WaterHubs: Infrastructure for Urban Slums
By Saurabh Saraf 14 July, 2015
WaterHubs CEO Saraf on how WaterHubs is a holistic & fiscally viable water & sanitation solution for urban slums
WaterHubs is a modular water & sanitation infrastructure solution for urban slums 1. Around 862 million people live in urban slums in developing countries2 with little access to basic services. By 2050 around 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas3 with developing countries witnessing massive urbanisation. Conventional infrastructure isn’t capable of dealing with today’s demands leading to the formation of slums. Therefore, for the long-term sustainability of cities we require an innovative solution. WaterHubs is an answer to some of these challenges.
Urbanisation in the developing world
In a century, a major part of the globe has moved to urban areas. From 10% to 55%, the increase has been drastic and is expected to continue. This is especially true for cities in the developing world, which will host the major part of this influx. It’s expected that 9% of the world’s population, by 2030, will be living in 41 megacities 4.
People living in urban areas has increased from 10% to 55% in a century
Interestingly enough there lies a correlation between the extent of urbanisation and the human development index 5 (HDI). Further more, highly urbanised & high-income countries also rank high on HDI, followed by middle-income and low-income countries. Needless to say, urbanisation has opened doors for a large number of people to opportunities for economic growth. What’s important is to make sure that the consequent infrastructure developments that aid growth be principled by tenets of sustainability. A sustainable or rather circular approach becomes all the more pertinent for our cities given that they produce 50% of global waste, 80% of global GDP, 60-80% of GHG emissions and consume 75% of natural resources but occupy just 3% of global land surface 6.
A sustainable or rather circular approach is pertinent for our cities given that they:
- produce 50% of global waste, 80% of global GDP, 60-80% of GHG emissions;
- consume 75% of natural resources; but
- occupy just 3% of global land surface.
Lack of appropriate infrastructure in developing world forces people to slums
Emergence of slums in Asia, the “economic centre”
~523 mn people live in urban slums in Asia
61% of the entire urban slum population in developing countries
In developing countries, due to the major influx of populace into urban centres and lack of appropriate infrastructure, a large proportion of people are forced to live in slums.
Roughly 523 million live in urban slums in Asia, which is 61% of the entire urban slum population in developing countries7.
As much as the economic centre is moving towards Asia 8, so is the need for basic infrastructure provisions for the cities becoming increasingly important.
Sanitary provisions… or rather lack of it
Slums may have little or no access to basic provisions of sanitation and clean drinking water. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG), set by the UN, resolved to halve by 2015 the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and, by 2020 to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.
Some 2.5 bn people still do not have access to toilets
However, some 2.5 billion people still do not have access to toilets 9. Absence of sanitation facilities (or poorly managed facilities) leads to mass defecation, which has a toll on health and the environment.
WaterHubs: A resource ATM for urban slums
Days of centralised and controlled planning are far gone now, the world is dynamic and changing quickly. This means we need to evolve the way we plan and develop cities.
WaterHubs is a circular economy
By closing the metabolic loops of material flows within a system a lot can be done in terms of resource savings and efficiency. What’s needed is an integrated approach for tackling the water-waste-energy nexus with systemic solutions.
In line with this, WaterHubs incorporates such tenets and is therefore an example of a circular economy in action. Developed at Biopolus (Hungary), WaterHubs is a modular water & sanitation infrastructure solution for urban slums. It integrates modular blocks of sanitation, water treatment & supply, organic waste processing, energy & nutrient recovery. The solution is co-created with the community and provides functions like:
- Community services (toilets, shower etc…);
- Biological sewage treatment & water recycling/reuse;
- Waste processing and electricity access; and
- Agricultural production.
With WaterHubs developing nations could design sustainable cities without needing to rely on conventional methods for infrastructure development. WaterHubs can also be used in existing slums thus ‘un-slumming’ them. Technologies in WaterHubs are state of the art climate technologies and can serve 5,000 to 50,000 people. Although a decentralized solution, distributed networks can be formed to cover a population up to 1 million.
Our vision is to catalyze implementation of such facilities and reach 100 million people in the next 20-25 years. The short term goal for the next 5 years is to build facilities in different regions and cultures to reach a minimum of 100,000 people.
WaterHubs can serve 5,ooo – 50,000 people with state of the art climate technologies
It doesn’t rely on conventional planning
There are three main differentiator of are WaterHubs:
- Holistic: Instead of a narrow focus on solving one problem, we look at it with other problems &/or demands. Instead of installing a toilet where there is none, we install an entire infrastructure that not only offers sanitation services but also treats the waste and extracts value from it (energy, nutrients etc…).
- Utility infrastructure: The community is able to treat the WaterHubs facility as a utility. Having a provision for community service is an essential component of our design. WaterHubs wouldn’t be a zone of filth or toilets but rather an aesthetic and pleasant space that can be used for daily activities & chores.
- Fiscal viability: Instead of being a cost centre for the city, WaterHubs will be a revenue generator. By extracting value from supposed waste WaterHubs will pay for itself.
WaterHubs provides basic sanitation needs whilst recycling water & waste thereby also generating revenue
Overall we see great potential in WaterHubs as a solution for basic water & sanitation services for slums. At the same time there is tremendous opportunity to save and recycle resources including water and waste.
WaterHubs can be a model of integration and symbiosis between nature, technology and even society that we can show the world!
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- Can Cities Meet Increasing Water Demands – Nitin Dani and Georgina Glanfield from Green Initiatives Shanghai share their thoughts on how Chinese cities can ensure water security. Can the public play a role?
- Consumers Willing To Pay More for Water – Lu Shuping, President of Xylem China, shares the findings of a survey of six Tier 1 & Tier 2 cities in China which show that consumers understand the seriousness of water issues & are willing to pay more for safe drinking water China Water
Drinking water in China
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- China Water Risk special report: China’s Long March To Safe Drinking Water
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