Community Based Organisations are Key to Covid-19 Response


In this article, which originally appeared on the Sanitation & Water for All website, one of SDI’s co-founders and former chair of the SDI Board, Sheela Patel, highlights some of the notable responses to the Covid-19 pandemic – and resulting lockdowns – by SDI-affiliated federations of the urban poor.


To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the two major guidelines are practicing social distancing and washing your hands with soap or use sanitizers. This directive could come across as an additional precautionary step in the lives of many. However, for several communities (especially those living in informal settlements) in the developing countries, these directives are challenging to follow.

We spoke to Shamim Banu Salim Sheikh, a member of Mahila Milan (a self-organized, decentralized collective of female) living in Mumbai slum about her community and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, “we try and tell other people that they should keep their hands clean, houses clean, don’t sneeze or cough in public places. But all these things are for rich people and not poor people like us. In this area most of the people have at least 7 to 8 members in their houses, how are you going to tell them they should not sit together or keep distance between each other?” Through a video message, Alice Wanini, a community health volunteer (CHV) in Mukuru Kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi, told SDI how difficult it is to encourage preventative measures such as social distancing and frequent handwashing in overcrowded slums, where 10 sqm shacks house families of ten or more and long lines at handwashing stations leave people frustrated.

This is the reality for almost 1 billion people living in informal settlements –between 30-70% of inhabitants in some cities–pandemics exacerbate the existing vulnerabilities, such as inequalities  in  access  to  water,  sanitation  and  hygiene  services, loss of livelihood for daily-wage earners, precarity of underlying conditions such as respiratory ailments, water-borne diseases, life-style diseases associated with poor nutrition and substance abuse.  As COVID-19 cases spiked around the world, stringent lockdown measures were put in places, thereby making community leaders or community based organizations as the first responders. In Sierra Leone, Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and their support NGO, the Centre for Dialogue on Human Settlements and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) has been involved in the fight against COVID-19 in their localities within Freetown Municipality, which is the epicenter of the pandemic. The prevention and mitigation response undertaken by the FEDURP are as follows:

  • Development of case monitoring app (Freetown Informal Settlement Covid-19 Data – Fiscovidata) and mobilization of community volunteers to focus on the case and incident reporting,
  • Development of sensitization messaging materials such as posters, handbills, and videos: FEDURP consulted various messaging materials developed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. The contents of these materials were then customized to reflect the realities of slums and informal settlements. Engagement in community sensitization,  through direct community outreach and using various social media platforms to share videos and radio discussion,
  • Provision of veronica buckets (for hand washing) and face masks,
  • Working closely with settlement-based local chiefs to enforce government regulations and practices,
  • Engagement with state and local authorities to enhance government response to needs of informal settlements: Working with Freetown City Council to support a community kitchen targeting three extremely vulnerable communities targeting people with disabilities, the elderly, orphans, pregnant girls and female- headed households with multiple dependents.

In Malawi, 75% of the urban population live in informal settlements (National Statistical Office, 2018). The Malawi SDI Alliance has made the following progress in supporting informal settlements with information on COVID-19:

  • All 35 federation groups in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu now have hand washing equipment. Cities were prioritized because that’s where the first cases were reported. Federation savings groups continue to meet and conduct their savings, loans and group entrepreneurial activities in compliance with government regulation.
  • The Malawi Alliance worked with the Lilongwe District Health Office to spread Covid-19 awareness messages to 10 informal settlements in Lilongwe City (population roughly 30,000) using a public address system that can effectively reach large numbers of people.
  • Community leaders from 24 informal settlements in Lilongwe City were capacitated with knowledge and skills on how to disseminate COVID-19  messages to their communities.
  • Media efforts carried out by Malawi Know Your City TV team to raise awareness with youth, including the production of 6 short videos depicting how COVID-19 has affected the informal trader, the girl child, and other vulnerable groups in informal settlements.

Through this overarching narrative on community action during pandemics, I want to highlight that lockdown means local adaptation–community members and leaders are the first respondents. Yet, their contribution remains invisible and unspoken. These community leaders are most trusted and what they say is taken seriously by the people. Unfortunately, the government do not include their ideas, suggestions or solutions in planning and response. Unless there is a two-way trust between providers and affected communities, and the voices of the most marginalized are not heard, the crucial support and assistance in lockdown will not happen.

I cannot stress enough, when the nation-state puts people in lockdown, there is an urgent need to ensure that they have access to food items and basic care. People are ENTITLED to these basic services, showing “beneficiary” labelled photos of people receiving food is not acceptable. Informal settlements are not receiving the aggressive support that they need, especially, in bringing the livelihoods for informal dwellers and removal of past deficits like poor water and sanitation.

The SWA global partnership has a unique role in this crisis and for creating a post-COVID world, first, by mobilizing its partners, especially governments to take an urgent and much-needed action to provide water and sanitation services in both urban and rural areas. Secondly, using its convening power to strengthen in-country inclusive partnerships to enhance liaison between government and all the relevant key stakeholders, especially the community based organisations (CBOs). Not just during this crisis situation, but also ensuring that the voices of CBOs are also reflected in the advocacy plans of national CSO networks. We all need to keep reminding each other that public health emergencies, such as COVID-19 and gradually building disaster of climate change now demand that we BUILD BACK BETTER.

Sierra Leone SDI Alliance Response to Covid-19


[video width="640" height="352" mp4=""][/video]


Nearly three months since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Sierra Leone, the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and their support NGO the Centre for Dialogue on Human Settlements and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) reflect on actions taken to date and the challenges that still lie ahead in taking action against this pandemic.


This report provides narrative on how FEDURP has been involved in the fight against COVID-19 in their localities within Freetown Municipality, which is the epicentre of the pandemic. Their involvement has been driven by the institutional response strategy developed in collaboration with Freetown City Council (FCC). This strategy was generated using feedback and experiences of FEDURP and community volunteers actively involved in various activities to help prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus in their respective localities.


In early April 2020, FEDURP and CODOHSAPA consulted and put together a COVID-19 response plan as the pandemic was close to getting its way into Sierra Leone from the two neighboring countries of Liberia and Guinea. This plan constituted the following thematic pillars:

  • Leverage existing partnerships with local authorities, such as Freetown City Council, to establish clear roles and responsibilities and clear lines of communication between government and communities;
  • Adapt and deliver initiatives formulated within the national policy framework;
  • Monitoring of community dynamics, including livelihood activities and movement of people in and out of their settlements; and,
  • Enhancing contact tracing of suspected or positive cases within their communities.

To ensure that our strategy was better informed and relevant, it also capitalised on FCC’s COVID-19 response framework with three strategic pillars, namely;

  • Behavior change messaging,
  • Behavior change support, and,
  • Isolation and containment support.

These two foregoing strategic pillars incidentally aligned with the strategic objectives of the SDI network with respect to Covid-19, namely;

  • To provide community owned and validated settlement profile and mapping data to inform co-developed preparedness and response plans including logistics;
  • Settlement level enablement of co-owned humanitarian assistance responses by means of leveraging existing social and political capital as a way to build two-way trust between providers and affected populations; and,
  • To engage in monitoring and advocacy activities at settlement and city level in order to minimize threats of evictions and counterproductive closures of essential informal services during periods of lockdown or protracted national emergency.

Hence, the actions of FEDURP included; i) mobilization of community volunteers to focus on case and incident reporting; ii) development of sensitization messaging materials such as posters, handbills, and videos; iii) engagement in community sensitisation through direct community outreach and using various social media platforms to share videos and radio discussion; iv) provision of veronica buckets (for hand washing) and face masks; v) work with settlement-based local chiefs to enforce government regulations and practices; and, vi) engagement with state and local authorities to enhance government response to needs of informal settlements.

