Kenya quiet on World Toilet Day

November 19, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 19 – “My son died this morning. Last night he came crying, he called me mum, mum, mum, I am in pain, he was vomiting and he had a running stomach, I called the neighbours, we rushed him to the doctor, it was late, we left him admitted, but this morning he was no more,” This is how Mama Mutie sadly recounts the death of her son to cholera.

It is also the agony that many of her neighbours and other residents of Nairobi’s Pumwani area have to go through due to poor sanitation worsened by water shortage.

One does not need to be told water and sanitation are a challenge in this area. It is apparent from the heavy stench and blocked drainage systems passing right in front of Mama Mutie’s house.

She says she has been buying water from water dealers for almost two weeks now.

Unfortunately, the City Council of Nairobi has announced that it is unable to deal with unscrupulous water suppliers who sell dirty water sometimes fetched from contaminated sources.

“Water is not the only problem here! There is no toilet near here, we have to walk for about 45 minutes to get to where the toilets are, if we cant make it, we have to look for other ways,” she asserts.

It takes a lot of valor  to jump and walk across open sewers, stinking garbage fields and depilated toilet structures in Pumwani’s three slums; Kanuku, Kinyangu and Kitui where Mama Mutie lives.

After walking for about one hour, only one block of toilets is in sight. The other few are in very dehumanising conditions.

The dirty scenes in the slums only paste one imminent feature of disease outbreaks.

The residents say their pit latrines were demolished leaving them with little choice but to use plastic bags and tins which they throw into the river or a nearby open field.

“Our area chief said they should be brought down because they were polluting the environment. From Kanuku to Kinyangu, there is only one block of toilets,” explained Jane Nduku who complained that long queues could keep one for as long as 30 minutes waiting for a facility.

The Ministry of Environment launched a programme to clean the Nairobi River which for years has remained polluted rendering its waters useless. Following the clean up, all toilets and structures constructed near the river were brought down. Unfortunately, the government cared less for those who had been using them.

Kenya has now to pay the heavy price of failing to provide sanitary services to her people. Cholera and diarrhea are regular unwelcomed guests in most of Nairobi’s slums.

Grace Wairimu lives in Kanuku. She is among the many slum dwellers who have resorted to visiting the nearby Moi Airbase grounds – an open field in the middle of the three slums. True to her words, the stench from the base is choking.

An ugly picture of dirty coloured old plastic bags sway as the wind blows spreading the disgusting odor in all directions, a perfect welcome to vultures, which by the way  seem to have befriended people who come there to help themselves. They don’t fly away and the people also seem to care less about their presence.

At midday I watched as women and children used tattered pieces of cloth or big papers to hide themselves from passersby as they relieve themselves. Not even my presence perturbs them. Only on realising that they need to tell the government that they have no toilets and water that they agree to talk.

“This government has to do something. We have no toilets. What life is this? Adults and children all in one open field even during the day! This is a shame, we are tired of this, why did the chief bring down our toilets?” they speak, almost in unison.

Francis Kinyua a community worker in Pumwani is well conversant with the area. He says there are only two blocks of toilets each with six units that serve thousands living in the three slums.

Angela Wanjiku lives about 10 meters away from Nairobi River. The toilet she was using with her neighbours was brought down when the clean up began.

“We use black paper bags, we tie them and then throw them away, other times we use tins in our small houses.” The tins are emptied and reused. “As you can see the river is not far from me, which is easier for me, to drain this in this river or to walk all the way to Moi Airbase carrying ‘shit’?”

Cholera and diarrhea have been a common occurrence as a resident explains, “A woman in that house is hospitalised with her son because of this dirt, yesterday a woman in another house died because of diarrhea. Shall we die all of us in this slum?”

It is for this reason that the World Toilet Day is marked every November to celebrate the importance of sanitation and raise awareness.

But even as the international community commemorated the Day on Thursday, Kenya which is among countries reeling in poor sanitation remained subdued.

According to World Toilet Organisation 2.5 billion people (nearly half of the world\’s population) don\’t have access to toilets and proper sanitation, which risks their health, strips their dignity, and kills 1.8 million people, mostly children per year.
One could have expected relevant ministries in Kenya to organise events especially in the affected areas to mark the day, but there was no such a sign even in Pumwani which has reverted to flying toilets.

The Flying toilets habit was only common in the largest slum in East Africa, Kibera. But with interventions, Kibera residents have now access to toilets. Unfortunately the habit is now finding its way back in Pumwani, if urgent measures are not taken, the country may find itself back where it was, the times of the scary flying toilets which took almost 5 years to be dealt with.


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