Mathare toilets fly no more

July 1, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 1 – For the past forty years, Anastasia Njue’s knowledge of toilets and sewage disposal has been limited to scruffy, tinned, pit latrines and the infamous “flying toilets.’ This is a repartee name for use of polythene bags to dispose off human waste.

Shere, as she is known by many here, was born and bred in Mathare’s Kosovo slums. She has shared a single toilet facility with over 1,000 families.

“People could see you from outside because the iron sheets were worn out,” says the mother of seven and grandmother of five.

Mathare, like all other slums in Nairobi, has no functional sewer system leaving the service to a few enterprising residents who charged for the toilets and open-drum-on- a-cart-drawn exhausters.

But an initiative by Ecotact could see this problem come to an end. This initiative is offering more than a toilet – it has a diverse focus on architecture, behaviour change, cleanliness and disposal technologies.

“This will bring development because now even with visitors you cannot feel embarrassed,” an excited Shere says.

“We wouldn’t mind to put up businesses here so long as they don’t charge us expensively for the rent.”

Jonah Maina has lived here for 25 years.

“The toilet we had here had its pipe directed to the river which left the sewage running straight into the river (Nairobi River). Sometimes the pipe would break down leading the sewer to run in the houses,” he says.

Mr Maina says it was scary to use the dark toilet at night and so many people opted for the narrow alleyways in between the shanties.

Iko Toilet has also received support from unlikely quarters. John Mwangi alias Kalewas is a Kosovo toilet owner and this project will surely drive him out of business.

But he welcomes it, perhaps because his business acumen has noticed a new front for him – the Iko toilet comes with some business stalls as well.

Hudson Okwana, the officer in charge of this project in Kosovo explains: “The Iko toilet has a front office which will be used as the water control point. Inside, it is subdivided into four toilets and two showers for the ladies, and three toilets and two showers for the gents.”

At the back of the facility are two shops.

“We are thinking one can be used to sell snacks while the other can be used as a chemist,” says Mr Okwana

It also has an entertainment area where the residents can play darts.

He says the toilet will be handed over to the youth to manage it. “We will have a team come and teach them how to manage this toilet.”

About a thousand families are targeted to use this facility at a monthly maintenance fee of Sh100.

Keith Obure, EABL Foundation Manager says the aim of constructing the ablution block is to improve the sanitation of the area.

“This will also improve the quality of water they use. The residents have previously used water from unknown sources which could be a major contributor to the many diseases they have suffered from,” says Mr Obure.

“We are also improving the environment by changing the lifestyle of these people because most of them hardly have toilets and those who do have nothing much after the toilets are full.”


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