By Shadrack Mbaka and Grace Watetu
The world may be a fast paced environment that sustains life, but one thing remains clear; as communities, citizens and professionals tend to innovate ways of disposing shit, more so on the need to develop facilities that manage shit! Yes shit- there is every reason to support people, especially urban poor communities to get adequate access to decent sanitation infrastructure and facilities, however, the most important challenge, is how to get these facilities connected to the sewer grids, addressing issues for spaces as a result of the dense populations existing in informal settlements and lastly social and technical planning of the sanitation investments, do they emanate from communities or are they imposed on them?
The past six months has seen Muungano wa Wanavijiji (federation of Kenyan Slum dwellers) holistically engage in intense city wide profiles in five counties, namely; Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Machakos and Makueni. Data analysis points out that 90 per cent of informal settlements in these cities prioritized sanitation as a key element that these communities are facing as a major challenge that ought to be addressed.
Kisumu, through the federation is just one of the fifteen counties that have come out to utilize the city wide profile report to begin searching for long-term solutions to sanitation in informal settlements. Sanitation is a societal problem that warrants cooperation between stakeholders with communities at the helm of strategy development. In this journey, communities have partnered with the County Government of Kisumu, Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company (KIWASCO), Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Muungano Support Trust and Engineers without boarders-UCL to begin brainstorming on possible solutions.
Community Planning, Unraveled!
Community participation in projects unravels the capacities of communities to plan and define solutions for their own problems. One such communities are; Nyalenda and Kibos informal settlements in Kisumu County. The key starting point was to begin looking at cost friendly sanitation designs that address their issues. It is at this point that Engineers without boarders took up the initiative to take both through a community led design rich picture session, with regards to sanitation project development that would later turn out into design, Muungano wa Wanavijiji then was responsible for social mobilization and awareness creation, MuST supported in planning and partnership linkage while the county government of Kisumu supported with the secure of possible project sites in Nyalenda and Kibos settlements respectively.
Affordable designs mean sustainable designs. In order to address the issue of sustainability both communal designs proposed the inclusion of sanitation blocks with toilets and bathrooms, laundry components, water tanks and taps, a community hall (resource centre) and flexible spaces that would be used for warehousing and rental to private businesses. These ideas then beg the question, how affordable would be the designs to the urban poor in Nyalenda and Kibos settlements. In the course of continuous feed backing processes between the community, engineers without boarders and Muungano, ewb-ucl embarked on research on affordable designs that could include all the communities’ dreams.
One key proposal made to the community is the use of shipping containers as an architectural proposal to drive down the cost of construction.
Alexa Bruce the outgoing president of engineers without boarders-UCL explains, “Recycling shipping containers has been popular for a while in Europe and there are some amazing innovative designs made out of containers. In Africa, this all still very new, however in South Africa there are a number of examples of successful projects that have used shipping containers for low-income housing and sanitation blocks. We were instantly taken by the idea and convinced that shipping containers would be an innovative and appropriate solution.”The technical; teams from MuST and ewb-ucl shared the proposal with the communities in Nyalenda and Kibos whom welcomed the idea of using the container as a structural outlook owing to the affordability of the containers as it drives down the cost of construction.
Shit collection and Management
The community did not only reflect and dream about the designs but also the collection system of the sanitation blocks already designed. The selected project sites for both Nyalenda and Kibos seem a little bit way of from the main sewer lines, thus making the option of connecting to the sewer a lesser considerable plan. Based on previous geological reports and media reports it was suspected that both Nyalenda and Kibos sites would offer a formidable challenge to the project as a result of high water table, which would also make the option of septic tank a risky affair due to the high risks of ground water reservoirs.
According to Devung Patel a civil engineer student and a member of ewb-ucl, “water tables can vary significantly within a short distance however and our information and data on the issue is at quite a low resolution. To make sure we decided to dig a hole on both sites to observe the depth of the water tables and the soil conditions on site. The water table in Kibos is low enough that a septic tank and soak pit provides good primary treatment of the waste without contaminating groundwater and would not need to be emptied at a frequency that is unrealistic for the community to manage.”
This project aims to promote the creation of accessible and affordable sanitation solutions in informal settlements in Kenya. In cooperation with local partner organizations, Muungano Support Trust has been lobbying on a local, national and international level to encourage local authorities to create or improve their social infrastructure policy in order to ensure access to social housing with potable water and sewerage facilities for the urban poor. In Kisumu, the collaboration with local water company and the county government involved activities directed at forming a social sanitation and housing policy fund that has two focal points: finance creation for improvement of housing and sanitation development, and capacities improvement of communities.
In reference to the Nyalenda scenario, the community is yet to make a sound choice between going the septic or the sewer way. And as a way of figuring out the most suitable option, Muungano wa Wanavijiji has begun the initiative of lobbying the Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company to support Nyalenda proposed project connect to the main sewer line which is approximately 2.5 Km away from the proposed site. According to KIWASCO’s’ head of Commercial division Frank David explains, “the company has been able to connect about 10 per cent of the city to the main sewer, a situation that the company expects to address by improving this number to about 20 per cent in the next couple of years and is for this reason that our pro poor division is working closely with communities living in the informal settlements to formalize infrastructure serving slum dwellers for them to enjoy better services.”
Muungano believes that the information reservoir exploited from communities must be taken back to communities as a way of encouraging communities to heed ownership of the pieces of information to foster discussions and predominantly effect change. Nyalenda hosted the first meeting to scrutinize the designs they had proposed on a rich picture. With the support of Engineers without borders, the community was given back the proposed designs accompanied with detailed explanations of every design components based on the prescribed community priorities.
Cost being an important facet of any development, ewb-ucl introduced the concept of shipping container architecture. The designs were given back to the community organized in small groups, the aim being that each member would voice his or her opinion of the draft designs. Finally the consensus was reached at a larger forum on; the uses of flexible space, where they wanted the sanitation block located in relation to the street, and what the laundry facility should include and also enhance the business models offering sustainability to the project. A similar process was also repeated encompassing the Kibos Community. In his scrutiny of the designs, the Nyalenda B member of the County Assembly James Were acknowledged that the designs reflected the interests of the community and thanked ewb, MUST and the County government spending time with the communities and yielding such results. He also reiterated that he will support the Nyalenda community secure the land for the project.
The entire conceptualization and operationalisation of the community process was indeed unique and accommodative in developing a community concept design. It is the belief of the federation that such a process will be building blocks for other communities to steadfast develop solutions to problems or challenges identified by them. The Communities from Nyalenda and Kibos, with the designs already in their vaults, are now more than ready to effect the project, with resource mobilization already taking shape through savings, partnership building with stakeholders and seeking opportunities for resource mobilization.
The team is currently working hard to incorporate the communities’ feedback into the designs, as the final design will be handed over to the community on 22nd July 2014.