“Things have changed, we have toilets now and cholera is a thing of the past.” Ms Wanjiku says. “Back in 2013, I was attending a community health baraza when two people from Sanergy were given an opportunity to sell the idea of a toilet they called Fresh Life. I liked the idea immediately.”
LEAP OF FAITH
You could say that being a community health volunteer, Ms Wanjiku was bound to jump at the idea, but that she had to take a two-year-long Sh50,000 loan from Sanergy’s partner Kiva to facilitate the toilet installation shows a certain commitment and will power; all that is required to put the sanitation woe behind the 60 per cent of Nairobi residents not covered by the sewer system.
For Ms Wanjiku the benefits from the huge leap of faith she took five years ago have been countless. “My houses are occupied throughout the year. One of the things people consider here has got to be the bathroom and toilet. I am glad mine is clean and odourless and it is emptied daily.”
“For women and girls, access to a clean toilet in the confines of where they live means a lot. It means they don’t have to worry about getting raped at night when trying to access a bush somewhere,” notes Ms Karimi.
Schools in the slum too, have been benefiting. Teachers in schools we visited reported to have noticed an increase in the number of enrolment.
Ruben Baptist School for instance began with three Fresh Life Toilets and recently launched four additional facilities. Teacher Janet, a sanitation and hygiene patron at the school, said, “our student population has grown tremendously to over 200 pupils, which prompted us to expand.”
As the city’s population continue to grow, sanitation experts say, so is the need for more innovative ways of handling the sanitation mess that threaten to choke it.
This little village in the heart of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, is coming out as a perfect example of how to kill two birds with a single stone.
The Fresh Life toilets installed by Sanergy are not only solving the sanitation problem but also providing a source of income to the young people here.
In a dozen slums where the social enterprise operates, there are about 60 waste collectors who enjoy full benefits of employment.
According to Ms Karimi, this group of people abide by a certain code of conduct and operate under strict timelines and a level of professionalism.
In total, she said, the company has employed 250 people directly, a majority of them young people drawn from the community.
They comprise of logistics personnel (or waste collectors), toilet fabricators and customer support personnel whose work is to move around the community and find out whether the toilets are serving residents as well as train users. But there are also some 1263 entrepreneurs who operate in a franchise model.
This group, many of them young people, has bought the toilet and set up commercial loos in the slums, market places like Muthurwa and Gikomba and on busy streets where they charge users a standard rate for use. These toilets, Sanergy says, serve at least 65,000 people daily.
“These entrepreneurs have to sign a contract with us, agreeing to abide by certain hygiene standards. The contract also stipulates our role as an organisation. For instance, we provide timely waste collection services and certain essentials like saw dust, train users and do maintenance,” says Ms Karimi.
While previously waste handlers like Mr Mirera would be treated with contempt in the community, their neat look now has not only restored their dignity in the eyes of the community, but has also made their venture more attractive to other young chaps.
But just where does the waste collected go?
“The moment the logistics team have safely removed the waste from the toilet, it is taken to a processing facility where we treat and convert the waste into organic fertiliser called Evergrow and animal feed, which we sell to over 1,000 farmers. These farmers have recorded increased yields of up to 30 per cent. So it is not just about providing the toilet but really thinking about the whole of the sanitation value chain. Where the waste goes is the biggest problem in Nairobi right now and in cities across Africa,” says Ms Karimi.
Mr Alex Manyasi, Sanergy’s Government Affairs Director told DN2:
“Working with government at all levels to provide alternative safe sanitation services is important and inevitable - it is the only way to reach the underserved urban population. In the wake of Nairobi County's shit flow diagram this year, Nairobi County Water, Sanitation and Energy Director Mario Kainga committed to promote sanitation technologies that ensure safe waste containment, emptying, transportation and treatment. That is working closely with organisations such as Sanergy to promote alternative low cost sanitation technologies (such as UDDT) in areas where a sewerage network system is not available. Other important commitments made included constructing more dislodging points in Nairobi City to facilitate the non-sewer facilities."
Nairobi city chokes in faecal waste
In July this year, water and sanitation (WASH) experts from the private sector and the government came together to unveil a “shit-flow diagram” (SFD), a map that depicts the flow of faecal waste in Nairobi.
The stakeholders included the national government Ministry of Health, Nairobi County, Nairobi Water & Sewerage Company, African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB), Water Services for the Urban Poor (WSUP), and Sanergy.
The SFD, a tool developed by World Bank and has been tested in over 50 cities, revealed that 66 per cent of faecal waste generated in Nairobi is left untreated, posing serious risks to the environment and public health.
Additionally, only 40 per cent of the residents are connected to the sewer system. So what happens to the 60 percent who lack access to sewers? You may ask.
54 per cent of these residents make use of different forms of non-sewered sanitation options. In particular 30 per cent of waste emanating from these offerings is poorly handled –making this segment of the population, the biggest contributor of unsafely managed faecal waste.
But while the community surrounding Ms Wanjiku has abandoned the old-age practice, findings from SFD still revealed that the remaining 6 per cent of Nairobians who lack access to sewers still practice open defecation (OD). This puts them at the risk of epidemics, it degrades the environment and comes at a huge cost to the economy.
Just to give you a bit of context to the problem, 4.5 billion people in the developing world lack access to safe sanitation.
In Kenya alone, we lose about two per cent of our GDP due to lack of safe sanitation, when people get sick.
Further, poor sanitation in Kenya causes an estimated 17,000 deaths of children under five each year, 90 per cent of which are due to diarrhoeal diseases.