Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 92 per cent of the population living in poverty and over half without access to safe water. The number of people in urban areas is growing at around twice the rate of the rest of the world. Faced with such a massive population growth, it’s very difficult for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service providers to maintain their current coverage, let alone improve services.

Insufficient water and sanitation facilities, together with poor hygiene practices, means that diarrheal disease is the second most lethal illness among children under five in Madagascar. Disease caused by unsafe water also results in less time spent at school and work, which increases poverty and restricts social growth.

The Halcrow Foundation is funding a project run by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), which aims to increase access to safe water and sanitation and improve hygiene practices in the city. The results of this will help improve the population’s health, education and livelihoods, as well as support gender equality and reduce poverty.

The project includes building water and laundry facilities, delivering educational campaigns to improve hygiene behaviour, and developing the technical, business and operational capacity of urban WASH providers.

WSUP has worked in Antananarivo since 2009, helping to strengthen existing WASH service providers and community-based organisations. The UK-based non-profit organisation’s approach is to work with the providers, which include utility companies and waste treatment facilities, and build their ability to adopt and replicate WASH management models that are financially viable and sustainable in the long term.

Halcrow Foundation funding will support women operating the constructed laundry blocks and water kiosks, and those setting up their own small businesses by giving financial, managerial and technical training. The presence of the laundry block will also help those who already provide an informal laundry service for their neighbours to structure, expand and improve the quality of their business.

The project also enables women’s participation and leadership in utilities, associations and community committees. This involvement in the everyday decision making of water management will strengthen their position in the community and contribute to well-being, empowerment and improved self-confidence.

The easier access to potable water will have a profound effect on women and girls who primarily bear the responsibility for household water supply, and spend a significant amount of time locating and collecting water. This represents a major barrier to economic gain and empowerment as it reduces time available for income-generating activities and school attendance.