No more full pits! – Introducing ‘Makao Bora’, the pit-emptying site

In Kenyan slums, pit latrines make up 80% of sanitation facilities. When these pit latrines fill up, digging a new pit is not an option; space is a luxury in the densely populated slums. Users are usually faced with the difficult task of having their pit emptied. Exhauster services are expensive to procure, and even when the owners of the latrines pay up, the trucks find it hard to negotiate the narrow pathways in the community. So, what happens then? Most of the waste from these pit latrines is collected at a fee by emptiers who then dump it in open waterways. This has profound implications to the environment and public health.

In May of last year, we rolled out the first phase of a pit-emptying service – a pilot waste management initiative that affords pit-emptiers in informal settlements a place to safely dispose the waste collected from pit latrines. This first site was located at the heart of Mukuru Kwa Njenga and could hold 2,000 Litres of waste at full capacity. All of the waste collected was then trucked out of the site and safely disposed at Nairobi’s designated landfills.

Phase one of the pilot ended in February this year, and our team garnered three critical insights about what it would take to run a cost-effective service that would encourage pit emptiers to adopt safe waste management practices.

One is that pit emptiers, the larger community, and the local government are willing to invest in a safe dumping site. “Dumping waste unsafely into open waterways is an illegal practice in Kenya,” notes Doughlas, the project coordinator. “The local chiefs provided us with all the necessary land approvals to set up our site. In addition, they mobilized community leaders who played a critical role in encouraging pit latrine owners and pit emptiers to use the new service. As a result, we safely removed over 54,000 Litres of waste from over 15 pit latrine emptiers,” he adds. In addition, the pit emptiers face a lot of stigmatization from community members because of the work they do, it is considered degrading work.  Investing in a safe space, would change the communitys’ perception of pit emptiers, safeguard their integrity as Kenyan citizens and reduce community’s exposure to waterborne disease. Our site has  strict safety protocols in place such as a hand washing stand that the emptiers have come to appreciate.

Doughlas takes the details of one of our pit emptiers

Lesson two is that there is potential for scale. Pit latrine emptiers in informal settlements like Mukuru, in Nairobi, have few options to choose from so as to safely dispose of their waste. Most of the consolidated waste is dumped along water ways and ends up in Nairobi’s Ngong River. According to the project’s coordinator Doughlas Lifede, ‘Kware’ the common waste dumping site received 50 – 200L barrels of waste on average every single day.  This shows that this is a service that the community values.

The third insight is that, just like the Fresh Life entrepreneur, the pricing has to be just right. The pit emptiers have to make a profit and earn an income from the services that they offer. Any slight change in the pricing has a huge effect on whether or not they invest in our services.

These lessons informed the launch of phase two of our pilot. The new site – ‘Makao Bora’ (translated to mean ‘Best Place’) is centrally located for easy access by the pit emptiers and big enough with a capacity of over 20,000L) to contain more waste.“We have only begun to scratch the surface, we hope to be collecting over 10,000L of fecal sludge every single day,” says Douglas.

The site has strict safety protocols in place such as a hand washing stand

In addition, Douglas and his team will be keen on gathering information regarding the best value proposition for pit emptiers – one that encourages them to use this solution in the long term. These include cost, convenience and safety. “Pit emptiers are critical players in the sanitation value chain and our goal is to treat them as such,” reiterates Douglas, adding that this strategy will help in achieving lasting behavior change and lead us closer to our goal of providing safe sanitation to everyone, everywhere.


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