Prevention Response

  • Development of behaviour change messaging and information, education and communication (IEC) materials:

FEDURP and CODOHSAPA consulted various messaging materials developed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS). The contents of these materials were customised to reflect the realities of slums and informal settlements. The messaging materials developed included visuals (posters and handbills) and audio-visuals (videos). This was done in collaboration with FCC and community health workers working in community health centres located in the informal settlements.  The videos were done by the KYC TV team. One of the videos was done with the mayor in one of the slums (Susan’s Bay) emphasing the importance of handwashing and social distancing.

  • Provision of handwashing facilities:

Five communities were supported with veronica buckets and soap which were located at strategic locations within communities. These provided facilities for handwashing, which helps to stimulate and enhance behaviour change in communities. Given that hand washing is the most basic practice to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the provision of these items has increased people’s awareness about handwashing practices as an important element to preventing the spread of the virus. These stations are monitored by young community volunteers to enforce the practice for passers-by and to replenish the water and soap.

WhatsApp Image 2020-06-02 at 3.45.33 PM

  • Production and provision of face masks:

1,250 face masks were produced by tailors who are members of FEDURP. 250 were directly distributed to community volunteers and 1,000 contributed to the 60,000 mask target set by the FCC to support vulnerable population in slum and informal settlements. 

  • Community sensitization and propagation of messaging:

Community volunteers drawn from the community-based disaster management committees (CDMCs) and FEDURP key participants engaged in community outreach activities, organising community and one-on-one sensitisation drives and distributing the posters and handbills containing customised messages that respond to the realities of slums and informal settlements.

Mitigation Response

  • Working with FCC to reach out vulnerable population with food items during lockdown:

The federation worked with FCC to support a community kitchen targeting three extremely vulnerable communities namely, Cockle Bay (in the west end of Freetown), CKG (central), and Old Wharf (east end) targeting people with disabilities, the elderly, orphans, pregnant girls and female headed households with multiple dependents. This is to mitigate hunger for these categories of people who are limited to sourcing livelihood opportunities. Without such support, they are exposed to reinforced marginalisation and increase their exposure to contracting the virus and/or decreasing the chances of survival if they get exposed to the virus.

  • Engagement with authorities to enhance support to informal settlements:

The situation of slums and informal settlements remains largely ignored by state institutions in responding to COVID-19. FEDURP volunteers have been engaging particularly with the Disaster Management Department of the Office of National Security (ONS) in which they responded by providing materials to these localities. Nevertheless, FCC has been quite responsive to the needs of slums and informal settlements. With focus on COVID-19, the engagement has also brought into view environmental disasters as the rains that are about to start, which often leads to massive seasonal and tidal flooding, rock or mud falls, landslides and more. There are speculations that if preparedness actions are not taken now before the rains set in it may beset the preventive measures and escalate the spread of the virus. Hence, the federation is pushing for environmental disaster preparedness. Another issue of concern is the militaristic approach to effecting quarantine actions in slums and informal settlements compared to formal or built up neighbourhoods. This has resulted in resistance and mistrust between communities and law enforcement. FEDURP therefore found it critical to encourage the relevant authorities to adopt more humane and civil methods.

  •  Development of case monitoring app (Freetown Informal Settlement Covid-19 Data – Fiscovidata)

This app has been initiated to ensure that incidents and issues emerging in slums and informal settlements are captured and reported so that their situation are not sidelined and to serve as the basis to inform key stakeholders about the realities of these localities. This was done in consultation with FCC capturing the perspectives of all parties. It also provides opportunities for the participants to improve data collection skills and sensitivity to the needs and realities of their settlements. (See the link:

  • Case and incident reporting:

This initiative constituted 126 data collectors spread across the 68 slums and informal settlements in which 48 are attached to the FCC ward-level community engagement structure using the aforementioned app, Fiscovidata, to collect and report cases and other incidents. Two levels of data analysis are done, i) community level data analysis that reflects the 68 settlements; and, ii) ward level in which incidents from these communities and other neighbourhoods within a ward are compiled to reflect the ward for sole purpose of FCC. Collecting and reporting on the cases and related incidents is important to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, as it helps to inform stakeholders of necessary actions that may address the needs of slum dwellers and informal settlers.

  • Networking with State and Non-State Agencies

The fight against COVID-19 requires collaborative actions to build synergies and maximize the use of limited resources in the face of this global pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) has been responsible for designing appropriate IEC materials as well coordinating the provision of health services nationwide, including COVID-related mitigation and curatives. As such, messages we customized were derived from the approved MoHS resource base. At the same time, development and enforcement of protocols, procedures, and practices are undertaken by the Emergency Operational Centre (EOC). This has remained quite centralized, even though attempts are being made to decentralize its operations, making it difficult for CSOs to efficiently interact with the centre.

Collaboration with FCC has continued in order to maximize the provision of services and support. FEDURP/CODOHSAPA undertakes community mobilization and organisation as well as providing necessary data to inform FCC’s actions and service provision. This synergy tends to reinforce the recognition of slum and informal settlements as part of the municipal constituents, which by all indication precludes any foreseeable forced eviction in the course of the current situation.

FEDURP’s engagement with ONS saw additional provision of hand washing facilities in a few settlements and involved discussions on how both partners can begin to work on the actions to mitigate environmental disaster as rainy season is just setting in now.

A consortium including CRS, FCC, FEDURP/CODOHSAPA, CARITAS Freetown and Sierra Leone Red Cross has been constituted to seek funding from EU. By all indications, there is the possibility to win this grant which will target the slum dwellers and informal settlers, and special trade and socio-economic groups such as Traders and Market Women Council, Bike Riders Association, Tricycle (Kekeh) Drivers Union and Motor Drivers Union.

We are also working with ARISE partners to finalise and roll out the concept on our collaboration on the fight against COVID-19. This will focus on the following objectives:

  • Improved community capacity to respond and mitigate the spread and contagion of COVID-19 in slums and informal settlements in Freetown;
  • Enhance government’s COVID-19 response and mitigation priorities to reflect the needs of slums and informal settlements; and,
  • Improve structures and practices for the collection and documentation of experiences and learning of COVID-19 response and mitigation interventions in slums and informal settlements


Some of the challenges we have faced include the following:

  • The centralized approach poses the challenge of efficiently engaging with Emergency Operational Centre (EOC);
  • There are huge needs, particularly in slums and informal settlements, but limited funding to respond adequately;
  • Mixed messages has resulted in the emergence of myths and misconceptions in communities and the society generally about the Covid-19 virus;
  • Periodic full and partial lockdowns seriously affect the livelihoods of slum dwellers and urban poor communities, as most are daily wage earners living on a hand-to-mouth basis. This is reinforced by the increase in the cost of food stuff caused by the ban on inter-district vehicular movement, which in turn affects movement of local food stuff from the rural areas where local food stuff are grown and at same time affect the marketing stock of the market women sellers.

Lessons Learned

Some of the lessons learned include:

  • Our experiences from the Ebola outbreak was a capital for the government and local actors to draw from to design and plan for the fight against COVID-19.
  • Ebola attracted a lot of funding from international partners, but the emergency of COVID-19 as a global pandemic attracted less support globally, which is an indication that nations across the globe were busy fighting their own scourge.
  • The need for community participation has become even more important, as restriction on movement and enforcement of social distancing precludes others from directly supporting local actions.
  • COVID-19 has stimulated ingenuity and creativity, such as the local fabrication of hand washing stations and face mask.
  • COVID-19 has registered the urgent need for our government to invest in our health and other essential infrastructures as the ban on international flights has limited all of us (rich and poor, governors and the governed) to use our local health facilities as they have no second option of traveling abroad.

