Beyond the Networked City: Building innovative delivery systems for water, sanitation and energy in urban Africa

This three year research project funded by ESRC under the Global Challenges Research Fund investigates, develops, and tests improved systems to deliver water, sanitation and energy services to marginalised people living in urban areas of Africa.

Map showing water supply coverage in Kampala.  Indicates sites of treatment plants, abstraction points, booster stations, reservoirs and distribution mains as well as indicating population density in the region.
National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) water supply coverage in Kampala, Uganda.

Urban populations in parts of Africa have limited or no access to drinking water, sanitation services and energy supplies. The challenges are made worse by:

  • increasing population
  • significant poverty
  • informal settlements (away from existing infrastructure)
  • unequal access to services between wealthy and poor areas.

Understanding and assessing the existing systems

The project combines social, economic, and political analysis with insights from natural and engineering science to understand how the infrastructure, management, finance, and governance can be developed to improve water, sanitation and energy services.

Our research activities include:

  • analysing how the cities have developed to date and how they are likely to develop in the future.
  • assessing on-grid services (piped water, sewerage, and mains electricity), using key attributes of the infrastructure and the environment around it to develop risk maps.
  • researching the attitudes of suppliers, policy makers and city officials regarding the challenges and opportunities to extend services to people who do not currently have access.
  • collecting detailed information on suppliers of off-grid services including the technologies they use and their business models.
  • testing specific interventions and undertake an outcome evaluation to assess how well they work including a value for money assessment of each option.

Working with local stakeholders

The research is driven by the needs of the local stakeholders including local communities, local government, and development agencies. Research is being undertaken in four marginalised communities in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Kampala, Uganda, to understand how and from where they currently access services, their perception of the quality of services and their views on the best way to improve services.

Research Outcomes and Impact

We are collaborating with local communities, decision-makers, and funders to research issues around resilience of on-grid and off-grid services

  • A set of options for improving water, sanitation, and energy services to marginalised communities, .co-designed with local stakeholders
  • City-wide plans for the development of services over time in collaboration with local stakeholders.

Project team

The interdisciplinary project team is led by University of Bristol with partners from:

  • African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Loughborough University, UK
  • Makerere University, Uganda
  • Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, Sierra Leone,

in collaboration with local stakeholders, government and development agencies.


Guma Valley water scheme, Freetown
Guma Valley water scheme, Freetown Image credit: Dr Joseph Macarthy
Image showing woman dancing in celebration that the electric light is working.
Joy! The lights are working at this person's home in Freetown Image credit: SLURC
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