Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fly it to the toilet

By Esther Nakkazi

Walk through any slum late at night in Kampala, you’ll smell and maybe hit by what is ordinary in Africa’s slums; flying toilets.

Flying toilets are common among people who live in slums, near the lake and on the street. Users poo in polythene bags and hurl the waste onto rooftops, in trenches, into the lake, and in streets’ flower gardens. If you are a first time visitor to such places you find it odd, but to regulars, it is a way of life.

Jessica Nankinga lives in one of the Kampala, slums in Kisenyi. The 26-year-old, who sells fried cassava and mandazi by the roadside shares a latrine with seven other families.

On a typical rainy day, Nankinga says it is almost impossible to go to the toilet. On such days she also tries to keep her two children, Alex Mubiru, 8 years and Linda Nansubuga 3 years, indoors after school.

Jessica shares with her children a single-roomed house, one among a line of 8 other such houses that look alike; dilapidated, leaking roof, faded paint on the walls scratched all over by kids learning to write and all share one latrine.

“When it rains you cannot go to the toilet. It is muddy and dirty,” she said with a sneer. The drainage trench near her house contains a lot of trash and sometimes poo. When it rains it floods to bring a stinking smell that makes her want to ‘vomit’.

The family urinates in a small bucket at night, which is poured in the same stinking drainage every morning. Linda's poo is poured there too, sometimes, with care not to attract adult watchful eyes.

Linda being young, has a small potty, but has almost outgrown it. In the future, she will have to be escorted by her mother or brother to the latrine. It is also a rubbish pit, a grave- women who have illegal abortions throw in their fetuses and unwanted newborn babies cry out from down below and if loud enough to be heard are rescued by police.

“When it rains we resort to flying toilets especially for the children,” Jessica says shyly smiling. But only for the children, she emphasizes. The husband left her for another woman, a year ago, she laments.

Sanitation experts from WaterAid say absolute poverty in some urban slum areas and the absence of property and land tenure rights further hinder investments from the landlords in sanitation facilities.

Official statistics suggest that about 60 percent of Uganda’s residents have no access to adequate sanitation, with no safe, reliable toilet or latrine and Uganda may never hit the MDG sanitation target.

Reducing by half the number of people who don’t have access to basic sanitation is a key target of the United Nations’ 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), unsafe methods to capture and store waste leads to serious health problems and death. Disease caused by unsafe sanitation accounts for roughly half of all hospitalizations in the developing world says WHO.

Access to safe sanitation reduces child diarrhea by 30 percent and significantly increases school attendance, which is especially true of women and girls, who often miss work or school when they are menstruating and risk sexual assault when they are forced to defecate in the open or use public restrooms.

History of toilets in Uganda:

During the colonial days, in the 1950s, every household had a toilet, latrine coverage was 100 percent, and sanitation was promoted by colonialists and chiefs enforced pit latrines construction.

As a way to promote hygiene and sanitation, each household had a dish rack for drying the household cutlery, a bathing shelter for a bathroom, a pit latrine and a granary for storing food.

All the materials used in the household hygiene and sanitation system were locally available. Particularly, a shrub with soft, wide, sweet-smelling leaves was planted near the pit latrine to be used as toilet tissue. Some households still use it to date.

The pit latrine built 15-20 meters deep and 30 meters away from the home was used by at least 10 members of a household and would last for about 15-20 years.

But now with population pressure, there is not much space to even build the latrines away from the households or build them at all. Among the worst institutions are police stations and islands some with no toilets. For instance, a single Island on Lake Victoria with 7,000 residents has one toilet, forcing most people to open defecation or flying toilets.

John Kibenge based in Kampala, a latrilologist, (a person who builds latrines) says they are not following those standards (mentioned above) anymore because of overcrowding, poverty and low enforcement of the law.

Latrine construction on islands is also difficult because the ground is rocky and soils are sandy, says Kibenge. But even if they were built most fisherfolks have taboos that limit them from defecating in toilets.

EcoSan toilets where they add ash are suitable for rocky and sandy areas or where people cannot excavate a pit, where there are loose soils, where the water table is low and in highly populated areas but they are still not so popular.

Toilet laws in Uganda;

The Public Health Act of 1964, with various sanitation and waste related ordinances or by-laws prepared by the local government, was formulated after Uganda attained independence in the same year.

Now sanitation is not a priority, in spite of the population growth and rural-urban migration. A World Bank study, ‘Scaling up sanitation and hygiene in Uganda 2007’, shows a declining trend in latrine coverage with 98% coverage in the 1960s and going down to 45% and 20% in the1970’s and 1980s respectively due to political turmoil.

In 1974 the government enacted a new law that required each household to construct a pit latrine - 30 meters away from the house and 15 meters deep. Even if the law was tough then with a fine of Shs. 20 (less than a $ cent today) or the head of the household getting arrested and tried by the village courts, many households defaulted on having pit latrines.

Increasingly in the rural areas now, people get arrested and publicly embarrassed for not having latrines. Some districts have by-laws that require each household to have a latrine.

According to the World Bank, latrine coverage in Uganda today has stagnated at 60 percent since 2002. Studies also show that 75 percent of Uganda’s disease burden is preventable and linked to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation facilities and practices.

The provision of sanitation is a key development intervention, which also improves an individual’s health, well-being, and economic productivity. More than a billion people defecate in the open and there has been no toilet innovation in the past 200 years

During an AfricaSan conference held in Kigali 2011, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the launch of a strategy to help bring safe, clean sanitation services to millions of poor people in the developing world.

The Gates Foundation announced $42 million in new sanitation grants- that must cost no more than 5 cents per person per day and be easy to install, use, and maintain- for innovations in the capture and storage of waste, as well as its processing into reusable energy, fertilizer, and freshwater.

A five-year challenge to reinvent the toilet was also announced; with $3 million, put up to support eight universities across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America to reinvent the toilet as a stand-alone unit without piped-in water, a sewer connection, or outside electricity—all for less than 5 cents a day.

$17 million was put up by WASH for Life, a collaboration with USAID and the Gates Foundation to identify, test, and help scale evidence-based approaches to delivering water, sanitation, and hygiene services to the poor.

The African Water Facility looped in $12 million from the Africa Development Bank in funding for the development of sanitation pilot projects that may include fecal sludge management services in sub-Saharan Africa.

Water Services Trust Fund and German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), in a project co-funded by the German and Kenyan governments, the foundation is provided $10 million to support efforts to scale up sustainable water and sanitation services in Kenya.

With these efforts, Sanitation may be back on the priority lists of some African countries. For now, Uganda is dogged by sector fragmentation and sanitation is still not a priority.


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