Next Steps 

As the Sierra Leone SDI Alliance, we have identified the following as critical next steps:

  • Focus sensitisation on myths and misconceptions.
  • Data collection and incident reporting continues.
  • Continue engagement with partners to seek other funding opportunities.
  • FEDURP and volunteers to strengthen community monitoring efforts in collaboration with respective resident local chiefs.
  • Continue engagement with state and non-state actors to strengthen synergies and enhance support to slums and informal settlements


Namibian Federation & Namibian Housing Action Group: Responses to COVID-19

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-29 at 15.12.41

On behalf of the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) and Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG) – SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 across Namibia.

In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic the Namibian Alliance (Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia and Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG)) alongside the National Alliance for Informal Settlement Upgrading, have been able to pivot the partnership through facilitating open communication through various channels for communities to receive pertinent updates from local & central government. The Namibian Alliance is positioned as critical to the response plan from the Ministry of Health for community mobilisation and peer to peer learning enabling improved directed health messaging.

Edith Mbanga, Federation leader in Namibia speaks about the community-led responses taken. “As SDFN when COVID-19 came to our ears we look at it as a serious issue that needs to be addressed to make sure our communities understand. With support from NHAG we requested a training from the Ministry of Health & Social Services. Twenty members were trained to educate communities about COVID-19 symptoms and how they can protect themselves from the virus. We are working together with MoH & SS as Federation teams, with homeless people that were living near the river and under the bridges.”

Active cities include the Khomas region, Erongo region, and the Oshana region, with the following priority areas and needs identified: PPE, soaps, hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, buckets and the installation of tippy taps. Food parcels for the households where their source of income has been heavily affected are crucial during lockdown, and for the foreseeable future. Federation have also participated in training in proper hygiene protocols under COVID-19, developing pamphlets and fact sheets being distributed in various languages. The Federation also joined the Psycho-Social Support group led by Ministry of Health & SS to train and deploy volunteers to assist in relocation of street dwellers in Windhoek.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-29 at 15.12.40

Edith Mbanga reflects on the economic threat to livelihoods of those in the informal economy as Namibia remains in lockdown until the 4th May 2020. “Because of lockdown, communities who are selling at the markets lost their income – that launched in Namibia this year by Namibian Alliance. We fought for the market to be open with locations for cleaning and sanitizing with authorities at the markets. A team of more than 20 members will educate the informal workers to make the markets clean every morning. They will work at the market 3 days per week. We can use this as an opportunity for us to talk to the people, and hear from them what their plans after lockdown because this is a temporary thing, there is a lot that we are doing.”

WhatsApp Image (2)

The Standard Bank of Namibia through the Buy-a-Brick initiative with the Namibian Alliance has donated water tanks and hand sanitizers to NHAG for distribution to communities living in informal settlements. The general public is encouraged to make donations into the Standard Buy-a-Brick account for further support in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the informal settlements.

Namibia Housing Action Group is a Namibian Service Organisation that aims to support and add value to the activities and processes of the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia in achieving their mission. It strives to facilitate change in the livelihoods of urban and rural poor through pioneering pro-poor development approaches. Community mobilisation, project management & delivery, lobbying & advocacy, financial resilience & asset building, and data & mapping are the core competencies of the Namibian Alliance that they have been developing for over twenty years.

Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.

Ghanaian Federation & People’s Dialogue: Responses to COVID-19


On behalf of the Ghanian Federation of the Urban Poor and People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements – SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 across Accra.

A community-led management and response to the COVID-19 pandemic (CLeMRoC) is being actioned in collaboration with Accra Municipal Assembly, and other civil society organisations has been launched in Accra. The response team consists of community leaders, environmental health officers of Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). Led by the Federation in Ghana, they are supported by People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements.

The aim of CLeMRoC is is to enhance sensitization, education and behavior change in people living in informal settlements and to influence the community response of the pandemic. The target communities within Accra include: Old Fadama, Osu Alata, Sabon Zongo, Agbogbloshie, Madina, Sukura, Ashaiman, Nungua, Teshie with ongoing work in several other communities.


Farouk Braimah, Executive Director at People’s Dialogue, reflects on the dire impacts that COVID-19 will have on informal settlements, shedding light on the ongoing pervasive issues of a severe lack of service delivery to the most vulnerable.

“When it comes to hygiene protection, why do we think this time it will work? It is about hygiene, washing hands, eating well, resting – these are the protocols, and there is nothing new about this. They have never worked in slums//informal settlements. How do we find solutions that respond to our unusual circumstances, that work in the informal settlements?”

CLeMRoC has formed an interim Community Coordination Centre (CCC) where all issues against the fight of COVID-19 will be anchored. These include: external relations, messaging via various formats, knowledge management, documentation, dissemination of learning & lessons, and interfacing with officials collaborating on efforts to support communities through participatory planning & advocacy. Also coordinating supplies, resource mobilization and media work.


The priority needs emerge as pre-existing challenges that are further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are limited existing health facilities and resources to manage and care for affected patients. As of 24th March 2020, when CLeMRoC was launched, the following items were of urgent need in relation to health (PPE) such as: masks and gloves, tissues, tippy taps, veronica buckets, soap & hand sanitizers. With the need to improve PPE on all levels, especially personal hygiene protection, hand washing training on developing tippy taps and veronica bucket with taps. Ongoing needs for food assistance to those whose livelihoods are impacted and funds for volunteers who are working on trainings in the community remain fundamental to the Federation’s response.


Community members being sensitized on Tippy Taps.

Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.

For a better Mumbai, fix the slums first


This article was first published in The Hindu

By Jockin Arputham

The government has plenty of schemes for slum redevelopment, but most of these are on paper. Importantly, sanitation is not on the agenda.

I was all of 17 when I migrated to Mumbai in 1967 from Kolar, Karnataka. I didn’t have a purpose then; my only aim was to find bread. I often wondered why I moved to this city. When I look back, I can visualise how millions have the same problem: you don’t have anything, you look out for a metropolis, you land in Mumbai.

I would never have dreamt what Bombay meant. It was a culture shock at various levels. To begin with, I’d never heard the word ‘slum.’ Moreover, the language was alien, and we had open-air, ‘airconditioned’ toilets.

A week after I landed in the city, I ended up in the thickly-populated Janata Colony, Mankhurd. Conditions were pathetic. If I needed to use the public toilet, I would have to queue for nearly 20 minutes. So I would end up squatting wherever I would find place.

I was in a slum, but I had no home. In fact, I had zero liabilities and assets, no roof over my head, no roots. I would sleep anywhere.

One of the good things about a slum is that no one ever chases you away from their doorstep. In the day, I would mark out a veranda where I could lay my head at night. I would pick up saris hung out to dry and use them as blankets. In the morning, I would go to the public tap, remove my clothes, bathe, dry myself with the same set of clothes and carry on with the rest of my day.

The questions in my head were ceaseless: how did I fall from the frying pan into the fire? For the first time ever, I saw pavement dwellers. Why did we all have to live like animals? I gradually learnt about eviction and demolition. And then about homelessness. Where could one live? I figured there wasn’t much of a choice.

My journey had begun; I needed to do something about all this. From then on, I have been organising people, taking up issues of slum sanitation, eviction and demolition, and trying to find solutions.

It’s important for me — for all of us — to talk about our slums. There is an entire section of society living in deplorable conditions, because of which the city’s health and economy are being dragged down.

