Launch of Public Toilets in Blantyre, Malawi: Building a Citywide Sanitation Strategy

Written by CCODE

On Friday 22nd May, 2015, the normally busy market in Ndirande was even busier than usual. This time, there was a reason to celebrate: local authorities, Councillors from different areas, Traditional Authorities, community leaders and community members came together to officially launch the five new public toilets that have been recently constructed in market places in different informal settlements across Blantyre.

The toilets have been built by the Malawi Alliance as part of the Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity (SHARE) project, which aims to test an approach to pro-poor citywide sanitation strategies driven by communities and supported by public authorities. One of the challenges that communities identified during the community-driven research stage of the project was the problem of public sanitation in the informal settlements. It is against this background that CCODE and the Federation has facilitated the construction of five public paying toilets at market places in the settlements of Ndirande (2), Manase, Nancholi, and Likotima.

The public toilets have two main features that make them unique:

1) They have been constructed with the EcoSan technology – which means they require little water for their maintenance (something that is scarce, especially in high density areas like Ndirande) and the waste can be harvested as humanure – a safe, nutrient-rich compost manure that can be utilised as fertilizer to improve crops.

2) They will be paid toilets – ensuring their sustainability in the long term. People will pay a small fee for using the toilets, which will ensure their maintenance and cleanliness. A percentage of the profits obtained from the toilets will go towards the repayment of the facilities, and the majority will remain in the community for community-led projects. Local and City-Wide Sanitation committees have been created to oversee the management of the system, which include members of the City Council, Traditional Authorities, community leaders and Federation members.

The new toilets will benefit the communities in many way: not only they provide a safe sanitation option for crowded areas (and comfort for those who reside of visit the areas), but also will give a sense of pride and a small profit to be put into the most pressing needs of the community. Furthermore, the involvement and commitment of the City Council in a community-led process of improving the living conditions of slums sets an important precedent for the future.

New Options Needed for Improved Access to Sanitation in African Cities


By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat & Diana Mitlin, International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED)

SDI Federations in Southern Africa face acute sanitation needs.  Recent surveys in informal settlements in four cities highlight the problems. In one of Kitwe’s (Zambia), informal settlements 77 per cent of the population was using unimproved pit latrines. In a similar area in Blantyre (Malawi), 91 per cent of residents used unimproved pit latrines and 26 per cent did not have access to a toilet. In Chinhoyi (Zimbabwe) in one peripheral settlement 39 per cent of residents used the bush and 56 per cent used pit latrines. And in Dar-es-Salaam, a survey in six informal settlements found that 65 per cent of residents were using traditional pit latrines. Federation members have been innovating wherever possible, seeking affordable solutions that have a chance of addressing such acute needs.  The difficulties of sanitation provision are exacerbated by erratic piped water supplies and/or costly water sold through private kiosks. Further difficulties are created by the significance of rented accommodation with tenants making up between 34 and 70 per cent of residents.  

Faced with these constraints, Federation members have been investing in eco-sanitation. The chosen model in three out of the four cities mentioned is a sky-loo with the raised toilet being more practical in areas of a high water table. In Dar es Salaam the preferred model is an improved pit latrine. The unit cost varies but is generally between USD 350 and USD 500 for a double chamber unit with a small area for bathing in addition to the toilet. Scarce and expensive water supplies make the eco-san unit even more attractive; and over time residents have found uses for the compost, either putting it on their own crops or selling it locally.

There are multiple pressures that make these individual private sanitation choices attractive.  The technologies are now understood and easily replicated. Local builders have developed the skills needed and Federation members have even been confident enough to use eco-sanitation technologies in market toilet blocks in Malawi. While local government was initially skeptical about the merits of eco-sanitation (especially in Zimbabwe), over time the Federation has demonstrated the functionality of this solution. Tenants have been able to pressure their landlords and in at least some cases they have responded with a willingness to make the investments.  Such toilets can be accommodated within the existing layouts. This mean that there is no need to identify additional land for public toilet blocks, nor is there a need to re-block the settlement to enable sewers to be laid.  In a context in which state investment has been at best very limited and at worst non-existent, federations are being forced to treat sanitation as a private good.


However, as the scale of such private investments increases, SDI affiliates are asking themselves if this really makes sense. Consider the scale of need in a city like Kitwe, Zambia where approximately 60,000 families lack adequate sanitation. If each household has to invest in an eco-sanitation unit at a cost of USD 500, then the total cost is USD 30 million. It is not clear that this is going to be an effective use of resources, even irrespective of the difficulties of using on-site sanitation as settlements density increases with urbanization. 

Solutions such as household eco-san are popular with federations (especially considering the lack of water in many areas) because they are realizable in the face of substantive state neglect. The relatively high costs of capital investment are repaid by loans from the Federation’s loan funds. Landowners recoup the costs by passing them onto their tenants. In many of these cases, tenants are pressing for such investments as they are very keen to have access to improved facilities. But with limited incomes some tenants cannot afford to pay the cost of potential rent increases. 

