New Vision (Kampala)

6 July 2008

Uganda: Kampala Slum Dwellers Turn to 'Flying Toilets'

Kampala — KAMPALA'S population is soaring with many people living in slum areas. However, the law does not allow KCC, the major provider of sanitation services, to work with informal settlements, writes Frederick Womakuyu.

AN overflowing pit latrine empties its contents into a worm-infested drainage channel in front of Catherine Namubiru's home in Kisenyi, a Kampala slum. Less than 10 such latrines serve a population of 3,000 people living in this area.

The latrines are dilapidated with rusty iron sheets for walls, cracked floors and are roofed with plastic material. Little wonder that many inhabitants of "Mogadishu" in the heart of Kisenyi use 'flying toilets'.

Flying toilets refer to the habit of residents easing themselves in polythene bags, which they throw out of their houses. Heaps of tightlytied polythene bags adorn the roofs of mud-and-wattle houses in this area, attracting swarms of flies.

Some burst upon landing onto the roofs, while others clog the drainage system in

"Mogadishu." Sewage also meanders through the slum, giving off a choking stench.

"This is the trend here. The few latrines cannot serve the population. Besides, the existing latrines are full and it will take a while to mobilise residents to contribute funds to empty them," Namubiru says.

Fears abound that the poor sanitary conditions will lead to disease outbreaks. "Our fears are heightened during the rainy season when floods sweep sewage into our homes," says Teresa Atuhaire, another resident.

The lack of latrines also poses a risk to the security of girls and women. "Girls and women have to wait until it is dark to look for a place where they can ease themselves. They sometimes walk for 30 or 40 metres to ease themselves.

They could be raped or mugged in the process," says Fred Katabazi, the director of Tweyembe Development Association, a nongovernment organisation which seeks to improve sanitation in slums.

During the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which was held in South Africa six years ago, world leaders promised to reduce by half the number of people lacking basic sanitation facilities by 2015. But will this pledge be effected to bring about change in Namubiru and Atuhaire's lives?

According to Action Aid International, over 1.5 million people out of Kampala's 1.8 million population live in slums. Out of

these, 1.2 million do not have latrines. On the other hand, developments in Namuwongo, another Kampala slum, have brought some hope for residents there.

The dilapidated pit latrines in Namuwongo, with a population of about 10,000 people, are being replaced with permanent ones, each consisting of four stances and two bathrooms. In all, three latrine blocks have been constructed through a project run by Environmental Alert and Celtel Uganda. Residents pay

sh200 to use the latrines and sh100 for bathrooms. But, this does not seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of the project.

According to statistics, 60% of Ugandans live on less than a dollar a day (less than sh1,600), while 31% of Uganda's population live below the poverty line. "Before the construction of the latrines, people used to ease themselves in polythene bags and plastic containers which they would throw way at night.

Today, the flying toilets have greatly reduced. The drainage is also less blocked, while disease outbreaks, including cholera and diarrhoea, have reduced," says Katabazi.

Similar sanitation projects have been rolled out to Naguru, Bwaise, Kimombasa, Kalerwe, Katwe, Kifumbira, Kamwokya and Katanga slums in Kampala. Nonetheless, Swaliki Kisitu, the chairman Namuwongo A, says there is still a lot to be done.

"The four latrine blocks are just a drop in the ocean. The private sector, the Government and civil society organisations should work together to improve the lives of slum dwellers," he says. Katabazi, however, wants the Government to come up with a policy on sanitation in slums.

"The problem of flying toilets will remain with us as long as the Government does not set up a clear policy to deal with slums. People keep migrating from rural to urban areas," he says.

Betty Madanda, the commissioner for the housing ministry says: "There are no clear policies to govern the provision of services in informal settlements. Authorities see this as a means of legitimising illegal settlements."

The reluctance to acknowledge illegal settlements is reflected in the laws governing Kampala City Council (KCC), a key provider of sanitation services. The laws do not allow KCC to work with informal settlements.

"Slums have no place in Kampala. They are illegal. We shall do away with them as the " city expands," says a KCC officer. Human rights groups argue that these laws, which date back to Uganda's independence in 1962, are obsolete and need to be revised to meet the current trends.

On a more positive note, however, the Government, through KCC, initiated the Kampala Urban Sanitation Project (KUSP) in 2004 to promote sanitation in informal settlements. The project, which has been rolled out to all the Kampala slums, aims at building latrines and providing clean water for slum dwellers.

"Many slums which did not have access to clean water have benefited from this project. We shall continue improving the lives of our people," says Moses Lugalo, KUSP's project coordinator.

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