The way things are, there is no collective vision; no rules either. Nearly 60 per cent of Mumbai lives in slums, but a good chunk of the municipal corporation’s agenda is devoted to gardens, roads, parking and so on; the slums don’t feature. In our lopsided system of political representation, slum dwellers have been relegated to a vote bank. They are patronised, and encouraged to live in deprivation.

Look at Dharavi, for instance. The government has no policy for Asia’s largest slum. In the past 15 years, there has been no development in terms of roads, drains, toilets, or common areas. The main road has seen encroachments, encouraged by a former politician.

Clean the city, build toilets

Mumbai lets off a big stench. People call it Slumbay. What are the reasons? Poor sanitation and environment, contaminated drinking water and crowded conditions.

Even today, 40 per cent of people in Mumbai don’t have access to a toilet. In Dharavi, 33–35 per cent of people live in 60-sq-ft areas. We’re talking about five-member families living in that space. How can you think of having individual toilets there? The airport slum doesn’t have a single toilet. How long will this continue?

Mumbai needs sanitation that is not dependent on the sewer system alone. Sewerage systems require a capital cost, which the government cannot afford. And the rehabilitation of people will cost them 100 times more than their investment in sewerage lines. Nearly 65 per cent of Dharavi is not covered by a sewer system. To do so, you need to rehabilitate 80 per cent of the people living here.

Everyone is talking about Swachh Bharat, but how many toilets have been constructed in slums under this project? The government could have claimed it had cleaned Mumbai, so working with smaller cities would be relatively easier. You have to show what you have done in a difficult situation first.

Our sanitation needs to be customised to our living and weather conditions. Unlike the West, we cannot afford individual toilets or sewer lines.

We have to work towards providing collective, shared and community toilets. We can achieve two agendas at one go: if the municipality invests money in a slum (in the form of toilets) it cannot demolish it.

The main focus should be on how to clean the city. Without getting into the politics of it, we need to ask if a mechanism has been created for the purpose. Even after we have created wards, there is nothing to show on the ground. Where and how is the money being used?

A city like Mumbai should have had an IAS officer as the head of sanitation. Every area needs a dedicated sanitary inspector, with the additional role of mapping the area and reporting to the higher authority.

Alternative housing

In the 80s, there were around 600 slum pockets in the city. Now it has gone up to 3,000.

No one comes to Mumbai for the pleasure of getting a house in a slum. They are in tough situations, therefore they migrate. We need to address the needs of those already living in slums by giving them better housing. We need to do away with the dehumanised category of ‘shanty’.

Former Municipal Commissioner S.S. Tinaikar used to say, “Mumbai has so much land, you can arrange to have another city like it.” Land needs to be given to the people, but not for free.

The Development Plan outlines a clear policy of homes for the dishoused. There is also a pavement policy, which former Secretary, Special Projects, Sanjay Ubale and I hammered into shape. The subsequent Government Resolution said all pavement dwellers are eligible for a house, just like slum dwellers. I was able to secure 4,710 sq.m. land for rehabilitation in Mankhurd.

There are policies, but the government is sleeping on them, while the people don’t have anyone to organise them into agitating for their due.

The government often says it can’t give land because it is reserved. So I tell people, let every slum- or pavement-dweller identify 10-15 pieces of land. If they say it is reserved for a university, ask for a third, a fourth, and so on. After 220 land reservations, can they still say no? There is land, only the will is missing.

Over a decade ago, I was working with the MMRDA on the Mumbai Urban Transport Project-II. I told the Sukhtankar Committee that the government could float a tender asking for free housing on the land in the project. The first housing scheme was initiated by us. All 20,000-30,000 families have been rehabilitated on it. That means the MMRDA has the land and houses.

The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) has failed because of corruption and mismanagement; it has become a money-making mission for the government.

The first question a councillor asks these days is, “Isme mera kya hai? [What’s in it for me?]” You have 365 cooperative housing societies built under the SRA, but most of the residents have had to dedicate 20 per cent extra, or out-of-pocket expenses, like paying someone to approve a document, an extension, or adding a name to a registration. That’s why these societies have taken in only 150 families.

In an SRA house, you are charged more than five times what you pay in a slum for water. Do you expect a rehabilitated person can pay that much? An SRA home, then, is not affordable. Nobody is going into why the SRA scheme hasn’t picked up in Mumbai, and why there are so many slums. They have set 269 sq.ft. as the base under the SRA, and 300 sq.ft. in Dharavi. But a political party wants 400 sq.ft. Once this is done, airport slum dwellers will demand the same. This doesn’t just involve finding land; it’s also a question of rehabilitation.

The government is doing nothing for affordable housing, which in any case costs Rs. 5 lakh and above. Besides, most ‘affordable’ homes are outside the city, or in far-flung areas; this requires the creation of a transportation network.

Our politicians and bureaucrats have learnt nothing from the mistakes of the SRA or rehabilitation over the past 35 years. Therefore, we live with myths like ‘there is no land’. To begin with, slums are on the ground level. In urban India, you cannot afford to live in a ground-floor structure, simply because the land cost is so high. You compensate for that by getting into an SRA house. But if you want to live here, you have to change your living pattern. You live without a toilet for years; you don’t talk about it.

I’m not asking everyone to go to an SRA accommodation. Regularise or recognise a slum and maintain a standard; instead of a corrupt SRA society, slums could be more organised. We also need a housing guideline.

Other fixes

Women must be at the centre

Local residents, particularly women, need more representation in decision-making. For every issue, be it toilets, housing or water, women are worst affected. A man can meet his needs outside the home: he can use the toilet in his factory, or a public toilet. In most cases, women are tied to the home; their representation is token.

Use NGOs better

Today, you have more than 6,000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) registered with the Charity Commissioner. Every ward could be allotted 10 to 15 NGOs for specific issues of their choice; this will fix responsibility. The government could create that kind of flexibility, by inviting a ward’s prominent NGOs to a meeting and assigning them duties. A coordinating body could be responsible for their functioning.

In other words, identify the issue, then create a system and then monitor it, all within a budget.

NGOs, on their part, need to raise the issue of sanitation in their wards. For now, they are just “talking revolutionaries” who often don’t get down to hard work.

Generate debate

The government should take these issues to the people, create forums where debate can happen without fear of reprisal being targeted. Right now, there is a disconnect between the grassroots and the policy-makers.

What you see today is the result of the administration not looking after the city. Mumbai is actually well organised, with every inch of land governed by the administration. They ought to be more in control of encroachment though.

There is a Hindi saying: ‘Billi ki nazar chichde mein rehti hai [The cat always looks for the cream]’. Similarly, the politician always looks at how many votes he can garner in an area. He never looks at problems like housing or a poor living environment.

About the author

Jockin Arputham has worked for more than 40 years in India’s slums, building representative organisations to partner with governments and international agencies for the betterment of urban living. He is president of National Slum Dwellers Federation, which he founded in the 1970s, and of Slum Dwellers International, which networks slum dwellers from over 20 countries. Arputham received the Ramon

He was awarded the Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding in 2000.

Tackling the Challenge of Sanitation in South Africa


Cross posted from the SA SDI Alliance website

By Ava Rose Hoffman (on behalf of CORC)

In this blog, Mzwanele Zulu—National Informal Settlement Network (ISN) Coordinator—discusses the process of identifying community priorities and engaging with local government to construct the Midrand Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Facility, which will become operational in the coming weeks.