Moreover, private on-site sanitation does not remind city authorities to fulfill their responsibilities in providing the necessary infrastructure to transport and treat waste. While on-site sanitation may be appropriate in low-density residential developments, the health risks are considerable as densities increase. Extraordinary as it sounds, the proportion of urban households with access to improved sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa did not change between 1990 and 2010 – remaining at 43 per cent.  Even more extraordinary is that this definition of “improved” takes no account of the suitability of various types of sanitation for high-density populations. 

Faced with such myopia and indifference on the part of the authorities, it is perhaps not surprising that federations have not taken on the immense tasks of altering the institutional arrangements for sanitation provision at the city scale. Furthermore if lack of sanitation provision is understood as a city governance failure the onus for provision to the poor should not be largely born by the poor themselves. There is an urgent need for new policies and programmes that begin to experiment with sanitation solutions that can be rolled out across the city, affordable to and appropriate for high-density low-income urban populations.

In the high-density settlements of Mumbai (India), alternatives have developed.  Through a sustained period of negotiation and action, totaling approximately 15 years, the Indian federation has been able to access government subsidies for the construction and management of communal facilities. Affordable subscription fees are charged and cover the management and maintenance costs of facilities.  These systems have been refined through a sustained learning and reflection process over more then a decade. Mistakes have been made, new options and technologies trialed and collective reflection and learning consistently supported.  Systems have evolved over time.

As African federations begin to consider new sanitation solutions more appropriate to use densities, exchanges play a vital role. The above Indian example of communal toilets with an affordable monthly fee for neighborhood residents of USD $ 1-2 per household, and the scale achieved in Mumbai, has been visited by a number of African federations who wish to explore communal options. While Indian densities differ significantly from many African cities, the community driven procurement, construction and management systems all offer valuable lessons; one of which is implementing systems that balance individual gain with a system for collective good. For example female federation contractors win the tenders for toilet construction but are blacklisted if standards are not maintained or the facility comes in over budget.  The Indian example has been taken up by Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe who have piloted a variety of market sanitation facilities that aim to provide an affordable service and recover costs. However this type of system has yet to be successfully trialed in a low-income high-density residential area.  The critical difference is that the provision of capital subsidies for toilet block construction in Mumbai makes universal sanitation access affordable. Without such subsidies, African federations face a considerable innovation challenge.


In a context in which both governments and development agencies are emphasizing the potential of on-site sanitation in African cities, thinking outside of existing paradigms holds the greatest promise for African federations anxious to address the need for universal access. The existing success with eco-sanitation, and an ability to negotiate for regulatory reforms that have legitimated this solution can be used as the “groundwork” for more ambitious investments.  The paucity of practical examples of urban sanitation systems that offer universal access in African contexts is a key challenge that can be taken up by federations.  Bold steps and new ideas should continue to be trialed and success measured not just in the ability to deliver functional facilities but also by introducing options that enable low-income households to access sanitation at a citywide scale. In summary, generating solutions for Africa’s urban sanitation crisis will require a focus on the organizations and relationships that enable communities and local governments alike to learn about technical alternatives.


SPARC’s Strategy for Community Toilet Block Construction and Maintenance in India


**Cross-posted from the SPARC CitywatchINDIA Blog**

Due to the lack of availability of toilets in many communities and the dissatisfaction that communities feel towards toilets provided by municipal corporations, SPARC has launched its own community toilet block initiative in partnership with local communities.

SPARC believes that community toilet blocks are the best way to confront the issue of unsatisfactory sanitation conditions in slums.  SPARC advocates for community toilets rather than individual toilets because the size of most slum dwellings means that in-house toilets tend to dominate the interior space of the home, leaving less space for living and sleeping.  Furthermore, the smell of in-house toilets overwhelms homes and requires constant maintenance and attention.  Alternatively, community toilets allow for more space in individual homes and less overall time spent on cleaning and maintenance of the toilet facility.

Toilet block construction projects facilitated by SPARC differ from the toilet blocks built by government municipal corporations in many ways.  Whereas municipal corporations will build new toilet blocks without consulting communities, SPARC ‘s toilet blocks utilize community participation at every level—in design, construction, and maintenance.  SPARC toilet blocks are always connected to a main sewer line with access to adequate water and electricity even if that means building both overhead and underground tanks, whereas municipality toilet blocks do not always come with legal grid connections and extra capacity.  SPARC toilet blocks ensure privacy by including separate entrances and areas for men and women, and a separate squatting area for children.  SPARC toilet blocks also always come with a care-taker, appointed from the community who is responsible for the facility.  This is an improvement upon the municipal corporation model that does not consider maintenance of the toilet block to be a priority and does not account for maintenance practices in pricing or construction.  Last of all SPARC sells monthly subscriptions to the community toilet block where monthly family passes cost Rs. 20-25 irrespective of the number of family members or the number of toilet uses.  This system, coupled with an additional income of 1 rupee per use paid by passers-by, ensures that the toilet block remains financially accessible to all families while also funding its own operation.

