Sanitation in Nakuru’s low-income urban areas

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We had two very interesting activities on our last day at the WEDC conference in Nakuru, Kenya. In the morning, we made an exciting visit to a Rhonda area in Nakuru, in order to learn about the initiatives of Practical Action and Umande Trust there. In the evening, we had a side-event called ‘CLTS: taking stock, challenges, innovations, and ways forward’, where CLTS practitioners from different countries shared innovations that were being implemented in their areas. A report from the side event is available here –I recommend you to read it!– I will focus here on the field visit in Nakuru.

Rhonda and Kaptembwo areas –with a combined population of 140.000 people– could be described as slums or informal settlements in the city of Nakuru in Kenya. However, one member of an active youth group told us that they prefer to use the word low-income settlement (and rising!), as they reject the negative connotations the term slum-dweller carries... this reminded me of the power hidden behind labelling!

Practical Action and Umande Trust have been working in these areas for some time, trying to introduce an adaptation of the CLTS approach. It includes a triggering sessions that help spread the message of sanitation. But from my point of view –rather skewed, as I only spent a few hours there, the contribution of CLTS to this process is more at the level of the principles inspiring the intervention: sanitation has to be an insider issue (so no subsidies!), community-led and focused on collective behaviour change. But let me tell you about what we learnt, so that you can judge by yourself (have a look at their project information online, too).

One initiative they are using for improving the sanitary situation is to mobilise community health workers, which are trained volunteers. There are 20 active in Rhonda area, going to the different plots, sensitising the households, talking with the landlords of the plots and motivating them to provide adequate sanitation facilities to the tenants.  We visited one of the plots where the process had been initiated, and talked to the health workers, the landlord and some residents. Around 300 households live in the 80 houses in the plot which has only two pit

latrines, causing the formation of long queues in the mornings and evenings and the presence of open defecation in some spots. The landlord was sensitised and is now negotiating the loan with the bank in order to build six pour-flush latrines with a septic tank. The community health workers are also informing and supporting him regarding the legal procedures needed (e.g. to get permission of the municipality after a visit by engineers). Apart from the investment, the landlord will incur further losses due to the fact that the latrines will be located by the road –to make tank emptying easier–, where he has now some shops. To compensate these, once the latrines are operative he is planning to increase the monthly rent by 400 Kenyan Shillings (around 4€) to all the tenants, who now pay between 1000 and 1600 Shillings. One resident we asked about this said that the increase was ok, given that clean and good facilities were provided. Afterwards, we visited another plot, which belonged to one of the community health workers. A rainwater harvesting system and six good quality pour-flush latrines had been constructed there thanks to the financial schemes envisaged in the project.

Another initiative taking place in the area is led by the youth group in Rhonda area. They go door to door sensitising people about adequate hygiene practices. In addition, with the support of Umande Trust and Practical Action, they are starting to build a public bio-sanitary centre, located between a big daily marketplace and a church and producing biogas out of shit. The youth group has about 200 members, with different committees, including one devoted to sanitation, which will be in charge of managing the centre. We met a couple of members of the committee who had visited a similar facility in Nairobi and who were very motivated and involved in the process.

We had also an unexpected shocking experience when we witnessed one faecal-diseases transmission route which is not often taken into account: A little boy walking barefoot stepped on a fresh shit that was on a step, without even noticing, thus spreading the pathogens to his house and wherever he went.

In all, the field visit was very thought-provoking, making evident the specificities of urban sanitation and how these affect the potential of ‘standard’ CLTS and call for innovation and adaptation to such areas. Not aiming to be exhaustive, some of these particularities are:

  • High population density makes it practically impossible to have household-level latrines, and there are added challenges with management of shared or public latrines.
  • The population is less stable, moving from one place to another more frequently. Also, most households do not own their house. These two factors combined dilute the sense of ‘community’, making it more difficult to address sanitation collectively and to achieve ownership by the households.
  • In some cases, landlords do not even live in the area, making it difficult to get them involved in sanitation
  • Being urban areas, it is more likely that there is legislation affecting the process of construction of latrines and the technical standards accepted. This is an obstacle to starting at low rungs of the sanitation ladder and reduces the possibility of achieving quick change after the triggering.

From my point of view, this CLTS experience in Nakuru is a very interesting one. It would be useful to thoroughly document and monitor the process –including through some external research– in order to ensure as much as possible is learnt from it.

Date: 11 July 2013