The Big Retrofit
Sanergy’s engineering team is always looking for new ways to fit our Fresh Life Toilets into the densely-packed slums of Nairobi. Indeed, we’ve found ways to build in some incredibly narrow alleyways. Now, we’re beginning to build where other toilets have been built before.
Pit latrines are simple. You dig a deep hole – as much as 20 feet – and you place a donut-shaped concrete slab over the hole. Then, you put a superstructure over the slab to provide privacy. Yet, there are three main problems with pit latrines: waste at the bottom of the hole leaches into the soil and waterways, causing environmental degradation; waste lingers until the pit fills, attracting disease-spreading flies and mosquitoes; when the pit is full, there is no affordable, hygienic way to remove the waste. Pit latrine owners, if space allows, hire expensive trucks to pump out the waste, or they hire waste collectors to jump into pits and empty the waste manually. It’s a public health disaster.
Fundamentally, in order to clean up informal settlements, we need pit latrines to become history. We also want to find ways to work with pit latrine operators for them to become part of the solution.
Ephantus became our first Fresh Life Operator who had previously owned a pit latrine. He explained, “My pit latrine had to be emptied once every four months, at a cost of 4,000 ksh ($45) per service visit. During the rainy season, that fee is 5,000 ($60). It is hard to find someone willing to do this work during the rainy season, when it is difficult for the servicers to get their trucks through the muddy streets in the community. So they would charge me more money, but even so they often didn’t even show up to do the work. Then, my tenants would complain that the pit latrine was full, and when it overflowed during the rainy season, they would threaten to move out. I was already the owner of a Fresh Life Toilet that I had purchased for my mother to use near her home, which I also ran as a business. I asked Sanergy if they could help me turn the pit latrine I had for my tenants into a Fresh Life Toilet.” In fact, we had heard this request from pit latrine owners before, but only now as we have grown to a staff of 100 people do we have the capacity to take on these new design challenges, and pilot a pit latrine conversion in the community.
To be sure, there were some new challenges. For example, as Charles Ojiambo, Sanergy’s Fabrication & Installation Manager, explained, “It is very important that our Fresh Life Toilets are structurally stable. We had to work out how to backfill the old pit latrine, and then figure out what affordable, readily-available materials we could use, to accomplish this goal. When we settled on ballast, which is a little bit of a softer material, we realized that we needed to reinforce our concrete slabs so that they were extra-secure.”
Charles and his installation team relished the new challenges of converting a pit latrine to a Fresh Life Toilet, for the benefit of the community. As Charles said, “We are committed to providing a better sanitation solution for the community because it reduces the number of sicknesses, and it makes the environment cleaner and safer. “
The result: a resounding success. Ephantus said, “My tenants are so happy now. They have a clean toilet to use that does not overflow during the rainy season. It’s great for my family, too. My tenants no longer threaten to move out, and they are even willing to pay a higher monthly rent because they are so happy with the Fresh Life Toilets.”
With this pilot conversion carefully documented for Sanergy’s engineers, we now have developed a pitch tailored and priced to the needs of pit latrine owners throughout Mukuru – another key step in cleaning up our community.