Midrand is an informal settlement located in northwestern Port Elizabeth, situated in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality. The settlement was formed around 2007-2008, when backyarders and shack dwellers from nearby areas began squatting on the land—an open space owned by the municipality. Mzwanele describes that the situation in Midrand was “very destitute” given the high unemployment and crime rates. Nonetheless, Midrand’s favourable location provided an excellent opportunity for carrying out in-situ upgrading. Mzwanele describes:

They are close to transport and they are not far from the city as well. People do not want to go to the peripheries—they’re always being chased away from the cities. They want to be developed where they are so they are able to access employment opportunities and walk to workplaces and places that they’re looking for jobs. So we’re hoping that working closely with the municipality will create an opportunity for them to remain there.

When the ISN began engaging with Midrand, the settlement was not recognised on the Municipality’s informal settlement database and as such, the settlement completely lacked basic public services. At that point in time, in the absence of services provided by the Municipality, the ISN began mobilising the community. Mzwanele describes:

When we identified the settlement, there was no water, no electricity, no toilet facilities… When we started, I think 7 years ago, engaging with Midrand and with other communities in the Eastern Cape Region—in particular in Nelson Mandela Metro—we started talking about the challenges that communities are facing… We believe in people helping themselves. We started capacitating leaders to engage and talk about their challenges, and of course we did enumerations and profiled the settlement.

Community members map the settlement layout


Community members number shacks, one phrase of the enumeration process

Through the profiling and enumeration process in Midrand, it became clear that the principal challenge facing the settlement was sanitation. Bringing the WaSH facility to fruition began with the process of savings—community contributions that are applied toward the total cost of the project. Mzwanele recounts:

The community was very receptive to the idea of saving—they are continuously saving. They are seeing value in what we are doing through this process. They started saving and it took about four to five years to be able to get a buy-in from the municipality. We’ve been engaging with the municipality—trying to convince them to assist us in working together and ensuring that these people will be improving their conditions with the support of the Municipality. So, that’s how this process unfolded in the beginning.

During these early stages of engagement between the community, the ISN and the Municipality, Mzwanele describes that “the Municipality was shocked to hear about Midrand—they didn’t know about it—and they started by putting one tap for the community.” The installation of the water tap, connected to the public municipal system, marked significant progress in alerting the Municipality about Midrand’s needs and getting local government “on board” with the upgrading process. After the installation of the water tap, replacing bucket and pit toilets with proper flush toilets constituted the next item on the community’s upgrading agenda.As such, the design for the WaSH facility was developed by the community with technical support from iKhayalami building team who project managed the building of the facility by working closely with community members who were employed through the project and who also received training from the iKhayalami team. The first phase was funded by the SHARE project through iKhayalami; the second phase will be funded by the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC). The facility consists of ten flush toilets, wash basin facilities for doing laundry, and a caretaker room where an upkeep employee will store amenities such as soap and toilet paper. Mzwanele describes that for the time being, the facility does not include showers: “This is setting a precedent. If in the future, we need to do it, we can consider putting in showers as well.”

The facility will become operational in a few weeks once the municipality finalises issues relating to supply chain management and connects the facility to the bulk electricity and waste systems. Mzwanele describes that engaging with Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Municipality was never a problem, but in the past, implementing projects proved to be a difficult and often lengthy process: “They were always promising that things would happen, but they were taking a long time.” The finalization of the facility—which will significantly improve sanitation conditions in Midrand—marks a breakthrough in the relationship between the community of Midrand, the ISN, and the Municipality. Mzwanele describes:

We started this process not knowing if either the mayor or senior officials of the Municipality would be happy with the kind of approach that we are doing with the community. But as we speak, we are working towards signing a Memorandum of Understanding [with the Municipality]. It’s not an easy thing—it takes time—and of course, the politicisation of our program is one of the key challenges that we are facing. Some of the people in the Municipality were doubting us, as the Alliance—that we perhaps belonged to a political party. But in the end, everyone understood that we are just helping those that are ready to help ourselves and that we are trying to organise and prepare communities that are ready for upgrading and development.

Mzwanele suggests that the implementation of the Midrand WaSH facility has paved the way for scaling up in-situ upgrading throughout the municipality and beyond, in other municipalities—however, change must be achieved incrementally, beginning at the community level:

At the moment, our key objective is to set a precedent with this one project so that they are able to see that we are not just talking. We are having some things on the ground that are happening so they can be able to see the improvement of services being done at the community level. Because if these people are able to use flush toilets, then of course, we’ll be talking about electrification of these settlements and other services that are required for the community. The other challenge that the community is facing—it’s a common problem nationally, of course: housing. They are living in wooden structures, plastic structures, but what else can they do? Whilst they are waiting for housing from government, they are living there. They’ve proposed with us that they would like to re-block their settlement. That means that they need to improve their top structures. Working very closely with the municipality, we will be able to bring more innovation.

The nearly complete Midrand WaSH Facility


Bolivian Federation Partnership with Harvard University


On January 6, 2016 18 students from Refresh Bolivia – an initiative of Harvard University – arrived in Bolivia.  The main objective of the students is to facilitate access to safe water as a key strategy for promoting better health. Because this objective aligns closely to the members of the Bolivian Federation, the partnership was born and has been active for three years. Each year the partnership has strengthened and the impacts for the community grown.

This year the partnership produced seven new bathrooms and three were upgraded in 4 de Marzo, an informal settlement of District 8 in Cochabamba. There are two federation saving groups in the area, but the projects were supported by the entire “Cities Weaving” Federation as well as the support NGO Red de Acción Comunitaria.

Following the engagements with a graduate engineer who had accompanied the group, it was proposed that a pilot project be developed to test composting toilets. These toilets, it was revealed, require far less water than conventional toilets. The community was pleased with the innovation which will help them to reduce costs and achieve greater coverage in the coming year.

Beyond construction, the students and the federation held eight health forums, bringing together all the savings groups of Cochabamba to learn about first aid, maternal health, good hygiene and water management.

The Bolivian Federation is taking vital steps toward developing the capacity to play a central role in urban development in the country. It is learning to organise and forge partnerships, to develop affordable in situ upgrading solutions, and to bring these efforts to the attention of government in order to shift its perception of the role of civil society.







Building EcoSan toilets in Blantyre, Malawi


By Mariana Gallo and the Malawi Homeless People’s Federation


The sanitation challenges that Blantyre currently faces are complex with limited affordable options for informal residents to choose from. No sewerage treatment or disposal services, poor access to water, and a lack of space all characterise the cities’ slums.

The Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) and the Malawian Federation have been supporting informal communities to access Ecological Sanitation (dry composting) toilets since 2005 with approximately 800 toilets serving 14,400 people having been built to date. EcoSan toilets started out as part of the housing process pursued by Federation savings groups but, over time, their provision has become a stand-alone investment in settlement upgrading.  Once the first “precedent” toilets were constructed, the benefits were realised by many and demand among the Federation grew. Currently, sanitation is a key aspect of the Blantyre Alliance’s settlement upgrading efforts. Community-led data collection shows the gaps that exist between the number of residents and the number of toilets in a settlement. Profiles indicate that in many of Blantyre’s slum settlements toilets are shared by up to 10 families (approximately 60 people), stressing the urgency for affordable and practical solutions.


