Winning with Water: Funding Awarded to Revitalize Urban Slums

Stanford’s Stephen Luby to direct health evaluation of prestigious research collaboration led by Monash University to revitalize slums through water management strategies.

January 24, 2017 | By Rachel Leslie

New grant highlights link between environmental issues, such as water quality, and public health in South Asia.

Marking a milestone planetary health research collaboration, Stanford epidemiologist Stephen Luby is part of an international consortium that has received a £10 million grant from the Wellcome Trust to potentially improve the lives of more than a billion people living in urban slums globally.

Led by Monash University, the funding supports a five-year project that will significantly advance human health and well-being in slums by transforming water infrastructure, water management and sanitation practices. The project will deliver the first ever public health and environmental data on the outcomes of an alternative water management approach.

Luby was a member of the core team that developed the grant proposal and has been tapped as the human health evaluation leader on the project. Part of the Wellcome Trust’s “Our Planet, Our Health” funding program, their proposal was one of only four awards selected from over 600 applications worldwide.


“The reason this [grant] matters so much is because planetary health matters so much,” said Luby. “And the ability to be able to connect what’s happening on the planet to human health in a way that leverages the rigorous scientific capacities of cutting edge research – the types of research that Stanford really values. To me, this was just an excellent example of rigorous interdisciplinary collaboration taking on one of the great problems of our time.”

Luby is director of research for the Center for Innovation in Global Health, professor of medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, and senior fellow of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

The research will focus on informal settlements in Fiji and Indonesia and will be integrated in with two infrastructure projects, which are currently being prepared for financing by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. The infrastructure projects will upgrade 24 settlements in the two countries, chosen because they represent typical challenges to providing water management in the Asia-Pacific region. The new practices and approaches developed there could be replicated in the world to transform health and livelihoods of people in informal communities.

Today’s global challenges are too great for any single sector or nation to solve.

Michele Barry, director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health, said the collaboration represents a keystone project in a growing planetary health effort.

"We cannot ignore the inextricable link between our changing planet and its impact on human health, especially on the world's most vulnerable populations," said Barry. "Today’s global challenges are too great for any single sector or nation to solve. We look forward to building upon this partnership, which sets the framework for a broader planetary health initiative that leverages the synergies and expertise of this exceptional global consortium.”

The project brings together an interdisciplinary team of engineers, architects, economists, biologists, public health experts and social scientists who will quantify the human health, environmental, economic, and social benefits of a water sensitive approach. The outcomes could potentially provide the basis for new water infrastructure policies and investment strategies for urban informal settlements worldwide.

Read more in a press release from Monash University.


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