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KENYA: Profiting From Better Sanitation

Isaiah Esipisu

NAIROBI, Mar 5 2011 (IPS) - She contributed towards building toilets for her community; in return Teresia Wasuka is getting a home to call her own.

Waiting for water in Waruku. Credit:  Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Waiting for water in Waruku. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Wasuka is a happy woman. The mother of five has lived as a squatter in Waruku settlement, part of Nairobi’s sprawling Kangemi slums for several years. In 2007, she joined a collective savings group.

“When we formed this group four years ago, our main aim was to develop projects that would help us access clean water, and have an ablution block. Little did we know that such a project would go a long way to provide homes to most of us who are homeless,” said Wasuka, a member of Waruku Community Development Project (WACODEP).

Like any other Kenyan slum, Waruku settlement is bursting under population pressure. The mud and corrugated iron walled shanties are packed together – neighbours can literally talk to each other from the comfort of their beds. Plots are separated by foot paths that are often just centimetres wide, some of which double as drainage channels.

Drinking water has to be bought from vendors, sometimes without knowing where it comes from. There is hardly any space for sinking pit latrines. Waruku residents often drop their faecal matter into plastic bags, and then fling them above the slum canopy, Nairobi slums’ infamous ‘flying toilets.’

”Diseases such as cholera and typhoid are common in this area. In fact, most of us can easily tell the symptoms when we see them,” said Wasuka.

Memories of a 2008 cholera outbreak in the area still linger in her mind. “My son – Simon Kerero survived narrowly when he was attacked by the disease during the outbreak,” recalls Wasuka.

Such misfortune led to the formation of WACODEP. “There were three major reasons as to why we formed this group,” says the chairman, Charles Wagura. “To support each other financially through a model known as merry-go-round, to develop projects that could improve our livelihoods, and to speak in one voice.”   The 25 members of the group are each expected to raise 200 Kenyan shilings (roughly $2.50) on a monthly basis. Each month, four members of the group divide the money raised; with group members taking turns until all 25 have a had a turn.

Soon after WACODEP’s registration as a community-based organisation in the year 2007, the group leaders approached the local authorities with a list of needs. “The list prioritised need for access to water and sanitation, and poverty reduction,” said the chairman.

The authorities then linked the group to the Athi Water Service Board – a state corporation under the Ministry of Water and Irrigation set up to provide water and sewerage services in some parts of the country.

In collaboration with Maji na Ufanisi (Swahili for Water and Development) – a local non-governmental organisation, the group secured funding for constructing a water kiosk and an ablution block.

“The local government ensured that the land on which we were building was indeed government land. And on its part, the Athi Water Service Board provided funding, while we implemented the project in collaboration with community members,” said Esther Waikuru, the Senior Community Development Officer at Maji na Ufanisi.

The project received approximately 32,000 dollars in the form of a grant from the board.

According to Waikuru, the project was implemented using a model known as Household Centred Environmental Sanitation. The approach was developed by the Environmental Sanitation Working Group of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG).

The model takes a ‘bottom-up’ approach, where households and the neighbourhood are placed at the core of the planning process. However, they have to respect a set of principles that ensure sustainability of the project.

“After it became evident that the community’s need was wanting, we invited all the 25 members of the WACODEP to a workshop where we developed an action plan together. The main aim was to have them drive the process instead of us imposing a project on them,” said the Community Development Officer.

By the beginning of January 2008, construction had started, with full participation of the community members.

After eight months, the project was up and running. “We sell water to area residents at three shillings, down from five shillings, which is the default price in other parts of the slum for a 20-litre jerrycan,” said Florence Wangoi, the water kiosk attendant.   “We sell water cheaply to the surrounding community so that they can feel that they also own the project. As a result, they provide maximum security to the facility,” said Wagura.

The kiosk supplies water to approximately 100 households within Waruku settlement, generating an average daily income of 1000 shillings ($13). Residents also get access to clean toilets and bathrooms for a fee which doubles the daily income from the facility.

“This is a good income for our members, considering that most of them earn approximately Sh 200 ($2.50) in wages per day, while others live on less than one dollar per day,” said the chairman.

Though he doesn’t have firm data, Wagura observed that the nightly bombardment of ‘flying toilets’ within the project’s neighbourhood has abated since the ablution block has been completed. “At the same time, the rate of communicable disease outbreaks are not as common as it used to be.”

According to the group treasurer Margaret Wawira, daily profits from the water and the ablution block services have enabled them purchase a piece of land, which has been subdivided among all the 25 members. “We are now saving more money to have the plots developed before we move in,” said the treasurer.

So far, Maji na Ufanisi is in the process of implementing many other projects of the same nature in various slums in Nairobi, with funding from various development partners. “We have four more projects in Kangemi slum, seven in Kibera slum and three in Mukuru slum,” said Waikuru.

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