The demand for EcoSan sanitation has grown over the years due to a number of advantages in comparison to more traditional approaches to sanitation (e.g. simple or improved pit latrines):

  • The capacity to save space/land: Unlike pit latrines, there is no need to build a new toilet once the EcoSan is full, as it can be easily emptied by the user. The challenges of emptying traditional pit latrines (high costs and unavailability of the service) mean that many people have no choice but to cover the latrine when full and dig a new one. This has both negative environmental consequences (e.g. groundwater infiltration) and spatial consequences.
  • Saving money: The humanure harvested from the toilets can be used as fertilizer for garden and crops. This saves money for the household, who no longer need to incur the cost of buying fertilizer. On average, the cost of buying fertilizer is around 17.000 Malawian Kwacha (29 USD) for one 50kg bag. Most people would use four bags in one farming season (one year), for one acre of land.
  • Generating income: In some cases EcoSan users have been able to sell the harvested humanure to local farmers or companies and generate additional income for the family. The following figures are tentative but a 50kg bag of humanure can be sold for up to 2500 Mk (4 USD). In six months, a household produces a minimum of 300 kg (six bags) of humanure. If all sold, this could provide an income of up to 48 USD in one year. Blantyre EcoSan users have, in the past, sold humanure to the City Council for landscaping initiatives across the city, for example. There is a demand of the product from private buyers and companies that currently remains unmet due to low production and gaps in the market chain. Unfortunately, not all EcoSan toilet users are able to take advantage of this – the estimates show that currently only 20% of EcoSan users using or selling the humanure, a figure that varies on the area and according to the availability of agriculture land or available markets. Further research on the use of humanure is required, as well as further dissemination of information regarding the advantages of this resource. The context is also playing a key role: currently, the national government is cutting subsidies, making it more difficult for the poor to access subsidised fertilizer, which has meant an ongoing increase in households using or selling
  • Status symbol and prestige: The smart design of the EcoSan toilet is a source of pride for owners and this status symbol encourages others to invest in the technology. In addition, the toilets are odourless, creating a more pleasant home environment – a further source of pride.
  • Durability and safety: EcoSan toilets have proven to be able to withstand disasters as demonstrated during the heavy rains and floods that hit Blantyre in January 2015. Many pit latrines collapsed or were filled with water, however only a single EcoSan toilet was reported to have suffered damage. This incident has further improved the reputation and increased the demand for EcoSan sanitation in the affected areas.
  • Water efficient: EcoSan toilets only require a small amount of water for use and maintenance and are therefore sought after in areas with poor water supply (which is the case in most of Blantyre). Many informal residents use water from shallow wells and boreholes and since EcoSan, unlike traditional latrines, cause hardly any groundwater infiltration or pollution they are considered to be safer, more environmentally-friendly options.


Including all community members

At first, toilet loans and technical support were only offered to Federation members – accessed and managed through savings schemes. After a number of years, and subsequent to internal discussions, EcoSan sanitation loans were made available to non-Federation members. This change was motivated by an increased interest in the technology by the wider community and recognition that scaling up must imply working beyond the Federation as the whole community, and not just Federation members, face sanitation challenges. An example of one such challenge was the cholera outbreak of January 2015 that affected entire communities. The toilets built to date have been spread across low-income areas in Blantyre with greater uptake in areas with rocky ground where traditional latrines have been difficult and expensive to build. Using data from enumeration reports, the density of EcoSan provision ranges from between 2 in 10 households in some areas to 6 in 10 households in others.

The process of including non-Federation members required a focus on the mobilisation of entire communities. In Blantyre, EcoSan toilet provision has taken a central place in slum upgrading strategies. The slum upgrading work is undertaken in close collaboration with traditional leaders, who play an important role in vouching for individuals to receive sanitation loans, managing various meetings and overseeing any issues that arise around repayment.  Drawing traditional leaders into the process has proved effective especially when working with non-Federation members and loan repayments rates have improved.  Repayment rates have varied between 45% and 87% over time and are often affected by variables such as whether it is a lean period or harvest time. As noted, institutional shifts in the methods deployed by the Federation have also affected repayments (e.g. a 5% commission for loan collectors has recently been introduced. But before this can be implemented more widely, more questions on costs need to be answered). The highest effectiveness was demonstrated when Federation teams worked closely with technical projects teams. However, over time this approach has not been sustained and repayments have dropped.



The current cost of a complete EcoSan toilet (toilet and bathroom) is 150,000 MK (around 272 USD). Families are required to make an initial payment of 10% (15.000MK) and the rest over one year period (with interest). These costs can be unaffordable for many of the poorest residents of informal settlements in Blantyre. In addition, the burden has been on landlords to invest in the toilet, with tenants having to push for the service. In the cases when landlords have invested, in general, rents have not increased as in Malawi it is the landlord’s responsibility to provide a toilet for tenants – a cost incurred whether the investment is EcoSan or a traditional pit latrine.

Some advantages in terms of costs of the EcoSan toilets are:

  • A traditional latrine costs about half the price of an EcoSan toilet (75,000 MK or 136 US$) but it needs to be rebuilt after 2-3 years, while an EcoSan toilet can last for as long as 20 years. Thus cumulatively the EcoSan is a cheaper long-term investment.
  • As noted earlier in the blog, income can be generated through the sale of humanure.

Understanding that despite the above benefits long-term investments can be prohibitive for the poor, several measures have been put in place to make the toilets affordable. These include:

  • A reduction in the initial capital down payment for the toilet
  • Encouraging people to source local materials (such as sand and brick) and provide part of the labour required. This can, at most, halve the initial cost of the toilet.
  • Encouraging beneficiaries to start planning ahead of construction, sourcing materials little by little, and saving before construction commences.
  • The loan system, which comprises a 10% down payment and the rest paid over a year (with 4% monthly interest on the declining balance) helps people afford a sum that they could not otherwise afford. However, it is felt that this is still too high and alternatives models are being explored.
  • In order to afford repayments and cut interests costs, several families may take on a loan for a single toilet. Once the toilet is built and loan paid off (normally in 6 months as 3 families are now paying for a single loan) a second family can take a loan and build a toilet with the process repeating itself.

Whilst a lot has been achieved so far, the scale of the problem in Blantyre is huge and further efforts are needed to address improved sanitation for the poor. The construction of household EcoSan toilets is an ongoing process, with a revolving fund financing mechanism that covers the loans provided throughout time, and a demand that continues to grow. Six EcoSan public toilets have been constructed in market places in informal settlements, which look to release the pressure of the lack of sanitation facilities in those areas, and serve about 1,500 people that work and visit each market daily. These toilets are community-managed through a local committee and the small fee paid by customers (of 30mk or 0.05 USD, representing 3.6% of monthly income of someone on minimal wage) aims to ensure their maintenance and sustainability over time. Furthermore, a city-wide sanitation committee has been set up to oversee the functioning of all the public toilets and all local committees (to ensure appropriate management of the facilities). Furthermore, the city-wide committee is expected to engage in other initiatives related to city-wide sanitation in the near future. CCODE, the Federation, the City Council and traditional leaders are represented in the committee, ensuring close partnerships for better sanitation in the city.

Some of the issues delaying the progress in the provision of adequate sanitation are the lack of trained builders in this technology, which depends on the demand – which can be high with as many as 20 toilets on the waiting list. Constructing a toilet takes 1 week, and sometimes families have to wait up to 2 weeks to have their toilet built. Training is on-going to ensure there is a workforce available to address the existing demand. Funds required to finance the toilets as well as to fund further trainings and supervision could also boots the efforts and multiply impact, and these have been secured in the past through organisations such as the African Development Bank (ADB).

The provision of EcoSan is implemented as a joint venture with Blantyre City Council (BCC), deepening the relationship between the BCC and CCODE/Federation. The City Council provided support in terms of programme design, and in some cases it also provided land for public toilets. This has helped scaling up of the efforts in the southern region of the country, and set precedents that are now being implemented in other regions, as an essential component of a number of donor-funded projects. Furthermore, EcoSan toilets have been included in the national sanitation catalogue as an improved sanitation technology, an achievement that will enhance its replication.

