Slum Dweller Federation of Tanzania Leads Construction of Public Toilet

by James Tayler

Toilet construction

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

This is the story of a public toilet built and managed by a slum dweller community in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. What is important about this story is not just the physical infrastructure provided but the socially embedded community processes that allowed for the toilets construction and that will ensure its sustainability. These processes, cemented around female-led savings group, are the backbone of the SDI network and create community “layers” that support infrastructure investments.

History and Context:

Keko Machungwa settlement is located in Miburani ward in Temeke Municipality, Dar-es-Salaam city, Tanzania. It is the home of more than 18,000 people and 5500 households who are living in overcrowded conditions. The settlement has a community market with about 50 stands providing business and entrepreneurship opportunities to members of the community.

The Tanzanian SDI Federation started working in Keko Machungwa in 2008 where 4 female led savings groups were established. These groups have savings of more than 15 million Tanzanian Shillings (USD $ 8,824) and have initiated various income generating activities such as soap making; development activities such as community household’s toilets, community water schemes and a public toilet at the market.

Women are the backbone of the SDI process; they know what is happening in their communities, have the best interests of their children at heart and work horizontally to share experiences, ideas, save small amounts daily and become involved in mapping and designing the interventions in their settlements.

Through an community-led enumeration it was found that although the market had a toilet it was poorly constructed with only one pit latrine and one hole for the whole market. The walls also had cracks meaning that the structure could have collapsed. Discussions between the community at the market place and the SDI Federation indicated that building a proper toilet was a priority. This process involved:

  • Identifying the owner of the land, which turned out to be the Tupendane SACCOS, formed by the traders within the market.
  • Taking the idea to the local government authority, who called the meeting between the landowner and the developer (federation).
  • Conducting a feasibility study to determine whether the project was viable or not.
  • Preparation of a memorandum of understanding which stated how the facility will be managed and how the loan will be repaid.

Another layer to this story is drawing in the local government and including them in the planning process. This dialogue allows for resources and expertise to be leveraged from the state. More importantly the state comes to see slum dwellers as more than capable of planning and managing improvements to their own settlements. The groundwork for future projects and a working relationship with the state is now possible.

Toilet construction Toilet construction

Technical Design and Construction:

We do what we can, with what we have, where we are.

The community and the Federation, with support from architects, completed the technical design of the public toilet. The Federation’s community technicians constructed the public toilet while the Temeke Municipality provided technical support. The technologies applied and building materials used are all locally available and affordable.

The foundation has two parts; namely the strip and pad foundation. A 100mm thick concrete slab follows three courses of the strip foundation. The pad foundation contains four columns that have been installed for supporting the concrete roof portion that carries the water storage tank. The superstructure was constructed using sand, cement blocks and mortar and is plastered both on the interior and exterior. The roof is divided into two parts: an iron sheet and a reinforced concrete slab. Below the roof there are the four reinforced columns that form part of the foundation and support the structure

The public toilet facility consists of three toilet cubicles (one for men and two for women), two bathroom cubicles and two urinal seats for males. The whole area of the project site is unplanned and contains no sewerage system so a septic tank was connected to deal with the waste. The effluent from the septic tank is discharged into a soak away pit.

The Federations role during the construction was to identify 4 Federation members to supervise the purchasing of materials, to negotiate with stall owners with regards to the toilets location and support the actual construction of the toilet. When communities are included in the design, construction and management of a project they will take ownership of the project ensuring its longevity.

Financing and Maintenance:

The total construction cost for the facility was USD $6,090 which was accessed through a loan from the Tanzanian Urban Poor Fund. The toilet attendant is paid USD $29 per month. An additional USD $6 per month is used to purchase detergents, soap and water. Anybody in the community who wishes to use the toilet has to pay a small fee.

The Keko Machungwa Federation is responsible for operating and maintaining the facility; this will be done for the whole period of probation and loan recovery. They report to the Market, local government and Regional Federation. The toilet was officially opened on 1 January 2012. It was agreed that the first three months of operation would be used as a learning period on how much can really be collected and compared to the initial estimates during the feasibility study.

The story of a toilet in Tanzania told the SDI way is a story of layers; layers of community cohesion and process on top of which infrastructure can be successfully built and sustained. Development projects and literatures are littered with “quick fix” technical solutions to urban poverty, but how can any technology work if it is not build on a participatory community process? The SDI rituals create an ongoing social movement that has the capacity to support infrastructure developments – it is the social backdrop against which technological interventions take place that is far more important than the nature of the interventions themselves.