Access to services

The provision of sufficient, affordable, good quality basic services is considered a core function of urban government. Delivery of services (water, sanitation, waste management and housing etc.) correlates closely with the health and well-being of urban residents. Inadequate service provision also affects the development of human capital, constraining prospects of escaping poverty. However, in many developing countries, the delivery of urban services is constrained by coordination, governance, finance and capacity challenges, exacerbated by the pace and scale of urbanisation.

Policy incoherence and institutional fragmentation have complicated the delivery of services in urban areas (Jones et al., 2014a). Incomplete decentralisation has had a negative impact on urban service delivery when service provision is transferred to subnational authorities with inadequate resources and the centre retaining political and economic power (Boex et al., 2013; Resnick, 2014). While the proliferation of service providers (public, private, formal, informal) in fast-growing cities can improve choice and availability, it also makes it difficult for authorities to coordinate, regulate and monitor delivery and for citizens to hold providers to account (Boex & Edwards, 2014; Jones et al., 2014b).

Inadequate service provision hinders the efforts of the poor to overcome vulnerability: people spend more time and resources seeking alternative provision, often of poorer quality and higher cost. Duflo et al. (2012) suggest obstacles to effective basic service provision can be categorised in three ways:

  • supply constraints (e.g. the cost and technical complexity of providing infrastructure);
  • demand constraints (e.g. unwillingness or inability to pay for services);
  • institutional constraints (e.g. horizontal governance failures where neighbouring municipalities fail to cooperate or manage services effectively).

Jones et al. (2014a) find governance and political economy factors play a determining role in effective service delivery, but conclude that the available evidence is weak on the key governance challenges specific to urban areas, or how these can be overcome (see table below).

Key common governance constraints

Source: Adapted from Wild et al. (2012: 4–5).

Governance constraint Definition
Political market imperfections Political logic often based on patronage or clientilistic relationships contributing to short-term, populist policies and bias towards visible outputs
Policy incoherence Contradictions within policy design, structure and roles, affecting some part or the entirety of policy processes
Inadequate performance oversight or monitoring Insufficient performance regulation and weak accountability, contributing to users exiting from provision
Challenges to collective action Weak capacity of actors to coordinate their activities and work together productively
Moral hazard Availability of aid or other resources that insulate the state (or others) from the consequences of their actions or inaction

Improved urban governance is central to addressing many of these challenges. For example:

  • Improved pricing and revenue models can break down barriers to collective action and create incentives for politicians to direct resources towards service provision (Duflo et al., 2012).
  • Partnerships among urban stakeholders (private sector, NGOs, community organisations, etc.) can assist with service delivery and other critical aspects of urban development (tackling slums, city expansion, etc.). These partnerships require sound legal frameworks for dealing with tendering, contracts and oversight.
  • Citizen-led co-production may enable state agencies to fulfil their obligations by leveraging the strength of federations of the urban poor, who are well placed to facilitate, design and implement cheaper and more effective responses.
  • Decentralised, community based and participatory approaches and processes for the design, development and implementation of urban programmes and projects increase the potential for democracy, accountability and transparency and promote the development of local involvement and enablement.

Box 7: Ahmedabad (India) – the Slum Networking Project (SNP)

The SNP ran between 1995 and 2009 and involved a partnership of urban stakeholders: the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, NGOs/CSOs, the private sector and slum residents. It sought to improve access to basic services, and guaranteed non-eviction. Project objectives included:

  • improving basic infrastructure within slums and homes;
  • enhancing community development through community participation/contribution and provision of basic services;
  • maintaining infrastructure improvements through NGOs and residents’ associations;
  • promoting environmental upgrading in the city.

Around 60 slums were upgraded, benefiting 13,000 households. The project integrated informal settlements into the broader urban environment in infrastructure development, service delivery and the provision of de facto land tenure. Participating households also recorded improvements across a number of economic and social dimensions. Since many worked in home-based manufacturing and retail, their livelihoods were closely related to housing and access to public utilities. An evaluation found that women reported an extra one to two hours a day in paid labour as a result of availability of basic services in the home. Upgrading has also generated improvements in health and hygiene. Reported incidence of illness across participating households has fallen from around 19% to 7%, with reductions in the incidence of water-borne diseases, and school attendance among children aged six to ten years has increased. Strengths of the project include the following:

  • Granting land tenure encouraged slum dwellers to invest in upgrading informal settlements.
  • Slum dwellers benefiting from the services were more willing to pay property tax.
  • Investment in infrastructure encouraged households to invest in their communities.

Sources: SEWA (2002); World Bank (2007); Mahadevia et al. (2011); Bhatkal et al. (2015).