Grassroots insights into urban risk and resilience

Informal settlements face many risks, often rooted in poor-quality shelter, inadequate services, and unresponsive local governance. These challenges are usually tackled in sectoral silos without the voices or knowledge of the residents themselves. This IIED research project forges interdisciplinary pathways to resilience with communities in Dar es Salaam.

Began April 2020
Anna Walnycki

Principal researcher, Human Settlements research group

Building transformative urban resilience for all
A programme of work understanding the nature of risk for people living in urban centres of the global South, in order to support community, city, national and global efforts to build resilience
Woman washing dishes in a bowl outside.

An informal settlement in Karakata, Dar es Salaam. Low-income communities in Tanzania tend to use a variety of formal and informal infrastructure and service providers (Photo: Slum Dwellers International via FlickrCC BY 2.0)

Low-income communities in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, typically use a range of formal and informal infrastructure and service providers, including for sanitation and solid waste management.

Fewer than 10% of city dwellers have access to piped sewerage, and the rest must rely largely upon pit latrines or septic tanks. On-site sanitation systems (including pit latrines) lack sewers and require regular emptying.

Climate change will likely aggravate the existing shortfalls in sanitation and solid waste management, making it essential to incorporate climate risks when designing interventions. The rising frequency or intensity of extreme weather events may result in damaged homes, deepening poverty and a range of health burdens in informal settlements.

What is IIED doing?

As part of this project, UK-based interdisciplinary researchers from IIED and UCL are working with the Centre for Community Initiatives (CCI) and the Tanzania Urban Poor Federation (TUPF) to examine multiple risks in informal settlements, including secondary data-analysis and additional participatory action research in Dar es Salaam.

While focusing on inadequate sanitation and solid waste management, the team’s analysis will encourage intersectoral strategies and create a platform for inclusive, co-produced interventions with government actors to foster resilience to multiple risks.

It will promote local buy-in as well as broader replicability by using the partners’ existing networks, novel communications outputs, and South-South learning opportunities.

The project aims to:

  • Develop contextually-grounded analyses of risks, hazards, and resilience in informal settlements using participatory methods that complement existing data that…
  • Enhance understanding of multiple primary and secondary hazards and…
  • Foster interdisciplinary, holistic strategies to promote urban resilience.

The capacity for transformation

Our understanding of urban resilience encompasses the ability of a city not only to adjust to shocks and stresses, but to have the ability to ‘bounce forward’, as opposed to ‘bouncing back’. This provides space for social transformation, and to use deliberate responses to risks and hazards as opportunities to improve settlements, cities and living standards.

This project focuses on leveraging co-production partnerships through participatory action research in Tanzanian informal settlements. Further, there is capacity for transformation to be found across disciplines, as well as in the low-income communities who drive construction and upgrading in informal settlements.

The practical and strategic significance of informality lies in its ability to circumvent the norms of conventional urban planning and design, with potential to help develop inclusive solutions and partnerships.

Low-income urban communities have extensive experience of data collection, and grassroots data can deepen our understanding of hazards, risks and resilience. Residents’ detailed data collection can significantly enhance local capacities and negotiating power to influence local sub-ward, ward and city processes.

CCI and TUPF have previously mapped and profiled informal settlements (with support from team mambers) and undertaken household surveys to document local needs and plan upgrading strategies.

During this project, the partners will read across and synthesise the existing data, to develop a more holistic understanding of the interconnected nature of hazards and risks, and opportunities for responses that can promote more inclusive, resilient planning and access to services.

By amplifying residents’ insights into their settlements, participatory research can reveal often-overlooked risks and hazards such as the impacts of ‘everyday’ disasters linked to inadequate sanitation, solid waste management, or other shortfalls in services.

While local governments in the global South have a key role in promoting resilience, they can rarely gather sufficiently in-depth data on rapidly changing urban contexts, particularly in informal settlements.

This project will enhance the depth and range of information on risks and hazards available to Tanzanian local governments, while promoting the central role that low-income residents can play in developing strategies to enhance resilience and address multiple risks.

Additional resources

British Academy project page

Long read: Connecting Cities to Basins, by Anna Walnycki and Jamie Skinner (2017)

Related project: Urban water and sanitation


British Academy Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research 2020