By Diana Mitlin, IIED and Mercy Kamwanja, CCODE (Malawi)
Achieving universal access to sanitation is going to take a lot. In the urban context, high residential densities and extremely low incomes add to the challenge. What is already evident is that new approaches will be required, and that partnership between organised communities and their local governments is going to be key. An SDI team from Malawi came to World Water Week in Stockholm to present their work on sanitation in the city of Blantyre, and share their own contribution to this global challenge. Mphatso Njunga is a national leader for the Malawi Federation of the Rural and Urban Poor (Federation), Emmanuel Kanjunjunju is Director of Health and Social Services in the City, Mercy Kamwanja is Policy and Advocacy Manager for CCODE. Local elections were held in May 2014 with a return to local democracy, and 23 new councillors have joined the seven MPs to represent the residents of Blantyre City.
Documenting Living Conditions in Informal Settlements
A critical first step is documenting the scale of the problem. This knowledge is valued both by local government and communities themselves. The Federation has currently identified and profiled 41 informal settlements within Blantyre. These neighbourhoods have been identified both by Federation members, and traditional chiefs who have had a very significant role in local government prior to May (there were no councillors for several years). The Federation has developed close links to these traditional chiefs particularly through their work on water and sanitation. The local authority itself recognises 21 informal settlements.
The City Council recognizes the very significant contribution that groups within informal settlements are making to the City. to enhance this work and to address their own council responsibilities, an informal settlement Unit has been established.
Community development strategies (CDSs) have been completed in eight informal settlements following Federation information gathering. Local residents have been mobilized by settlement profiling and these strategies include of the collective priorities of the settlement. These organized communities hope that their strategies will direct development assistance.
As the Federation has worked with larger and numbers of people as well as more diverse communities, they decided that they should change their name from the Malawi Homeless People’s Federation to the Malawi Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor. This name change is to ensure that all people are comfortable with their participation and do not feel unable to join because they are not “homeless”.
Government Funding for Upgrading Informal Settlements
The annual budget for Blantyre City Council is approximately $10 million. There is no fixed amount for investment in informal settlements but the Council recognises that this is where there is the greatest need as 75% of the population stay. Two years ago, the Council began a participatory process whereby they asked organized communities to sit with the CEO and the directors of departments and discuss Council investment priorities. Mphatso Njunga (Federation leader) explained “The first year, we went there and they were telling us what has been done. This year it was different. Community leaders were asking council about where they get the money.” The third year of this participatory budget will begin in January 2015 for the financial year that begins in July 2015. This year the 23 newly elected councillors will also be a part of the budget negotiations.
In addition the funds that the Council have to invest, there are also monies available through the Constituency Development Funds (CDF) that are allocated to the seven MPs that represent Blantyre’s population. Approximately $16, 500 is given to each MP for local priorities. These monies are accounted for through the local authority. Previously there has not been any coordination of investments by the local authority but this is now being discussed.
The Sanitation Challenge
The challenge remains immense. There are an estimated 120,000 households living in the city of which 90, 000 live in areas experiencing poor sanitation, in informal settlements. The Council estimates that somewhere between 35,000 to 75,000 households are in need of toilets as they either have no provision, or their current provision is inadequate for dense urban neighbourhoods. One problem that is rarely acknowledged is that about 70,000 households are using VIPs and traditional pit latrines. When pits are full they are not emptied but are closed and another one constructed. However, as shallow wells are a major source of water the potential health risks are considerable.
Council investment capital is critical to achieving scale because significant numbers lack the income needed. Mphatso Njunga estimates that 30 per cent of Federation members do not have any income to pay for sanitation investments. In this context assessing strategies that offer universal access is a key challenge.
The Federation savings schemes have supported almost 700 to invest in eco-sanitation with an on average three families sharing these facilities. Each eco-san unit costs about $300. This scale of investments shows what is possible – and also that much more needs to be done. The Federation have been working across the city to encourage investment in sanitation. Working closely with the local chiefs, they have been able to persuade them to be the first to apply for loans (for eco-sanitation toilets with bathrooms) and this has encouraged the uptake.
Activities have included cleaning of the neighbourhoods. Some of the worst conditions in the city were in Ntopwa but after the mobilization of residents by the Federation this settlement is now a learning centre showing what can be done if people are organized.
New Sanitation Options
In their efforts to expand options and potentially reduce costs and increase accessibility, the Alliance has been exploring new approaches. A new precedent is sanitation with decentralized waste water treatment. In Bangwe. The Federation have constructed 52 dwellings in a lower-middle income neighbourhood that will provide rental housing – and have used this opportunity to experiment with this new technology for Blantyre. The development is now complete and people will begin occupying these houses in the next few weeks. Now the Federation members will come to see the technology and consider its affordability. They will also have the chance to think through how it might be work within their own informal settlements, if re-blocking will be required, and where (and sometimes if) spare ground might be available for the treatment ponds.
The Federation are also about to increase their investments in public toilets. Their public toilet in Chemusa is working very well. This is a public eco-sanitation toilet that is used intensively by market traders and those living in the vicinity. Users have a charge of 20 kwacha but this has not deterred custom even through the Council have a free toilet nearby. The Federation have been allocated land for toilet construction in two further markets and will begin building later this month.
The challenge of water availability
One of the biggest challenges that efforts to improve sanitation will have to address is the lack of water. From August to October pipes run dry and water is rationed across the city. In some neighbourhoods, there is no water for several days when both shallow wells and water kiosks fail. Even when it is available water from kiosks is expensive. At 20 kwacha for 20 litres, providing for the minimum requirements of a family of six costs about $9 a month. Another Federation activity has been helping households connect to the piped water network with loans for water meters and other costs associated with network expansion. Cost savings are immediate and one member recently reported that her bill had fallen to about two thirds of its previous value. However, the connection charges may be as much as $200 a household. The Federation and its support NGO, CCODE, have been thinking about the potential of rainwater harvesting.