A Lesson for All: Orangi Pilot Project Visits Tanzania Federation


Orangi Pilot Project is one of the most successful community-based upgrading projects in the world. Over 750,000 slum-based households in this Karachi neighbourhood have contributed directly to the material improvement of their sanitation situation. Through their sustained practical action they have forced the authorities to respond and the Orangi process is now being rolled out in other parts of Pakistan.

The SDI Secretariat has had links with OPP since 1991. When the Secretariat secured funds for a health and sanitation project they factored in direct interaction and horizontal learning between OPP and the participating Federations (Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe).

Given the challenges associated with travelling in Pakistan it was decided that OPP leadership would visit Tanzania instead and that other affiliates would also attend. The exchange programme took place between the 23rd and 30th August, 2015.   The participants from Orangi were  Salim Alimuddin Karimi (Director of OPP) and Javed Ali (community technical team)


OPP team outside the Federation offices in Vingunguti, Dar-es-Salaam


This report provides insights and analysis into Orangi Pilot Projects (OPP’s) exchange visit to Tanzania to assist with the social and technical development of a simplified sewerage project in Vingunguti settlement, Dar-es- Salaam. It was hoped that with OPP’s support the project could incorporate ideas that would allow it to scale up, affordably, to 1000 households. To date 42 houses have been connected and a detailed feasibility study is underway to determine the possibilities for expansion. The exchange, which took place between 23rd and 30th August and also included delegations from Kenya and Zimbabwe, was hence well timed in that the project is still in a formative phase with many dimensions of its scaling up yet to be decided on.

Insights and Analysis



The exchange clearly highlighted the single biggest challenge facing the project – the lack of an organized, saving federation in Vingunguti. During the exchange it emerged that the Federation in Vingunguti was very new and had not, as yet fully grasped the SDI rituals. As Joe Muturi (member of the SDI management team who was present on the exchange) correctly pointed out, “ It is very difficult to mobilize a Federation through a project”. He emphasized how women’s savings collectives versed in the rituals of the Federation should be the basic project building block, meeting to outline their needs, learning slowly and then, when ready committing financially to supporting projects to improve their lives. This level of community cohesion and co-ordination, the most vital cog in the project continuum, is not present in Vingunguti. Rather it is the project, and what it promises to deliver, which is mobilizing a community that does not have a substantive history of savings and collective action. Unless serious investments are made in building the base, significant problems may emerge down the line.

Discussions during the exchange indicated an expectation that the project would be for free – in no small part related to the Tanzanian Alliances provision of the first system as a grant and not a loan (recent correspondence indicates that the Alliance is now requested loan repayments for the system but there may be challenges because of its high capital costs). Over the course of the exchange the team from OPP, supported by the SDI Management Committee, worked extremely hard to emphasis to the community that they needed to contribute financially towards the sewerage system. OPP illustrated this point by describing, in detail, how residents in each lane in Orangi had been able to pay for their entire primary sewerage infrastructure. By the final day of the exchange some progress had been made with community members indicating that they would be prepared to pay for infrastructure themselves.

An important social (and financial) aspect related to the project will be negotiations between structure owners and tenants. This relates not only to building collective action to implement and manage the project but also to negotiating project finance (see finance section). The Tanzanian alliance does have experience with mediating landlord/tenant relationships around shared sanitation – drawing in local councilors. These experiences should be applied to this project.

A further point that warrants debate is the ability of the Tanzanian federations leadership to mobilize the Vingunguti settlement. The Federation in Tanzania is not yet strong and it was noticeable during the exchange that the NGO often fills this space where the Federation should be.  It remains to be seen whether the Tanzanian Federation has the capacity to mobilize this community in order to conduct a project of this scale – and if they do what other priorities may suffer.


Discussing roles, responsibilities and finance with the Vingunguti Federation



i) Subsidies

A number of extensive discussions took place around financing during the exchange. As noted previously, the first phase of the project was a grant. The OPP team noted that providing a subsidy for phase 1 of the project and then expecting residents to finance phase 2 would be extremely difficult – as a precedent for non-payment for the system had already been set. While the Tanzanian Alliance now does require those who received the system in the first phase to repay the loan – this was done retrospectively. Also the conditions and terms of said loan repayment were not debated before construction began.

The team from OPP shared how the simplified sewerage system in Orangi was financed fully by the community, one lane at a time. It was strongly emphasized that the community felt ownership of the system because they had to pay for it – financially and through sweat equity. Construction would not begin before the community had saved all the necessary funds and those who refused to pay would be covered and then later charged double when they wished to connect to the system.  The Tanzanian Alliance were keen to follow the OPP approach by working land-by-lane to mobilize as many houses as possible along the proposed sewerage line (the more houses which connect the less the capital costs) and encouraging them to save collectively for the system. Lane-by-lane technical capacities can be built and new technical skills to reduce costs can then be deployed. Salim from OPP noted that the first lane was the hardest to organize – taking over 6 months for the community to resolve issues and come up with finance. Time and effort must be invested in working incrementally, lane-by-lane, in Vingunguti to build a model which is scalable and affordable.

The willingness of the community to contribute is the crux of the project’s financial challenge. In a grant atmosphere where other role-players (and even the Tanzanian Alliance) provide services for free changing attitudes towards payment will be absolutely vital. In addition SDI has already provided significant capital and technical support to the project (Project capital for the pilot through SHARE, funding for the preparation of a feasibility report and the funding of the OPP exchange). SDI cannot continue to fund a project in which the community does not contribute financially.

ii) Affordability

 There is little doubt that the existing model is not affordable for the poorest tenants in Vingunguti. For a variety of reasons (discussed in the technical analysis below) capital costs are much too high when compared to incomes from the preliminary findings of the feasibility report. Rebuilding dilapidated latrines to then connect to the system has added additional costs that increase the total.  Measures to reduce these costs are discussed in the technical section below.

Joseph Muturi, from the management Committee, upon discussions with the Tanzanian Federation, noted that most of those present at the meeting (and those who have accessed the system to date) are landlords who, he feels, can afford to pay to connect to the system. He noted that if landlords can be mobilized to pay, and costs come down due to technical interventions, then the system could be affordable.   He stressed that intensive negotiations between landlords and tenants need to take place to ensure that rents are not then increased to unaffordable levels to cover costs- leading to evictions. Issues of absentee landlords and those who do not wish to participate also need to be considered.

In the existing pilot not all the houses along the sewer line are connected to the system. Simply put more connections equal a division of costs between more households – with each household paying less. OPP and all the visiting delegations agreed that the Tanzanian Federation needs to work to mobilize as many households along the sewer lines as possible – and that their maps should show all the houses not just the houses connected.


The OPP team was able to provide the young, but enthusiastic CCI staff with a number of very practical suggestions to reduce the cost of the sewerage system. These are listed below and taken from the exchange report:

  • Pipe work: Tanzania has been using Class B PVS pipes while OPP use concrete pipes. The Tanzanian team needs to investigate concrete or cheaper pipes.
  • Manholes: Two to three connections can easily be connected to a manhole. For turns/twist elbow bends could be used. This reduces the cost of connecting each connection to a manhole. Also the manholes are made with C.C blocks, which require technical skills of Masonry and plastering on both sides. The cost of M.H casting may considerably be reduced by in-situ casting, using steel formwork.
  • T–Chamber: The use of the T-chamber will help both in controlling the blockages in the system by tracking any object/garbage before entering into the system.
  • Construction by using local material: The need to use the local available materials which are cheaper as well as encouraging beneficiaries to provide building material that they might have. The use of the community technicians and youth within the communities reduce the costs of constructions.
  • Attaching the toilets to wall of the house: Attaching the toilet to an existing wall of the house reduces costs.

