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Over half of Nairobi’s population lives in informal settlements without access to adequate sanitation and a steady water supply. Poor service delivery and stalled major sanitation projects stand in the way of the government’s hopes of providing these services to the millions living in Nairobi’s slums.
Justus Mudi, a tailor who lives and works in Nairobi’s Mathare North area, endures the foul smell from an open sewer that flows near his shop. The sewage is from the nearby buildings. People discharge their waste here in the open because waste water systems simply do not exist.
Mathare North is one of Nairobi’s major informal settlements. Mudi has lived here for five years now, running a tailoring business from a small tin-roofed shack just five by five feet wide. Tucked deep inside the slum, the county government sanitation services do not reach him and his neighbours. He feels the county government is giving him a raw deal, while they continue to take 100 Kenya Shillings (100 KES = 1 USD) from him in taxes every week.
“The county government employees manage to come this deep into Mathare to collect taxes from me every week, yet they do not bring services here. I do not understand,” Mudi says.
… garbage piles up, clogging the ditches and causing a menacing health hazard.
Heaps of garbage stuffed into huge black polythene bags are visible every few meters along the narrow paths of the slum. The failure of the authorities to provide sanitation services to the area means garbage piles up, clogging the ditches and causing a menacing health hazard.
Some young people have seen this as an opportunity and begun offering garbage collection and disposal services for a fee. Residents can pay 100 KES per week to groups of young men who collect and dispose of solid waste on a weekly basis. For most residents of Mathare North, however, this is too much to pay just to dispose of garbage.
Unable to afford the private garbage collectors, some simply leave their garbage on the streets and in the ditches, causing flooding when it rains. “Some people decide to dump waste here in the evening or early in the morning. This affects us because when it rains, the ditches here are blocked and dirty water gets into our homes,” Erastus Ochieng, a carpenter who lives on the lower side of the slum near a river, says.
‘Flying toilets’ (…) are a common phenomenon in all slum areas in Nairobi.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes improved sanitation as a flush toilet connected either to a public sewer system or a septic system. According to the WHO, nearly 2.6 billion people around the world do not have access to improved sanitation and therefore live with constant health risks.
In Kenya, the risk is especially high with 1.7 million people living in informal settlements and exposed to poor sanitation. Not all the residents of Mathare North and other informal settlements in Nairobi have access to improved sanitation as defined by the WHO. Open sewers and ditches serve as toilets for many. In some places, the effluent from these open sewers empties into other people’s doors or places of business, as is the case with Mudi’s tailor shop. “Flying toilets”, polythene bags residents defecate into then toss on the roadside or into the ditches, are a common phenomenon in all slum areas in Nairobi.
When it comes to Kenya’s informal settlements, the World Bank has been at the forefront of funding sanitation projects. The Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP), which was approved in 2011 and funded to the tune of 165 million USD, is set to be completed in June this year.
However, the much needed improvements the project sought to provide have yet to be felt in Nairobi’s informal settlements. The current situation in the city’s slums remains much the same, and residents would not deem the project successful in terms of what it has achieved. According to World Bank data, as of January 2016, the project had provided 142,600 people in informal settlements with access to improved drainage infrastructure since the project began in 2011.
…KISIP has completed a meagre 10% of its milestones so far and the targets may not be achieved (…).
Targeted to improve access to drainage infrastructure for one million people by the scheduled end of the project in June 2016, KISIP has completed a meagre 10% of its milestones so far and the targets may not be achieved in the few months remaining. According to the World Bank’s own ratings, the project’s overall implementation progress has been rated ‘moderately satisfactory’ with a high overall risk. Efforts to reach the World Bank for comment were unsuccessful.
Another World Bank funded project that has sought to solve the sanitation debacle in Nairobi is the Nairobi Metropolitan Services Improvement Project. It was approved in May 2012 for 330 million USD and is set to end in June 2017.
The project's mission is to construct a sewage treatment facility, landfills, 40 drainage systems and 12,000 household sewer connections. As of September 2015, fewer than half of these milestones had been achieved, and work had not even begun on most.
According to Nairobi city engineer Kinyua Wamugunda, the Nairobi County government is a stakeholder in these two projects. He said that once the projects are completed, they will improve sanitation and water supply in the city at large. He could not, however, comment on the slow progress the projects have made.
The few landlords who paid the 80 USD necessary for a connection to the city’s water supply system now sell water to residents for a profit.
Besides poor sanitation, people living in Nairobi’s informal settlements face a constant water shortage. Like in other informal settlements, residents of Mathare North have to buy water at high prices from water vendors since they are not connected to the city’s water supply. The few landlords who paid the 80 USD necessary for a connection to the city’s water supply system now sell water to residents for a profit.
Opposite Mudi’s place of business, Peter Nderitu, 62, peeps out of a small window in his shop. He is a water vendor, selling the precious commodity to residents whose landlords could not afford the 80 USD water connection fee. A 20 litre jerry can of water costs 20 KES at Nderitu’s shop. This is by 4,000% considerably more expensive than the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company’s rate of 50 cents per 20 litre jerry can.
Nderitu paid the connection fee to get his water from the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company and now runs a booming business in the heart of Mathare. Sometimes, however, Nderitu’s tap runs dry for a whole week. When this happens, other water vendors who ferry the water on hand carts hike the price of a 20 litre jerry can from 20 up to 50 KES. “When there is no water here, I close the business because there is nothing I can do. I just wait,” Peter says.
The pilot project launched in Mathare has installed four water ATMs.
Most residents of the informal settlements are not connected to city water since they cannot afford the fee. In February 2016, the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company Ltd (NAWASCO) announced that it would roll out the use of ATM-style water dispensers in informal settlements over the next two years. The pilot project launched in Mathare has installed four water ATMs. Over the course of the project, the state-owned corporation will set up a total of 1,200 such ATMs across all informal settlements to tackle the lack of access to clean water.
Whether the water ATMs will improve access to water in Nairobi’s informal settlements after they have been installed remains to be seen.
The ATMs are a departure from the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company Ltd's usual business practices. A single water hook up usually costs an 80 USD fee. NAWASCO will not levy a charge for installing the water dispensers and will instead require residents of informal settlements to pay for the water they withdraw. Instead of a water bill due at the end of the month, water is sold from the dispensers on a pre-paid basis. Customers swipe their water cards to withdraw the water they need. The system has not yet been rolled out on the large scale promised. If successful, the project will change the lives of the people of Mathare, including Mudi’s, who hopes it will succeed. “If they bring services down here, they will really have helped us to improve our health,” Mudi says.
Photos by Anthony Langat.