19 November 2012

Kenya: World Toilet Day - Improving Life in the Slums

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
A toilet in Kenya's Mukuru slum

A few years ago, walking in the sprawling informal settlement in Nairobi was a delicate balance between dodging flying toilets and circumventing murky mountains of garbage strewn everywhere.

As a result of lack of toilet facilities, desperate residents used polythene bags and hurled them out through the windows as the infamous flying toilets.

But today, as we mark the world Toilet Day highlighting the plight of 2.5 billion people without access to a clean toilet, a walk through Mukuru-kwa-Reuben informal settlement reveals a different picture.

This is the result of the FreshLife toilets that provide sanitation services. The toilet facility is like a kiosk which customers pay to use and the owner earns an income.

The waste is then collected daily and taken to a waste management facility where it is converted into byproducts such as organic fertiliser sold to coffee farms.

Agnes Kwamboka, who was displaced from her Molo home in 1992 pre-election violence runs her own 'toilet business' from 5.30 am to 10.30 pm.

"Before this I had been selling changaa for 18 years. It got to a point where I was tired of the name calling and police arrests. I have the responsibility of taking care of my eight children and being a Christian, I knew I had to look for a decent way of earning a living," she recalls.

She was introduced to the FreshLife toilets by a friend and with only Sh20,000, she bought the toilet on credit from Sanery Foundation.

Though the changaa' business brought in more money, Kwamboka has not looked back as providing a clean toilet facility to her community at Sh 3 for adults and Sh 2 for children is more than meaningful to her.

"I used to make Sh10,000 a day from selling illicit brew but the police always got half of it. Now I make about Sh 2,500 a week from the toilet though I have other small businesses of selling water."

Kate Rose from Sanergy, a social enterprise in Kenya working to build sustainable sanitation in urban slums says the FreshLife toilets costs Sh 45,000 if bought upfront and Sh50,000 if bought through hire purchase.

"The provision of hygienic sanitation in the urban slums particularly impacts women and children, both on the economic side as Fresh Life Operators and on the health and safety side as users," says Rose.

"So far, 130 toilets gave been installed in Mukuru-kwa-Reuben and we are targeting to put up at least 6,000 toilets as we create jobs and play a key role in waste management," she says.

With 8 million people in the slums of Kenya and 2.5 billion worldwide lacking access to adequate sanitation, the toilet facility uses the build, collect and convert model to provide hygienic, accessible and affordable sanitation to the residents of Nairobi's slums.

Under the theme, "I give a shit, do you?", this year's global awareness campaign aims to draw attention to the global sanitation challenge and break the taboo around toilets and hygiene.

High population density combined with the lack of basic access to clean water, sewerage infrastructure, and resources make the problem particularly acute in slums.

In addition, the lack of proper waste removal and treatment options creates a tremendous source of environmental pollution.

According to the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), the benefits of proper sanitation, good hygiene and clean drinking water on health and well being, educational attainment and economic growth are increasingly gaining recognition by the international development community but there is still a long way to go.

Saskia Castelein, an advocacy and communication officer at WSSCC says although unthinkable for those living in wealthy parts of the world, lack of a toilet or privacy to relive oneself is still a harsh reality for many.

In fact, one in three people in the world do not have access to a toilet. Sanitation is a fundamental human right and this day is set aside to raise awareness, inspire action and more important make sanitation and hygiene for all a reality in the 21st century.

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