Uganda Loses USD $177m Annually Due to Poor Sanitation: What is the Federation Doing?

Construction in Nakawa

By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat 

A World Bank report released this month estimates Uganda loses USD $177 million annually due to poor sanitation. According to the report, Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa – Uganda, the majority of these costs come from the annual premature death of 23,000 Ugandans from diarrheal disease, including 19,700 children under the age of five. Nearly 90 percent of these deaths are directly attributable to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene. The study estimates 13.8 million Ugandans use unsanitary or shared latrines and 3.2 million have no latrine at all and defecate in the open.

The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda is working to address the country’s sanitation crisis, which is experienced most severely by those living in the country’s crowded slums. Having already completed two sanitation units, one in Kisenyi – a slum in central Kampala – and one in Rubaga, a slum in Jinja, the federation is pushing to scale up its approach throughout the country. It has begun construction of a unit in Nakawa, Kampala and is about to commence construction of units in Mbale, Mbarara, and five other settlements in Jinja. The federation prioritizes settlements revealed by enumerations to be particularly underserved.

Federation-built sanitation units vary in size, depending on the amount of land the federation is able to secure through negotiations with landowners and municipal councils. Generally, however, the federation attempts to design units with at least 3 stances for males and 3 for females as well as bathing and disabled facilities. In addition to the sanitation services, a second floor is constructed for use as a community hall. This hall can be used for federation meetings, saving money on renting space, and also rented to others to generate income.

Project funds typically come from three sources: the first is community contribution. This contribution takes the form of financial capital (usually 20% of project costs in order to secure a loan) and also community labor and management. An additional contribution is sought from the municipal council in order to strengthen collective responsibility for sanitation and contribute towards the kind of institutional strengthening required to take the strategy to scale.  The final contribution comes from SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International (UPFI). This money comes to the federation as a loan at an interest rate of 8%.

In order to repay the UPFI loan the community has structured their sanitation units as income generating facilities. Community members pay a small user fee – typically much lower than that charged by similar facilities – and can rent out the community hall. The fees collected are used to maintain the facility and repay the loan. The federation conservatively expects to repay a loan of $25,000 within 6 years based on use projections for the toilet and bathing facilities.

During the construction phase the federation forms a Project Management Committee (PMC) headed by a PMC chairperson and PMC treasurer. The PMC has 4 sub-committees: Procurement committee; Finance Committee; Construction Committee and a Security and Store Committee.  These sub-committees are comprised of federation members, members of the local community that are not in the federation but may be central to the project – such as the landowner or market chairperson – and local authorities. The PMC receives training from other federation members in the SDI network and where necessary outside experts. A recent training held in Uganda, for instance, was conducted by the World Bank for the purpose of exposing the federation to procurement standards in the hope that the federation will be better equipped to participate in future large scale Bank projects.

Once construction is complete, the PMC changes. The project operations PMC is comprised of 2 caretakers to maintain the facilities to a high hygienic standard, 2 collectors responsible for day-to-day collection and banking of user fees, and federation Health and Hygiene representatives, a treasurer and project chairperson. All projects within the federation are overseen by regional leadership and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

As the projects grow, so too will the number of Ugandans with access to adequate sanitation. The federation will continue to strengthen partnerships with outside actors and streamline its internal processes to make its approach more efficient and more scaleable. This is how the federation is working to reduce the incidence of premature death, preventable disease, and the wasted precious resources outlined in the Bank’s report.  

The Art of Ark Building in Langrug, South Africa

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**Cross-posted from the CORC blog**

By Walter Fieuw, CORC

The dystopia of the urbanisation of poverty is a confounding reality, to say the least. People eek out a living in the harshest environment, are subject to environmental torture, and have little prospect of escaping the vices of modern life. Under imperial and apartheid South Africa, the right of non-Europeans/ non-whites to urban life was continuously supressed, if not denied fully. In fact, the very existence of the racist regime was premised on segregated urban spaces. This is why, argues philosopher Achile Mbembe of Stellenbosch University, “most social struggle of the post apartheid era can be read as attempts to re-conquer the right to be urban.”

