Not so long ago, the rainy season was a dreaded period for Naomi Nduta and other residents of the Kiwanja Ndege informal settlement in Naivasha, more than 70km northwest of Nairobi.
The waste from the full latrines would flow into the rivers following a heavy rains, often leading to outbreaks of diarrhoea and cholera.
“My baby used to suffer from frequent stomach aches and diarrhoea,” said Ms Nduta, a mother of three whose house stands a few metres from a large dumpsite littered with waste paper bags.
Then Sanivation, a social enterprise that turns human waste into fuel came on the scene.
Sanivation provides the 200 households in the area — and those in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya with specially made container toilets dubbed “blue box.”
With these, the firm collects human waste, treats it using a solar panel and makes briquettes out of it. A single toilet costs $2 per month to service. The toilets are serviced twice a week.
According to Ms Nduta, the blue box is another name for convenience as she does not have to take her five-year-old out to the latrine in the middle of the night. What’s more, her children have been diarrhoea-free since she stopped sharing the communal latrine.
According to WaterAid, some 5,000 children in Kenya die every year from diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.
“So clean and odourless is the toilet that I have put it in the children’s room,” Ms Nduta told The EastAfrican.
A short distance away from Ms Nduta lives, is Mary Njoki Kimani, a mother of two. She cooks in her single room using briquettes made from the treated human waste. The briquettes are safe for her as they are smokeless and carbon free.
“My child sleeps in the same room that I cook in,” she says, adding that the briquettes have proven safe for them.
Ban on logging
Sanivation is killing two birds with one stone: Sanitation and sustainable fuel. Lack of proper latrines is a problem in Kenya.
Only three in 10 Kenyans have access to a decent toilet, according WaterAid while charcoal, an affordable source of fuel for the low-income earners, is fast falling out of favour as efforts to save trees intensify, while liquefied petroleum gas is too expensive for many.
Ms Kimani explains that she spends less on briquettes compared with charcoal. A 0.8kg bag of briquettes goes for $0.25 and can cook for two to three days whereas charcoal of a similar weight costs $0.50 and will last approximately two days.
Sanivation managing director Emily Woods says the ban on logging and efforts to protect forests have resulted in more orders for the company as charcoal and firewood have become more expensive and harder to find.
“Schools, prisons, flower firms and hotels around Naivasha have been calling... the demand is higher than we can meet,” said Ms Woods, who came up with the “blue box” idea.
To increase production, Sanivation’s government relations officer Dickson Ochieng is approaching different county governments to supplement their waste management using technology.
Their pilot project is with Naivasha Water Company where they have built their processing plant next to the treatment plant, which they hope will help process 100 tonnes of waste into 100 tonnes of charcoal per month.
The organisation is also working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide toilets at Kakuma refugee camp as well as fuel.