Market-Driven Sanitation Services – An Academic Look (Part 2)

In October 2014, Mark O’Keefe and a team from The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) conducted a study of sanitation conditions in informal settlements in Nairobi and Kampala, comparing user practices, sanitation providers, and the challenges they face. They then looked at Sanergy as a case study of market-based sanitation provision, and the role it can play in informal settlements. Their study was published this month by SAGE Publishing. This series of blog posts distills their academic findings for a broader audience. All statistics cited in this blog post are taken from the study itself, unless otherwise noted. Find the first post in the series here.

Nairobi and Kampala were chosen for cases studies because they are representative of the evolution of sanitation provision and the related challenges in urban informal settlements in East Africa. While both cities face similar challenges in terms of infrastructure, service provision, and accessibility, the current structures of provision reflect place-specific circumstances. In Nairobi, the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company has launched an Informal Services Department, and its sewerage systems serve some informal settlements. In Kampala, by contrast, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation serves a much smaller percentage of its informal settlements.

The research comprised of nearly 1,500 household surveys in 50 informal settlements in Kampala . In Nairobi, the research team conducted 1,427 surveys in two informal settlements of Nairobi: Mukuru and Kibera. The research split the workings of the sanitation systems into smaller components: access arrangements and user practices, the construction of sanitation facilities and infrastructure, and the collection, transport, and treatment of wastes.

Access arrangements

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Mukuru residents discussing sanitation with a Fresh Life teammate                                                                           Photo Credit: Callum Jelley

Among the surveyed population in Nairobi, 50 percent of households share a latrine with other households, while 45 percent use public pay-per-use toilets. Only 5 percent have private facilities. The cost of public toilets varies from USD 0.02-0.11 per use, based on location. Among those surveyed in Kampala, 69 percent of households use shared facilities, 20 percent have private latrines, and 11 percent use public toilets, the cost of which is USD 0.04-0.08 per use. In both Nairobi and Kampala, public toilets are often more than 200 meters from residential areas, and access is frequently limited at night. This forces users to rely on open defecation or flying toilets when the public toilets are unavailable.

People using shared latrines usually share cleaning responsibilities between households rather than paying a cleaner. The lack of cooperation around cleaning is often a challenge, and shared toilets are associated with a wide range of diseases, as compared to private toilets. In Kampala, private facilities were rated about three times as clean as their shared counterparts. Public latrines are most often cleaned by the operators, with varying degrees of cleanliness.

The construction of sanitation facilities

In the survey areas, the facilities are connected to three general systems of waste management: a centralized sewerage network, decentralized networks that give specific individuals responsibility for the maintenance of certain latrines, and the hybrid model pioneered by Sanergy: a decentralized network of franchisees connected to a centralized entity responsible for waste collection and removal, as well as establishing and monitoring quality standards across the network.

In Nairobi’s informal settlements, a quarter of facilities are connected to sewer lines; in Kampala, this number is only one percent. In both places, the decentralized system relies on a myriad of small-scale operators to build, repair, and empty latrines. Paying for the construction of a new latrine – either private or shared – is almost exclusively done by landlords or people with secure land tenure arrangements. Construction of public latrines is funded by the local government, area politicians, non-governmental organizations, or community-based organizations.

The cost of constructing and operating a new latrine varies, depending on the type of technology. There is an already existing market for the construction of sanitation facilities. Introducing a new sanitation product or service into the marketplace requires a competitive pricing structure, not only for the installation but also for the ongoing operation and maintenance costs. The sustainability of the system depends on the ability to find a sustainable source of finance. Part of the reason for pushing the market-driven approach is the recognition that people already pay for sanitation services and that this market could be entered with improved products and services in order to generate benefit for both the user and the provider of the system.

The collection, transport, and treatment of wastes

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Sanergy waste collector removes a full urine cartridge from a Fresh Life Toilet                                                 Photo Credit: Callum Jelley

The safe collection, transport, and disposal of waste is one of the most important but underappreciated links in the sanitation system. Private operators with mechanized trucks or groups of manual emptiers who use buckets, spades or even bare hands are hired to conduct pit emptying. In Nairobi, the majority (86 percent) of facilities connected to pits are emptied by hand, whereas in Kampala, the majority (90 percent) are emptied by an exhaustion truck. The difference is striking and could be explained by the lower population density of Kampala’s informal settlements, leading to easier access for trucks.

Many waste treatment plants in East Africa are not operational or else lack the capacity to correctly treat the amount of fecal sludge produced in urban areas. The majority of people in East African cities live in informal settlements and use facilities serviced by providers who collect waste but do not treat or dispose of it in a process that complies with international guidelines on the safe disposal of human wastes, meaning that much of it is dumped into back into drainage systems or open water bodies. In Kenya alone, 4 million tons of fecal sludge are dumped into waterways every year.

Currently, there is little to no regulation of quality standards for sanitation provision in East Africa’s informal settlements, which leads to fragmented and conflicting actor arrangements, leading in turn to the development of unsafe, unclean, and unhygienic facilities. Therefore, the potential for a complete sanitation system that serves a large number of people within an urban area while collecting the wastes and turning them into a product that could be sold to generate a revenue stream is very appealing, but very difficult to achieve.

The next post in the series explores Sanergy’s model for the sanitation value chain and the role it plays in providing sanitation facilities and services in Nairobi’s informal settlements.

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