This confounding reality is often worsened and aggravated by government policies that do not recognize the urban crisis. For many years, governments have shied away from devising comprehensive policies that tackle the challenges of urban poverty, and that harness the potentials for innovative development, which have historically been associated with urbanization. In the global South, the import of modernist planning norms and standards from the global North has perpetuated the existence and recurrence of peripheral urban slums by creating sanitized spaces for the elite.

What are the real prospects for social and political change in this new democratic dispensation? The high waves of market forces, income inequality, and worsening human development indices rock the tattered and bruised vessels of the urban poor. For some miracle of resilience and agency, the poor continue to press forward. In many cases, the hope of a more equal and fair society has found expression in the agency of the underclass, of the excluded, of the marginalized. These societies have depended on a forgotten art: the art of ark building.

Despite the introduction of potentially more progressive, transformative and situational responsive policies contained in the “second generation” of human settlement legislative frameworks (the first ten years being a dismal failure), local governments have struggled to come to grips with the extensive community engagement and difficult engineering and geotechnical interventions implicit in the upgrading of informal settlements. Organised communities are filling the voids created by lack of political will, social facilitation, and technical expertise by generating a resource base they own: knowledge about their settlement.

For this reason, Premier of the Western Cape, Ms. Helen Zille, paid a visit to Franschhoek on the 8th of May. She wanted to witness the progress made by the Langrug community in partnership with the Stellenbosch Municipality. Langrug is a large informal settlement on the slopes of Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Franschhoek. Seasonal laborers working on the wine farms and a large dam construction project established the settlement in the early 1990s. This settlement construed a forgotten people for many years, until the municipality was forced to action when the neighboring farm owner obtained a court interdict against the Municipality for the settlement’s greywater runoff into his irrigation dam. The municipality was forced to start negotiating with the settlement, because 14 families were to be relocated in the reserve earmarked for an access road construction. Cape Town’s Informal Settlement Network (ISN) was introduced to the settlement after the municipality engaged the network, opening a year-long relationship-building window. Ever since, a full scale in-situ upgrade project has been launched; providing better service with minimal disruption to residents’ lives.

Premier Zille visits Ruimsig settlement[1]

Premier Zille opened her address by saying that there is no more difficult policy environment than housing. The question of the spread of resources – either a serviced house for a few or better services and incremental tenure security for many – has continually shaped the South African housing policy debate. During the visit, Zille commented, “the important point about this informal settlement is that it is one of the first where we have a viable partnership with the community. And now, working with the community, we are installing stormwater, greywater systems, toilets, washing facilities, road and upgrading the place generally … but the existing thing about this project is that we are upgrading shacks where they are instead of moving people out and starting from the beginning”. Western Cape MEC for Housing Bonginkosi Madikizela said: “It is a fantastic model. The message to the rest of the country is that any development is a partnership between government and communities. They become partners rather than passive recipients”.

Much attention was called to the “model” of community participation espoused by Informal Settlement Network (ISN). Zille argued that this new “model” could be better articulated by having a single window policy approach to refining the government’s ability to navigate complex (and fragmented) policy frameworks. Although such an approach could be instructive, a model without agency has no value. Organised communities have an agency to transform urban landscapes by transforming their settlements. One of the failures of the government-driven and top-down implementation of housing developments in post-apartheid era was exactly this: the entrenchment of the forgotten apartheid ghettos. But informal residents are taking the lead in integrating their development with the greater evolution of their surrounding urban spaces. The ark communities are building is an inclusive one; one that has the capacity to deliver social and political change. This ark does not look or function like any of the government’s planning apparatuses, which are often founded on principles that entrench existing spatial inequalities. No, this ark is different. It is different because the ones designing the ark are different. Communities and government can only revive the lost art of ark building when they partner around deliverables such as improved living conditions. In this way, power is shared, and solutions are co-produced.

