Shaping the future of access to safe sanitation at scale – a glimpse of Douglas’s work
Half of Kenya’s population lives in urban areas. As the rate of urbanization increases, the population is expected to double by 2030. Providing citywide sanitation services in growing cities such as Nairobi, where 4 million people live, is a complex, important challenge. That is why at Sanergy, we are continuously finding new ways to reach all under-served areas through catering for the distinct needs of our different customer segments.
One of the opportunities to scale safe sanitation lies in pit emptying. According to the recently released Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Policy 2016-2030, 80% of sanitation facilities used by the urban poor are shallow on-site pit latrines. Due to high population, insufficient coverage and lack of available land to dig new pit latrines, existing facilities regularly fill up and need to be emptied. Exhauster trucks sound like an ideal solution, but the majority of pit latrines are located deep in the densely-packed, unpaved informal settlements thereby making vehicle access nearly impossible and, even if so, at a very high price. This leaves residents with only one option: manual pit emptying.
Young people, often called honey-suckers, jump into the pit latrines to manually scoop and transfer faecal sludge from the pit latrine into empty barrels. Using handcarts, they then transport and dispose all this waste – often 3-6 200L barrels per pit latrine in the nearby rivers. This is illegal practice according to Kenyan law as the exhaustion process is an extreme environmental and health hazard for the emptiers and residents of informal settlements.
While Sanergy’s solution has built more than 1,200 Fresh Life Toilets and safely removed over 15,000 tons of waste from the community, our impact is limited by the prevalence of unsafe sanitation solutions such as pit latrines.
In May this year, we launched a pilot project – pit servicing aimed at addressing unsafe manual pit emptying and disposal of faecal sludge within urban informal settlements. In this project, we provide pit emptiers with a central space – Riara Safe Dumping Site to dispose all the waste removed from pit latrines in Mukuru.
Douglas Lifede, who is part of Sanergy’s Future Initiatives division, is charged with trialling this solution. He coordinates with the pit latrine emptiers in Mukuru to implement this project. His team of three introduces the emptiers to the central site, and assists them to safely dispose their waste. Once consolidated, Douglas then liaises with exhauster services to transport all the waste for treatment and safe disposal.
When he is not at the waste consolidation site, Douglas spends time in the office analysing data collected or coordinating with other teams such as Government Relations and Quality Health, Safety and Environment to ensure that our pit servicing pilot is in adherence to Sanergy’s and the government of Kenya’s hygiene, health and safety standards.
In a recent project evaluation, we have witnessed great progress and also taken invaluable lessons:
“Building relationships with pit emptiers and their leaders is critical. It helped build trust and buy-in to our solution.” Douglas notes. As manual pit emptying is illegal in Kenya, the majority of them were hesitant to speak openly about their work. “The more our team reached out to them, the more they understood, embraced and participated in our project,” he says.
Besides the challenge of safe disposal, honey-suckers often faced, our team has made the work more convenient for them. They would walk long distances and consume a lot of time just to access one of the common dumping sites – Ngong River that cuts across Mukuru Kwa Njenga. We have now set up a more central place for them.
Over the past few months, we have safely contained and disposed over 76 barrels, each containing 200litres of faecal sludge.
Our next steps are to create a deeper understanding of the cumulative waste unsafely disposed in informal settlements within our operational areas. To this end, Douglas and the future initiatives team is more involved in interactions with emptiers, their leaders and the community to learn about other dumping sites and pit emptiers whom our team could engage in the project.
Ultimately, our goal is to provide the most practical and sustainable intervention that redirects unsafely emptied pit waste into the safe sanitation value chain.
“I look forward to witnessing a total sanitation change in urban informal settlements. I find the residents I work with very open-minded, and optimistic about eradicating flying toilets in their community! This is what motivates me to work harder – to make this dream come true for them,” Douglas concludes.