The Formal Politics of Informal Projects: Part I

by James Tayler

Zambia Slum Upgrading

Sanitation facility under construction by Nkana Water & Sewerage utility in Kamatipa, Kitwe, Zambia. 

By Fariria Shumba, Peoples Process on Housing & Poverty, Zambia and Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

This two-part blog post provides insights into the very real and grounded political and practical challenges “non-conventional” community models of sanitation provision face in Kitwe, Zambia. It charts the circumstances that led to work being stalled and how a way forward was mooted, and is currently being implemented. 

Sanitation provision in Kitwe, Zambia gives insight into why formal expectations around project management need to be sensitive to grassroots driven projects. The external pressures faced by communities and affiliated professionals can stall activities or lead to outcomes that diverge from original community priorities. This piece describes such stress points and how, in time, work moved forward.

As part of the SHARE (Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity) project the Kitwe federation was provided with funds to construct a number of precedent setting sanitation facilities. In this context the federation looked to forge a partnership with Nkana Water and Sewerage Company, a parastatal 70% owned by the municipality, who already had a mandate to deliver 1000 toilets through an African Development Bank (ADB) loan. Both the SHARE precedents and the Nkana Water Supply and Sanitation (NWSS) project were targeted at the same areas, Kamatipa & Ipusikilo (Place of refuge). The federation had already conducted profiling and mapping and Nkana were enthusiastic to use this data, which was presented at a dialogue session attended by relevant councilors, the deputy mayor and other Kitwe City officials in April 2013. 

At this time discussions had already been held with the Managing director of Nkana who agreed to collaborate with the federation. The federation’s presence in the two projects areas was important to Nkana, who do not have strong ties to the community. The federation was able to mobilize the community around the related, but not always complimentary, objectives of both projects. This included the identification of prospective beneficiaries and training of artisans for construction.

No alternative sanitation models were concurrently pursued.

As activities progressed a number of stress points became clear. The pace of delivery was gradual with Nkana citing strict loan stipulations by the ADB.  The slow implementation of the project is a reflection of the typical bureaucratic red tape that can hamper community driven development projects. The NWSS is a 5-year project that commenced in 2008 with this being the last year of implementation! Federation involvement was meant to “kick start” delivery and avoid the grant being returned to the ADB.  The federation attempted to align the SHARE and NWSS projects and build more than 1000 sanitation units, creating sustainable conditions and models for work to extend beyond end dates.  

The perceived partnership was meant to share designs and technologies in order to create more affordable options for the poor. The Nkana VIP toilet cost close to K4,000 (US$740); Ecosan in excess of K5, 000 (US$925) and pour flush about K6, 000 (US$1,111). These high costs preclude opportunities for scaling up as funds available will only reach a limited number of the estimated 60,000 families in need of improved sanitation. The use of individual grants, as opposed to communal loans, further undermines opportunities for replication. Furthermore the Ecosan demonstration models built by Nkana in Chambishi have a major design flaw. Chambers are too small and there is no separate receptacle for urine. The mixing of urine with fecal sludge will have major environmental impacts.

As touched upon previously the federation and support professionals became aware of a far deeper fault line.  Since the Nkana funded toilets were contingent on grant and not loan finance, did they really create the conditions for extending sanitation to a citywide scale? An individual toilet as a grant could never reach the scale of need in Kitwe (research conducted in the first phase of the SHARE project estimated that there were over 60,000 families in need of improved sanitation). The federation struggled to make the case for communal loan finance for sanitation in an environment were free toilets were expected to be delivered.

Both the federation and affiliate were caught up in the possibilities of tapping into Nkana, and hence city, resource flows which are substantial. Reflections indicate that a preoccupation with making this partnership work, and internally influencing it towards a more sustainable model, occluded serious discussion around alternative pilots. To provide further context it is important to note that an M.o.U had been drafted and circulated to Nkana Water management. The Kitwe federation sought to formalize their relationship with Nkana and use this as an instrument to negotiate more affordable and sustainable modes of sanitation provision. This builds on a previous M.o.U signed with Kitwe City Council that led to the federation obtaining land at a reduced rate. 

Zambia Slum Upgrading

Finally there seemed to be a resistance to shared toilet facilities from the community. Reasons for this included variable sizes of families (larger families being advantaged to smaller ones even if payment was equal) & Landlord and Tenant issues. In deeper discussions with the Kitwe federation it emerged that many existing latrines are already being shared by a number of families simply because they are not locked.

Hence a combination of external political pressures, internal resistance to shared facilities (especially in the face of free toilet provision) and a preoccupation with making the partnership with Nkana work led to an impasse. Work on the ground stalled and no progress was made on alternative precedent development with SHARE funds remaining unspent.