Other media coverage:

Community Policing in Slum Settlements


By Skye Dobson, CCI, & SPARC

As with many projects in the SDI network, the Tanzanian federation’s community policing project was in large part inspired by the experience of slum dwellers during a peer-to-peer exchange. These exchanges are a key ritual in the SDI toolkit and the principal mechanism through which lessons are shared amongst the 1.2 million slum dwellers in the SDI movement. The exchange that catalyzed the Tanzanian project involved members from the Tanzanian Urban Poor Federation visiting the Indian federation in Mumbai.

In most of the slum settlements in which members of the Tanzanian Federation live, crime is an ever-present threat and police response has been inadequate. Slum dwellers in the Tanzanian Federation were frustrated by the inability of the police to effectively meditate conflicts within the community. The Tanzanian Federation learned that their fellow slum dwellers in India were running an effective community policing project and organized an exchange to Mumbai. To ensure maximum benefit from the exchange, the federation invited the Commissioner of Police for Dar-es-Salaam to accompany them.

The exchange participants learned that in Mumbai, where slums are notoriously under‐manned in terms of police personnel, the Indian federation launched the Panchayat project. The project has been successful in increasing citizens’ safety rights and addressing the distrust that exists between the poor and the police. Despite the fact that more than half of the population lives in slums, the Tanzanians learned that the proportion of the police allotted to these areas accounts for less than a third of the force.

The exchange revealed that the idea behind the Panchayat is that community disputes should be resolved at the local level whenever possible. The Panchayat mediates family and neighbor quarrels as well as instances of domestic violence. They have been able to do this effectively and thus greatly reduce the caseload for the police. Women form the majority of the Panchayat due to their in depth knowledge of the community and time spent at home.

The Panchayat members have gained such a positive reputation that they are now asked to help the police maintain peace and order when there are festivals in the city. They are also invited to meetings by the police department on critical issues. At present, there are 64 active Panchayats in Mumbai and the federation anticipates this number will grow.

The Tanzanians appreciated the community policing principle of dispute resolution at the local level. These slums disputes if not resolved can lead to serious and pervasive crime. Upon returning home, the Tanzanian Federation decided that this principle would form the core driver of the Tanzanian project, as well as civic education and counseling to youth and children on safety and crime prevention.

Implementation of the Tanzanian Federation community police program began with an enumeration focused on crime and safety within slum settlements in Dar es Salaam. The enumeration – a community conducted household survey – allows the federation to identify key priorities of the community.

Following the identification of areas and issues to be prioritized, the Federation established community police teams. Training and orientation of the community police on their roles and responsibilities was conducted and the federation worked hard with the regional police force to ensure the linkages between its work and that of the community police were clear.


In Tanzania, as with the Panchayat in India, the federation has been especially effective addressing domestic quarrels and disputes among neighbors. The central role of women in the implementation of the community policing is setting a new precedent for crime prevention within cities. Moreover, through the counseling program, slum youth are taught about the effects of drugs and the importance of attending school, which it also believes is reducing crime prevalence.

The implementation of Federation community policing program has thus prompted new thinking in the country’s slums, particularly regarding issues of crime and safety – so much so that the Chief of Police of Tanzania has encouraged all regions in Tanzania to initiate community police programs. Indeed, while the Federation community police program started in Dar-es-Salaam – where five Federation groups are now engaged in community policing activities – the initiative has since been expanded to Arusha, Dodoma and Mara. In each of these cities, the Tanzanian Federation has developed a very close working relationship with the Regional Police office. This has resulted in a shift in the way slum residents are viewed in matters of crime prevention.

As the Tanzanian Federation moves forward with its community policing project, it seeks to establish livelihood projects to support the work of the volunteers. While the federation has received financial support in Arusha and Dodoma from the regional police office, the federation thinks it wise to bring additional resources to the project to ensure a continuity of service. The community policing teams require small funds for communications, transport, and trainings. One group in Dodoma, for instance, has already begun supporting its activities by selling soft drinks. In addition, the federation hopes to secure more funds from the Government and private sector.