiosk System
The system of water kiosks offers water suppliers the opportunity to expand their services into fast-growing urban areas on a financially sustainable basis.




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