Working with communities, governments, local leaders and partner institutions, the Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) program is co-designing location-specific solutions that integrate green infrastructure to strengthen the whole-of-life water and sanitation cycle.

The program is demonstrating that nature-based solutions—such as constructed wetlands and biofiltration gardens—deliver sustainable, cost-effective health and environmental improvements to informal settlements in developing countries.

A global team of researchers from across more than 11 disciplines, led by Monash Sustainable Development Institute, is trialling the water sensitive cities approach in 24 settlements in Makassar, Indonesia and Suva, Fiji. The CRCWSC advises RISE on community engagement and nature-based structural engineering solutions for sanitation and clean water.

Community co-design is at the heart of the RISE program

We work to ensure that designs incorporate and reflect local knowledge about water, cities and health. Our work in the community of Gampancayya, Indonesia is a good example, where we investigated how the environment gets contaminated and how the community gets sick.

The community identified that one of their main water-related challenges is flooding causing standing greywater and its associated health implications. It also suffers from poor sanitation and poor drainage.

To tackle this challenge, the RISE ‘Panrita’ (the traditional name for a craftsperson or architect working with a community to design and build holistically with their environment) gathered men, women and children of Gampancayya to co-design a new wastewater system with communal and household elements.

Small groups of participants mapped their wells, toilets, community spaces, and local environment, including where children play. Then, together, they developed the RISE infrastructure plan, which will include constructing new wetland treatment facilities for wastewater that will include mass plantings of tekeré, a native plant in the region.

You can see the co-design process in action in this short video about Gampancayya.

The RISE work is giving hope to the people of Gampancayya

One participant said: ‘From the start, RISE was very helpful, in a way that it can help us arrange our community, street and also the space—all of it.’

Similarly, our co-design process was effective in harnessing community participation in developing a demonstration site of water sensitive interventions at Batua, Makassar. This small informal community integrates infrastructure such as wetlands, biofiltration gardens, stormwater harvesting into the local landscape:

  • A local sanitation system will comprise pressure sewers, septic tanks and nature-based solutions such as constructed wetlands to treat sewage. The aim is to eliminate open defecation and unsustainable disposal of sewage and septage into the surrounding environment.
  • Features such as a new raised pathway and improved stormwater flowpaths will manage the intrusion of contaminated floodwater into the neighborhood from external catchments.
  • Improved local drainage will reduce the exposure of the community to faecal contamination, and limit habitats for disease vectors.
  • Alternative water sources will provide fit-for-purpose water for non-potable use.
  • In the future, it is planned that the reuse of treated water will create opportunities for local economies—for example, communities can use the water to grow crops or flowers that they can then sell.

Completing the initial stages of demonstration site was a significant milestone because it now makes RISE tangible. We learned valuable lessons about its construction in Indonesia and have evidence of favourable costs when compared with mainstreamed traditional approaches to delivering sewerage services.

The sanitation system has now been augmented with ‘smart’ technology that allows remote monitoring of the pumps and wastewater flows. The OneBox® system went live in November 2020, the first of its kind in Makassar. The unit, developed by South East Water/Iota (a CRCWSC Essential Participant), controls the pump for the pressure sewer and allows for remote access to the pressure sewer system – it is essential to monitor the pressure sewer to ensure it is properly pumping wastewater away from household toilets. RISE teams can log into the OneBox® portal from anywhere in the world to monitor water levels in the tank in Batua in real-time. You can find out more about the OneBox® technology here. It’s another example of RISE helping to build the knowledge and capacity of community residents and in-country teams to ensure the longevity and success of infrastructure.

RISE continues in a COVID-19 world

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on informal settlements. Border closures and halted tourism are having a devastating impact on already vulnerable communities. Many in these informal settlements have lost their jobs, as well as important social interactions (such as being able to attend school and local mosques).

And yet, we have seen the adaptability and resilience of residents and RISE in response to the pandemic. The RISE team delivered food packages to RISE residents in Suva and Makassar earlier in the year, to support them during the lockdown. The RISE program is also regularly checking in with communities in Suva and Makassar via a survey which is also a core part of RISE’s ongoing research tracking people’s wellbeing over time.

You can find out more about how people in RISE communities are managing the COVID-19 pandemic in this ADB blog.

The program has begun to ‘reset’ for a COVID-19 world. It sees the need to be even more creative and adaptable to ensure research continues across its 27 partners, 9 countries and 24 study settlements for many years to come. The program is re-examining its practices and ways of working and finding a new normal. For example, teams used Zoom to refine the detailed engineering (construction) drawings, in anticipation of returning to the field when it’s safe. They also conducted stakeholder engagements via Zoom, which meant activities could progress during Work from Home periods.

Pleasingly, monitoring our water sensitive systems at the Batua demonstration site has successfully restarted. Our local team has restarted visiting Batua to collect effluent samples from the septic tank and wetland treatment systems, following important training in our COVID-19 Safety Protocol.

Last updated: 12th Jan 2021