During the exchange it was noted that the system would remain expensive if, for each connection, the existing latrine is rebuilt (through an existing programme of sanitation loans). A variety of technical suggestions were made by OPP as to how it would be possible to repair and rehabilitate, rather then rebuild, existing latrines so that they can be connected to the system. Ideas included concrete rings to re-enforce collapsing pits and focusing on fixing the slab only and not financing an elaborate and expensive superstructure. Once repaired latrines are connected to the system the social and technical expertise should exist within the community to incrementally upgrade toilets that’s are in poor condition.


Javed inspecting a manhole that forms part of the simplified sewerage system


The team tracing possible future sewerage lanes



The OPP exchange challenged the Tanzanian Alliances position that they had to consider access to tertiary sewerage treatment facilities before starting the construction of primary sewerage systems, lane-by-lane. OPP argued that if the community was able to fund and build their own system, and sewerage from that system leaked into the open (or flowed unregulated into the existing ponds in Vingunguti) it would provide a direct challenge to government to link the system to secondary and trunk sewers. This type of practical action would challenge authorities to act, rather then the common approach in which communities sit back and expect services to be delivered.

Given the previous commitment of authorities to fund 500 of the 1000 connections the Tanzanian Alliance needs to make sure government is 1) reminded of this commitment and 2) informed at as many levels as possible about the project (A precise synopsis of the feasibility document /project plan should be developed to do so) 3) Begin to think through the necessary institutional tapestry that will enable the project to scale up.

In addition CCI needs to retain and foster the connection with OPP – through correspondence and perhaps at a later stage exchanges.


The wastewater ponds that border Vingunguti


Discussing the Sanitation Challenges faced by Vingunguti


An attempt has been made to order these in terms of current priorities. However it is expected that many actions will run concurrently:

  1. Mobilization and building a strong Federation base, in the settlement (through savings) should be the number one priority in Vingunguti. The Tanzanian Federation may not be strong enough to do this alone and the LME team should monitor progress in conjunction with the Management Committee, providing support when needed.
  1. SDI should not invest any more capital into the project at this time. Based on recommendation number 1, the community needs to demonstrate a willingness to make a significant financial contribution to the project. It is simply not sustainable or scalable for SDI to keep investing funds in Vingunguti until the community takes ownership of the project.
  1. The OPP model of working lane-by-lane should be followed, in context, to allow for manageable project units to develop. Even if it takes 6 months to a year the community process needs to develop to a point where a single lane in Vingunguti is saving, mobilized and ready to install a technically affordable sewer system. Technical and social support needs to be provided to the Tanzanians to ensure they retain this focus.
  1. The Tanzanian Alliance needs to clarify issues of loan repayment around the project’s first phase as a priority. This needs to be negotiated retroactively but clearly articulated going forward. It is vital for the first recipients of the system to set an example by contributing financially towards the system.
  1. CCI’s technical team needs to follow up on OPP’s suggestions and report to the SDI projects team on progress – as well an pursue an active engagement with their OPP colleagues. At a later stage this may lead to an exchange for said professionals to OPP but this should not happen until it is clear that the community are ready to finance and drive the project.
  1. The Roles and Responsibilities for the project (listed below) as devised by all those on the exchange should become a guiding document that all parties refer to.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 3.34.05 PM

  1. The Feasibility Study that is being deveoped by the Tanzanians should be critically assessed with the above points in mind.

Communities Drive Progress in Slum Sanitation


By Diana Mitlin and Noah Schermbrucker

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make a clear commitment to universal sanitation. This is to be welcomed. But for the SDGs to be realized, they must be grounded in practical actions that can be replicated affordably, rapidly, and at scale.

The challenge is evident in the failure to achieve the sanitation targets outlined in the SDGs’ predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme report for 2015 tells us that the percentage of the African urban population with access to improved sanitation increased by just one percent between 1990 and 2015, from 39 to 40 percent.

In absolute terms this means that almost 100 million urban citizens did gain access to improved sanitation during this period – but it also means that 225 million urban sub-Saharan African are still in need.

For those living in the highest-density settlements, standards for universal sanitation are problematic. Present definitions of “improved” sanitation take no account of population densities and risks like water table contamination and the flooding of fecal sludge over pathways, yards, and playgrounds – obvious health risks that incur massive costs both locally and nationally.

In the face of such staggering needs, and existing development plans and programs which struggle to address them affordably and at scale, slum-dweller federations in the Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) network have been working with local governments to explore workable alternatives.

SDI’s slum dweller President Jockin Arputham has spent so much of his life committed to this issue that, as he says, “I’m known world over as ‘Toilet Man’. In South Africa, where it’s a stigma to say ‘toilet’, I made them talk about it. In the United Nations, I built a demonstration toilet in the UN plaza.”

Progress has been made. In Mumbai, a partnership between government and SDI’s Indian Alliance has residents managing toilet blocks in their communities. One thousand toilet blocks have been built by the Alliance, providing 20,000 seats and one million users – roughly half of those in need within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

In Blantyre, Malawi, both SDI members and the wider community have provided over 700 eco-sanitation units benefitting 2,300 households. Some 14,000 people (both landlords and tenants) share these facilities. Hundreds more households in Zambia and Zimbabwe have replicated this design, while in Namibia communities have saved, paid for, and installed their own sewerage pipes linking to trunk services.

In Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian SDI Alliance has been drawing on the experiences of the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, Pakistan, to fine-tune designs for a simplified sanitation system that is already providing facilities for approximately 100 households.

What have we learned? When community members refuse to accept the status quo and innovate new ways of organizing, sanitation provision can improve.

The Indian Alliance was told that community toilets were unworkable – they proved these critics wrong. When governments, especially local governments, are prepared to work with organized local communities, then new solutions can be found. Community exchanges can test and spread these solutions.

But financing is needed to scale up. Community members are willing and able to pay for sanitation, but they can only contribute so much – for low-income families, anything more than US$4 a month per household is unaffordable. In SDI’s experience, capital is needed for these infrastructure costs. The best option is subsidized financing, but where this is not available SDI groups have made sanitation investments using low-interest loans.

Sanitation also cannot be dealt with in isolation. For sanitation investments to be scaled effectively and efficiently, water provision, drainage, and improved land tenure security are all important.

Different solutions are needed in the diverse contexts apparent throughout the Global South. SDI groups organize themselves at the local level, gather information on the needs of slum dwellers, negotiate with local government, and design solutions that work in their context – always prioritizing the poorest members in a community.

The local communities that make up the SDI alliances in 34 nations across the Global South do not understand why professional development assistance agencies do not support their work.

In so many places, communities see development agencies implementing small sanitation projects that are never going to address the massive needs. They see projects captured by landlords because the local context was misunderstood; they see corrupt contractors inflating their invoices; and they see poor management of facilities that soon fall into disrepair.

What are the steps forward? A first step is implementing suitable monitoring systems to collect accurate baseline information in communities. SDI has information on the sanitation situation in over 6,000 informal settlements. In SDI’s experience, such information helps communities establish their priorities and helps them to build relationships with their local governments.

Importantly, community-gathered data consistently emphasizes the priority slum communities place on improving access to sanitation, in settlements from Mumbai to Accra.

In partnership with like-minded organizations and governments, SDI is working to help achieve the SDGs by generating scalable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable sanitation solutions for the world’s rapidly growing slum dweller population. We believe that community involvement in the design, implementation, management, and monitoring of this agenda is essential, and non-negotiable.