In the world-wide Millennium Development Goals initiative, Rwanda promised to halve by 2015 the number of people who lacked access to safe water and improved sanitation in 1990. Progress has been made in access to water, but the target figure will probably not be met. Targets for improved sanitation will be met on the original definition of ‘improved’, though probably not if shared provision is excluded. However, beyond the usual rural/urban divide, the article highlights how the numerical target conceals a serious problem in the capital city, where ‘informal settlements’ have grossly inadequate provision. We argue that the problems are not soluble at the individual level; a whole and unbreakable chain of provision is needed. Centralised provision is also not very feasible in Rwanda, so Government and/or development partners will probably have to work at the level of communities to set up sanitation chains and train communities in servicing them. Solving the problem is essential if the urban poor are to be offered a decent life and to solve the public health problem of contaminated water.