We must tackle the Garbage crisis in the slums

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Basic sanitation or lack of it is a major challenge facing millions of Kenyans living in informal settlements. With at least 56 per cent of Kenyans living in informal settlements, according to projections by the UN-Habitat, providing basic amenities to residents has become a key part of the ongoing national dialogue on inclusive and sustainable growth.

These areas suffer from deficiencies in services and basic infrastructure that worsens pollution, poverty, and ill health.

One of the biggest challenges in the informal settlements is poor solid waste management.

Past interventions to address the problem have had low success rates. For example, an experiment with dustbins in several settlements has not been successful due to vandalism, theft, and non-collection creating mini-dumpsites.
This applies to other temporal collection points which are quickly converted into dumpsites due to irregular collection.

The Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement Project (KISIP), a -project of the Government of Kenya, with support from the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Agence Française de Development (AFD) is a key intervention whose objective is to improve living conditions of people living in informal settlements by improving security of land tenure and investing in infrastructure based on plans developed in consultation with communities.

Cumulatively, the Project has positively and directly impacted the lives of 1.2 million people in 14 counties since its inception in June 2011, by upgrading roads and footpaths; drainage systems; water connections, installing high-mast security flood lights, and ablution blocks.

The infrastructure has greatly improved mobility and connectivity, security, economic potential, access to emergency services, general sanitation, among others.

Moreover, with upgrading, the land value and rental income has significantly increased.

However, poor solid waste management is eroding these gains. For example, reckless dumping of solid waste in drains leaves them clogged and causes flooding which they were meant to prevent.

Arising from this, KISIP appreciates that improved solid waste management in the upgraded informal settlements is a critical operation and maintenance issue that is central to the sustainability of the developed infrastructure, and improving the living conditions of people in these settlements.

Moreover, proper waste management will ring-fence the positive health and aesthetic impacts of the project and anticipate and arrest potential increase in waste streams and volumes from a likely increase in economic activities as a spin-off of upgrading.

Due to these, KISIP is involved in developing a community-based strategy to provide an effective and sustainable solid waste management system, appropriate to unique conditions of the informal settlements. Through the strategy, KISIP wishes to enhance community awareness and participation, capacity and collaboration with stakeholders especially County governments, protect the health and quality of life of people living and working in the informal settlements, and explore sustainable opportunities for waste management to support economic productivity and employment.

A study by KISIP and community consultations done as part of strategy development identified a number of key challenges. There is limited separation and sorting of waste at the household level. The existing collection systems are inadequate.

As a result, substantial quantities of solid waste remain uncollected in the settlements. Waste collection and transportation is mainly done by organized groups, CBOs, and individuals with limited capacity and supporting infrastructure. Recovery of recyclable items like plastics, papers, glass and metals is done by an increasing number of informal groups who sell to middlemen.

Most counties lack well managed disposal sites. In cases where disposal sites are far from the settlements, the CBOs have challenges accessing the sites and illegally dump wastes on roads and river beds.

Open burning of waste is common at dumpsites adding to air pollution. In the absence of regular rubbish collection, solid waste regularly blocks drains, reducing their capacity for storage or conveyance leading to flooding and burst sewers.

Blocked drainages also serve as breeding sites for mosquitos and other disease vectors. The impacts of poor solid waste management can be especially acute in informal settlements that are simultaneously located in flood-prone areas.

Solving the garbage problem is therefore a critical intervention in improving the standards of living in informal settlements. While adequate refuse collection can help to reduce flood risks, it is also imperative to maintain drainage systems in informal settlements and holistically manage downstream and upstream wastes. Additionally, improving solid waste management has additional benefits in mitigating climate change by substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To succeed, such interventions must focus on three things. First, strategies must focus on the entire waste management system from generation, collection, transportation, material and energy recovery, and final disposal. Secondly, collaboration between key stakeholders especially, the communities and County Governments whose role it is as a devolved function.

Community initiatives should be supported by the necessary infrastructure, legal and policy changes. Functional links between community-based activities and the municipal system are very important because even where municipal waste collection services are provided, user cooperation is essential for efficient operations. Thirdly, law enforcement should be complemented by awareness raising for behaviour change.

John Wafula is the Environmental and social safeguard specialist at KISIP & Regional Director of Environment, NEMA

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