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Napenda choo sounds the death knell for ‘flying toilets’ in slums

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Kibagare biocentre is an innovative solution to the pervasive sanitation problems in the slums. PHOTO | JOHN MBARIA  

By JOHN MBARIA

Posted  Wednesday, October 15   2014 at  14:00

In Summary

  • Aptly called bio-sanitation centres (or biocentres), the complexes are one-stop shops for a host of services and businesses: Money transfer, offices, residential rooms, halls for hire, libraries, computer labs, kitchens (where clients pay a fee to cook), and bio-digesters that convert human waste into biogas and chemical fertiliser.
  • The complexes are found in in Mukuru-Kaiyaba and in Kibagare off the Nairobi-Nakuru road, Kibera, Korogocho, Mathare and other areas.

Many dreams, it is said, are dreamed on the toilet. Now, for some residents of informal settlements in Nairobi, the toilet is making their dreams come true.

“Napenda choo” (I love the toilet), reads one of the posters in a toilet in Mukuru-Kaiyaba slum. But the toilets described in the poster are not the ordinary 3ft-by-6ft tin-and-wattle “long-drop” latrines. They are multi-storey complexes, where businesses find a home amid state-of-the-art technology. These are places you go for meetings, to transfer money, take a hot shower, type your thesis, watch World Cup, cook your food or read a Robert Ludlum thriller.

They are also innovative solutions to the pervasive sanitation problems in the slums of Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya that have drawn the attention of and financial support from, among other agencies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Aptly called bio-sanitation centres (or biocentres), the complexes are one-stop shops for a host of services and businesses: Money transfer, offices, residential rooms, halls for hire, libraries, computer labs, kitchens (where clients pay a fee to cook), and bio-digesters that convert human waste into biogas and chemical fertiliser.

The complexes are found in Mukuru-Kaiyaba, in Kibagare area off the Nairobi-Nakuru road, in Kibera, Korogocho, Mathare and other areas. The use of ICT to ensure transparency and accountability in the collection of daily revenues at these facilities stands out.
Although it is yet to be widely embraced by clients, the Kopokopo cashless payment system is nevertheless picking up. Every time a client visits the facilities, they are required to carry a card (called Beba pay card) loaded with cash via Mpesa.

They then hand over the card to the caretaker who flips it against a smart phone. This results in an instant deduction of the amount of cash the client is required to pay to use the toilet or bathroom. Then automatically, messages are sent to the client’s phone indicating that the cash has been deducted and another to the group’s phone stating that the deducted cash has been deposited in its bank account.

According to group officials, the system has not only improved revenue collection in the biocentres, it has also improved transparency and record keeping besides reducing the costs and inconveniences of travelling to a bank and queuing to deposit their daily or weekly collections.

This innovative approach has received support from the Gates Foundation under the auspices of the Biocentres Innovations. It relies on mobile technology in order to track cash transactions and to automatically transfer it to the bank. The Finland embassy has also supported the construction of one of the biocentres.

The facilities have given hope to groups of people who have been on the receiving end of violent evictions, official neglect, indifference and apathy.

“We have planned to purchase our own residential plot in December,” said Roise Muthoni Kariuki, a middle-aged woman whose group manages the Kibagare Haki Zetu Biocentre.

Ms Kariuki has reason to be hopeful. Between December 22, 2013 and January 26, 2014, the group collected Ksh119,550 ($1,374) while its expenses amounted to Ksh39,120 ($450). The balance, Ksh80,480 ($925), is recorded as the profit that was deposited in the group’s account. With this kind of cash, the group has planned to purchase plots and build homes for all members, moving them away from the slum.

Much of this has been achieved through efforts of the Umande Trust, an organisation that has been dealing with sanitation and water problems in the slums of Nairobi and Kisumu. With offices in Kibera, Umande is a rights-based organisation that is partially involved in campaigning for poor people’s right to water and sanitation as well as offering tangible low-cost solutions to such challenges.

“We believe that when modest resources are strategically invested to support communities, this can enable them to have reliable and affordable water and sanitation services” said Josiah Omotto, the chief executive of Umande Trust.

Omotto said Umande had joined hands with the Athi Water Services Board, Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company, Equity Bank, Diamond Trust Bank, former Nairobi City Council, donors and self-help groups in the slums. Umande’s staff has been involved in designing and the construction of more than 60 such biocentres in Kibera, Mukuru, Mathare, Kibagare and Korogocho areas of Nairobi.

The facilities are now managed by organised groups of slum residents with Umande monitoring progress and helping whenever the groups encounter technical difficulties.

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