Recently in Kampala I met the Deputy Executive Director of the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA), and her environment and public health team to discuss our Memorandum of Understanding. Waiting for the meeting to begin, I scanned through a local magazine, landing on an article discussing a town with a burgeoning middle class. The article focused on some of the facilities and service shortfalls – the town lacked a shopping mall and suffered poor refuge collection – and urgent development needs – a good water supply network was being undermined by the lack of a sewerage system and poor urban drainage.

Most of the article, however, was about highways and roads, the conventional entry point for urban planning and development. This model of urban planning – designing for cars and not people – is largely discredited because it fails to meet our changing needs and negatively impacts economies and health. Globally, many cities are working to reverse these approaches, with urban planning taking a people-centric approach.

As we enter an age of sustainable development – the Sustainable Development Goals will be agreed later this year – we need to correct this traditional course. Essential services, such as water and sanitation, need to be front and centre of urban planning; but we must also go beyond this to ensure water, as a positive driver of change, is factored in as an essential enabler of livability and prosperity.

Promoting this agenda, the International Water Association (IWA) is developing the Urban Water Charter, to help city stakeholders define a common vision for their natural and built water infrastructure, and how it relates to city planning. Central to the Charter, and the IWA Cities of the Future programme, are the 5Rs: reduce, reuse, recover, recycle and replenish. These principles provide a framework for cities to understand and respond to urban challenges for a regenerative city.

For Kampala, the challenges are well understood and solutions are being developed. The city’s population doubles to 2 million people each day as workers enter the city; improved public facilities, particularly for sanitation, are critical.

By 2030, KCCA’s target is to increase sewerage coverage from 6% to 30%. This may not seem an ambitious target but, given Kampala’s topography of hills and valleys, it is realistic. Onsite sanitation therefore remains a focus area, and Fecal Sludge Management a significant environmental and health risk. Like other cities, Kampala is looking at the solid waste sector for insight, zoning the city and establishing private-public partnerships for collection, transportation and disposal.

Regionally, there remains a huge gap at a strategy and policy level: planning is piecemeal and implementation is not well coordinated amongst stakeholders. Resource recovery and reuse is prominent on the urban sanitation agenda, however, the general business case for nutrients and energy recovery is patchy at best. The demand for products, such as fertilizers or bio-gas, is often not present; and competing in well-established markets means penetrating a mature and competitive supply chain is difficult.

We need to challenge assumptions that the market will be there, instead creating the right incentives and enabling policies to allow markets to operate and flourish. The urban sanitation planning framework, Sanitation21, developed by IWA, GIZ and Eawag, provides a vision for sanitation improvements and offers a comprehensive sanitation development plan. The IWA is working with local authorities, such as KCCA, to implement the Sanitation21 framework.

Kampala’s water and sanitation services have markedly improved over the last 15 years, something largely attributed to the performance of the National Water and Sewage Corporation (NWSC). Increased access, service quality and reduced non-revenue water are just some of the achievements. This has increased financial sustainability: in a virtuous circle performance is linked to revenue streams, and increased revenue provides better access to finance. For many African utilities, the reality is that Managing Directors can only dream of sustainable cost recovery and financial sustainability. Cash flow keeps them awake at night.

Performance is another key area, yet indicators, procedures and practices to collect and analyse data is not prevalent. The recent UN-Water GLASS report states that only 40% of the countries it surveyed had standardised performance indicators. IWA has a rich history of developing performance indicator frameworks, including the Performance Indicators for Water Supply Services and Performance Indicators for Wastewater Services. This year, IWA and the Inter-American Development Bank, launched AquaRating, the world’s first rating agency for water and wastewater utilities. It will make a huge difference to the sector, driving utility performance and engendering a culture of performance assessment and improvement.

I left my meeting with KCCA full of optimism. It is an authority with great ambition: recently restructured, with technocrats in decision-making positions, it has a clear focus on improving public and environmental health. Impressively, through work with the World Bank, it has recently attained a favorable credit rating. This achievement is still uncommon; in Africa, only some South African and Nigeria cities have a credit rating.

These developments are increasingly important to increase to manage shocks and resilience to extreme weather events. Our meeting took place by Lake Victoria, where the rainy season was coming to an end. The rains are increasingly unpredictable, and floods and droughts are becoming more challenging. Along with two other basins, the Volta and Chao Phraya, IWA is working with DHI, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, the NWSC, and other stakeholders to develop a Decision Support Systems for Floods and Drought management and in particular how it integrates with established practices such as Water Safety Plans (WSPs).

These will be major themes of the IWA’s Water and Development Congress & Exhibition, 18-22 October 2015, the only global event on water solutions focusing on emerging economies and developing countries. Water security, critical to societal, environmental and economic wellbeing, will only be achieved when we enable stakeholders across these different scales to integrate their strategies; and incentivise cooperation geared towards mutually positive outcomes.