Access to essential services (water, sanitation, waste, energy, mobility) for all is a major challenge for economic and social development in developing countries. Young people, who come with new ideas, expertise and energy, but who are also the leaders of tomorrow, have a crucial role to play. The challenge of today? Give them the means to build a more just and sustainable world.
Challenge of access to essential services in cities in developing countries
According to WHO (2013), in 2015, 800 million people do not have access to drinking water and 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Africa is the continent lagging behind the most, with a sanitation coverage rate of less than 36%. Similar situations can be seen for access to energy or waste management. Yet these services are necessary for a dignified life.
There has been an improvement in access in certain fields, particularly in the water sector. However, the positive results announced in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) need to be put into perspective: while the water MDG appears to have been achieved in 2010, water quality, access conditions, as well as the distance or waiting time to obtain water, are not taken into account by the current indicators. According to certain authors, 1.8 billion people would therefore appear to consume unsafe water every day.
The lack of access to these services is particularly critical in cities in developing countries. Indeed, according to UN-Habitat (2008), 50% of the world’s population are today urban dwellers. Population explosion and galloping urbanization pose a huge challenge for cities in developing countries and their residents: How to allow everyone to benefit from essential services with sufficient quality for a dignified urban life? At the same time, an increasing number of unplanned human settlements are springing up, better known as “slums”, as well as dual and fragmented cities which must face loss-making services. In terms of solvent demand, systems are developing parallel to the public service, which is often intermittent and of a poor quality. For the poorest classes, the service is often more expensive than the public service, particularly in the case of access to water. Consequently, access to essential services is a major challenge for the economic and social development of developing countries
Young people on the front lines
Tackling these challenges requires mobilizing a whole host of energies, from all walks of life, from all professional backgrounds and of all ages. In an increasingly connected and open world, the young generations are showing an ever-growing interest in issues related to development. In Europe, particularly in France, the growing popularity and increase in the number of courses specialized in development assistance and essential services over the past ten years bears witness to this. In Africa, over 70% of the urban population are young people under the age of 30, more than elsewhere, development can only be achieved by having an informed, strong and organized youth.
It is today essential to support young people so that they can build a more just world themselves, by strengthening their expertise, as well as their ability to voice themselves and influence the international sectoral agenda.
There are endogenous initiatives. Young people are structuring themselves in order to voice a different opinion and influence the international agenda, with the increasing number of innovative initiatives implemented during the major events which punctuate the international agenda. For example, youth associations are emerging, which will be at the next World Water Forum in Daegu to promote a certain vision of water and sanitation services.
While in Europe or Africa, young people are on the front line and demonstrate that they have a rightful place in the achievement of a more sustainable urban development, it is necessary to guide them more, advise them and promote their expertise.
New way of promoting junior expertise
The Projection network, a Francophone network of young professionals working in the sector of essential services, proposes innovative initiatives to strengthen a youth that is inquisitive, open to the world, and seeking to give a meaning to their professional and personal development.
The Projection network is a fully-fledged platform for community education, learning and exchanges, outside the traditional arenas. It cultivates freedom of thought, critical thinking, innovation, and the desire to exchange and learn from one another. Projection’s various activities all provide opportunities to test new approaches in order to build the capacities of young people to become stakeholders in a more effective and more sustainable development. Monthly meetings, workshops for international exchanges, educational days and networking activities all provide opportunities to learn and understand. Projection’s aim is to bring out a youth able to influence societal choices in fields of activity that are central to economic and social development.
In the field, these innovations lead to projects targeting social innovation, for example, in West Africa where innovative experiments have been conducted in the sanitation sector. While few development actors focus on the small-scale activities in the sector (masons, toilet managers, etc.), Projection has developed a project proposing training with innovative teaching in order to strengthen expertise and the structuring of the sector. A dedicated training center is currently being set up in Niger and is a real hub for capacity building for the sub-region. Consequently, the ideas promoted by young people can take shape when donors and technical and financial partners are willing to support them.
Need to raise the awareness of the development community
Beyond the Projection network, it is consequently the entire development community that needs to pay particular attention to the innovative initiatives and solutions led by young people. In practical terms, it is necessary to:
- Strengthen formal and informal consultation frameworks between young people working for essential services and senior experts, in order to create conditions that are conducive to the emergence of new ideas and concrete actions to implement;
- Propose a framework for exchanges, which requires a cooperative and emancipatory use of digital practices. At a time when the digital divide is narrowing in Africa and white areas are being reduced in France, the dematerialization of exchanges must be seized as an opportunity to bring together the initiatives led by young people and promote both North/South and South/South exchanges;
- Pay particular attention to the gender aspect in a field which is still largely dominated by masculine engineering and expertise;
- Stimulate the free, relevant and committed expression of young people, by promoting their participation in national and international debates on essential services;
- Promote the initiatives led by young people in the field by diversifying the dedicated financing opportunities and creating innovation laboratories.
Consequently, it involves supporting a new generation of experts and assisting them in order to strengthen their expertise. While young people are responsive and willing to show their ability to take part in a major challenge, will the development community and urban services in particular manage to give them the place they deserve?