In Summary
  • Fresh Life toilet, has seen many slum dwellers enjoy what most would take for granted: a toilet.
  • It is an innovative toilet that uses a low-cost sanitation technology dubbed urine diverting dry technology (UDDT).
  • It is made in such a way that it separates the waste, with urine being collected in a 20-litre jerrican and the solid waste in a plastic barrel, placed below the toilet pan.

On the narrow paths of Mukuru Kwa Njenga’s Sisal Zone village, a man struggles to make his way out of the slum pulling a handcart with him.

He looks neat in a navy blue overall, a pair of gumboots and a nuisance odour mask pulled to his forehead. The hands balancing the cart behind him are covered in gloves.

He doesn’t seem to notice the bystanders and in retrospect, most people are going about their business undeterred, apart from a group of school children playing on the road ahead of him.

As he attempts to weave through them, some hang on the handcart but the carter makes an abrupt stop sending everyone scampering. At this point we catch up with him.

Alex Mirera is a human waste collector at Sisal Zone. This, he says proudly, is what he does for a living. And has done so passionately for almost two years now.

"This is where I get my daily bread. This is what sustains my family of three,” he says.

Mirera is one of many human waste collectors in Mukuru, who are full-time employees drawn from the community by Sanergy, a social enterprise that is providing non-sewered sanitation solutions in Nairobi’s slums.

For a stranger, the cartridges sitting on Mirera’s handcart might pass for water containers. In Mukuru Kwa Njenga, like in many other slums where water supply is a problem, handcarts and plastic jerricans are the common mode of transport for the precious commodity. But Mirera is ferrying something different. Inside these tightly closed barrels, similar to those used to ferry water, is human waste. He is headed to a dislodging point where all the waste collectors in Mukuru Kwa Njenga empty their waste.

One of the places where Mr Mirera passed by to collect human waste from a toilet a few moments ago happens to be Ms Eunice Wanjiru’s rental building.

Ms Wanjiru is a landlady who owns a corrugated iron sheets building. It has 16 rooms and plays host to close to 50 people.

She confided with DN2 that safe sanitation has been a challenge here for as long as she can remember.

“We did not have toilets for a long time. So people would answer the call of nature in the bushes nearby. At night, they would do it in plastic bags and in the cover of darkness toss it outside the building.”

This practice, she says, made the paths impassable and the area stinky. Even more harmful, this kind of lifestyle has been blamed for waterborne diseases such as cholera which, Ms Wanjiku says, broke out at least twice a year.

Ms Eunice Wanjiru, a landlord at Sisal Zone says the toilets have changed their lives.

Ms Eunice Wanjiru, a landlord at Sisal Zone says the toilets have changed their lives. PHOTO| DELFHIN MUGO.

But you might want to cut the residents here some slack. Much of Mukuru Kwa Njenga like many other slums is not connected to a sewer system.

This is partly because such urban slums mushroom with little planning, if any. It is also partly because every corner and opening is occupied by a building with just a few metres left for access paths.

Ms Edith Karimi, the communications director at Sanergy, who has been working closely with slum dwellers to find a solution for their sanitation woes, told DN2 that the only way out of the sanitation lacuna, in this and indeed many other slums is through innovation.

“Even if you were to start constructing a sewer system now, it would be cumbersome and expensive since you would have to displace and possibly resettle these people,” she offers.

Born out of a thesis project by three graduates of Massachusetts Institute of Technology –MIT (US-based private research university ranked among world’s top universities), who have been in the country implementing it since 2010, Fresh Life toilet, has seen many slum dwellers enjoy what most would take for granted: a toilet. And a clean environment by extension.

LOW COST SANITATION

And this is not your typical toilet. It is an innovative toilet that uses a low-cost sanitation technology dubbed urine diverting dry technology (UDDT).

To put it simply, the toilet is made in such a way that it separates the waste, with urine being collected in a 20-litre jerrican and the solid waste in a plastic barrel, placed below the toilet pan.

Instead of water, users cover their waste with sawdust after use, which also works to eliminate the bad odour associated with toilets.

The toilet also comes with a hand wash container, a mop and bucket for cleaning, a bucket of sawdust and sanitary towels container. Once full, someone will retrieve the barrels and replace them with empty ones, while those containing the waste will be carted away to a dislodging point by waste collectors like Mr Mirera.

Ms Karimi says. “The lack of sanitation has implications on the economy and environment— where about four million tonnes of waste produced yearly is deposited.”

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