Digital solutions to improve basic service provision to the urban poor

Photo @ GSMA

George Kibala Bauer
Advocacy Manager for the Mobile for Development Utilities programme, GSMA

Africa’s urban population is expected to double from now until 2050, while most of this growth will be concentrated in informal settlements, where over 63 per cent of the urban population in least-developed countries already live. This poses challenges to basic service provision as cities struggle to meet the demands of rapidly growing urban populations. Unless city authorities and utilities find innovative ways to include informal settlements in service provision, water shortages, lack of sanitation, unreliable power and insufficient waste management will remain a reality for most of the urban poor. As COVID-19 demonstrates, the reliability and inclusivity of basic services is a critical determinant of societies’ resilience in the face of external shocks.

Mobile-enabled digital solutions are uniquely placed to address these challenges. The expansion of mobile connectivity in developing countries has enabled the proliferation of digital solutions that can make essential services more accessible and aff ordable. For instance, the spread of mobile money throughout Africa, is enabling innovative business models like pay-as-you-go (PAYG) to make vital services accessible to low-income populations. Innovations like smart metering, PAYG, big data, GIS and the Internet of Things (IoT) can be applied to a range of impactful use cases, such as deploying smart grids, coordinating sanitation services, monitoring water pipe leakages, mitigating peak traffic flow or managing waste flows.

This section explores the potential for these mobile enabled innovations to provide solutions to pressing challenges facing the urban poor.