World Toilet Day: It’s Time for Reform in Kenya’s Sanitation Sector
As we mark the World Toilet Day on 19th November, we should consciously reflect and have candid discussions on the of management human waste. It is unpalatable that over 1.1 billion people in the world including 5.5 million Kenyans engage in open defecation. The country missed the 2015 targets on millennium development goals of 40 per cent, 80 per cent and 76 per cent sewerage, water and sanitation coverage respectively.
By 2015, Kenya ranked position 194 and 26 in Africa in access to improved sanitation, having attained sanitation coverage of 50 per cent of the population having or sharing basic hygienic sanitation facilities.
Statistics indicate that by 2016, only 26 counties in Kenya had at least 50 per cent of the households with basic toilets or latrines. Unbelievably, some counties like Wajir, Homabay, Marsabit, West Pokot and Bomet had less than 30 per cent of the households using improved sanitation facilities (figure 1), thus unprecedented population of 70 per cent use indecent latrines or engage in open defecation. On the other hand, Taita Taveta, Embu, Kisumu, Tharaka Nithi and Nairobi City and Kiambu had over 90 per cent of the households having improved sanitation, an opportunity for peer review among counties. These statistics are important for all stakeholder to appreciate on where resources and awareness campaigns are needed most.
Another emerging modern phenomenon is latent open defecation through use of diapers. Diapers were not invented to substitute the use of toilets. As a matter of human civility, this is unhygienic and should be stopped by requiring the diapers to be washed before disposal.
Development of wastewater management systems has stagnated compared to the rapid urbanization in Kenya. Only 32 urban areas across 26 counties have sewerage systems, meaning many urban areas, including 21 county headquarters, are yet to develop sewerage. Needless, counties with sewerage have inadequate plans to maintain the infrastructures. Willingness to pay the optimal value of sewer services is low, the government must subsidize. Delays in implementation of sewerage projects, application of uneconomical technologies and opposition to land wayleaves contribute to slow development of sewerage systems.
The behavior and attitudes of some Kenyans to sanitation is peculiar. Some urinate and defecate in public places while others use flying toilets in slums and dump raw waste into rivers and drainage systems. Intensive public awareness campaigns, investment in public toilets, on-site treatment facilities and adequate sewerage system can reduce these practices.
Effective and efficient management of public sanitation facilities by county governments can enhance compliance with basic standards of hygiene and ensure revenues generated are ploughed back into the sector. Contracting of the private sector with clear ring-fencing policy on revenue and job creation can reduce the leakages in revenue, deteriorating services and reduce unemployment.
Low access to improved sanitation has ripple effects on the national agenda, including health, education and poverty. For instance, poor sanitation increases cases of waterborne diseases, especially among vulnerable groups like children. This affects costs incurred by public sector on health besides increasing out-of-pocket expenditure by households. This shocks household budgets, sinking some deeper into various deprivation including food and nutrition. Illness associated with poor hygiene and sanitation may also affect schooling, due to absenteeism to go to hospital or attend to sick siblings. It also affects the productivity of parents, especially mothers, who must forfeit income-generating activities to care for the sick. This is more complicated for mothers who are bread-winners and living hand to mouth.
Admittedly, the country has made some progress such as developing and implementing relevant policies and projects and in mobilizing resources from government, development partners, nongovernmental organizations and civil society. The constitution recognizes access to decent sanitation as a human right. In line with the constitution, which devolved sanitation services, the counties have formulated policies and sector plans. The overarching challenge is the weak implementation framework manifesting in minimal budget allocation, limited reporting framework and non-adherence to national values and principles.
Nevertheless, counties have dedicated some resources to development of sanitation facilities, especially in schools, hospitals and marketplaces, but little is being invested in sewerage systems. All counties have lumped sanitation with either health, housing or water, which overshadows it in planning and budgeting, given low appreciation among leaders to prioritize sanitation. Hardly any support is given to households without toilets, especially those who are marginalized and vulnerable. Community sensitization on sanitation is least mainstreamed in the activities of the counties.
The initiatives by nongovernmental organization and civil society require coordination and monitoring to enable synergies with government initiatives and maximize productivity. The reporting framework on their activities is inadequate, which hinders tracking of progress to enable accurate national reporting. Therefore, a policy requiring registration of all initiatives on sanitation may help.
Private sector has the potential to transform sanitation if the business of human waste collection and treatment is well developed and regulated. Human waste collection using exhauster-trucks is an alternative technology in places not supplied with effective and efficient sewerage system, but this requires regulatory reforms. Further, low-cost innovative toilets using urine diverting dry technology (UDDT) have proved critical in management of human waste and reduced outbreaks of waterborne diseases in slums. UDDT technology separates feces and urine without using flush water and is usually designed in portable containers for ease of collection.
The county administration structures can be exploited to enforce one toilet per household policy and create awareness. Barazas (community gathering) called by chiefs, sub-chiefs or even clan elders will be helpful for sensitization and screening of households for support.
The country needs a special entity to regulate and coordinate the development of the sanitation sector. The entity will enhance resource mobilization, monitoring and reporting framework. It will review sanitation standards, oversee compliance and encourage innovation and technology in human waste and grow entrepreneurship. It can also develop exhauster business services. Engineering technology has proved that human waste can be transformed into productive products for agriculture (in fertilizer and animal feed), power generation and production of hydrogen gas and biogas.
The counties need to reengineer the planning, budgeting and management of the public sanitation facilities. They need to create incentives for the participation of the private sector and nongovernment institutions in the sanitation sector.
Author: Victor Mose, Policy Analyst, Infrastructure and Economic Services Department