SPARC sees community toilet blocks not only as a product that has the capacity to improve sanitation in slums, but also as a process in which toilet block design and construction can serve to rally community members to mobilize, organize, collaborate, and negotiate.

SPARC’s model of toilet block construction, subscription, and maintenance seems to deliver the desperately-needed clean and safe waste disposal facilities that families seek, which in turn improves health, productivity, safety and quality of life within urban communities.   SPARC has constructed 358 community toilet blocks to date and has also secured contracts to build another 613 toilet blocks moving forward. This means 371450 individuals in 74,290 families currently have access to safe and clean toilet facilities, and the number of people impacted by the projects continues to rise as new contracts are secured.  SPARC’s community-built toilets work because they are affordable and well –maintained and because families have a stake in their creation, use, and maintenance.


A toilet in one of the most successful community toilet blocks in Dharavi, Mumbai. 

After a SPARC toilet block was constructed in her community, Sukubai Dengle from Kamgar Putala slum in Pune raved about the many improvements brought about by the new toilet block: “The two-storey toilet block has been built by SPARC and Mahila Milan. There is water in the toilets and no queues. There is no tension. And the toilets are so clean. I have a toilet in my house, but actually I like the new public toilets so much that I prefer to use them. Ever since the new toilets have been built, there is less sickness. The old toilets used to be so dirty that larvae used to come out of the chambers. The filth caused sickness. And children used to defecate in the open drains. Now there is such a good arrangement for children to squat that they go to the toilet happily. The new toilets have made a big difference in my settlement. I feel I live in a good area.”

Community toilet blocks are much more than structures or products; they are catalysts that enable community mobilization, coordination, empowerment, and improvement.  Proper sanitation in communities and safe and clean facilities for disposing of human waste have an impact that reaches beyond basic safety and health, instilling in poor communities a sense of ownership, commitment, and pride that will inspire further organization and growth.


Financing Sanitation Solutions in Uganda


By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat 

The relationship between development donor and recipient is by its very nature a tenuous and unsustainable one. The vagaries of donor funding are subject to sudden sea changes as international development agendas shift focuses and locations. The very fact that phrases such as “development trends” or “funding focus” exist in popular vernacular underscore the impermanence of donor finance. Ironically this occurs amidst a plethora of calls for sustainable projects, cities and resource use. How can projects be sustainable if the funds that support them will not always be available?

Mobilised and organised communities provide a long-term framework with the capacity to develop and maintain infrastructure developments. However if these projects are merely physical manifestations of donor finance they will not have the ability to go to scale across cities-they have to work within the formal market to revolve at least part of the finances invested. In some cases they may even yield a small profit for the urban poor who can re-invest money gained to further improve their areas. Successful models can be tracked, refined and shared across the SDI network taking into account local contexts and constraints. As such projects gain traction and momentum they become more attractive to funders who wish to maximize the limited resources they have to invest and perhaps even other urban poor federations who wish to invest in infrastructure projects and realize a return on these investments. 

The communal toilet projects in Nakawa and Rubaga market in Uganda are beginning to grapple with these pressing issues. In working towards a model that can pay for itself and realize a small profit, infrastructure is separated from the donor-recipient cycle and becomes self-sustainable and possibly, at a later stage, self perpetuating. This presents an opportunity for the tangible infrastructure results of a pro-poor community driven process to go to citywide scale. 

After providing a brief project background the main focus will be on the project finances and loan repayments for the Nakawa project that demonstrate the possibilities for an economically sustainable pro poor model toilet model.  Further community context will be given by a transcribed interview with Mdamba Umar from the Rubaga Market toilet Project Management Committee (PMC).

jinja jinja3


The Federation’s 2011 enumeration revealed that over 82.5% of slum residents in Jinja do not have access to a toilet on their compound, while 95% do not have access to clean water and sanitation. Rubaga settlement/market alone has a population of over 1000 people who visit the premise on the daily basis. Over the years the market had one pit latrine which filled up and was demolished. Currently, the settlement has no single toilet and thus the population either visits the neighborhood or use plastic bags. The federation has been working very closely with the Jinja municipal council to mobilize and organize the people to address this challenge through a number of interventions. Finally the Jinja municipal councilor has allocated a piece of land to put up sanitation (both toilet and shower facilities) and a community centre to support the affected families and the community. The project is being boosted by a contribution from the Municipality (land) & the Community is contributing labour and savings, and then SDI is contributing seed capital worth USD7843.


The tables below present a basic breakdown of the most important aspects of the project finance; the initial capital contributions, running costs, profits and projected timeframe for loan repayment. These form a key part of the project and are managed through the PMC and other relevant committees.


Contributions for Nakawa:


20% from community


20% from government


60% from SDI


Labor and savings

Technical support

Transportation vehicle (no fuel) and Land





Total = 13M (UGX)


Total = 13M(UGX)


Total sought = 40M   (UGX)


Projected running costs & profits for Nakawa:


Unit est. daily takings


Per month


Per Year


Running costs (maintenance, wages)


Balance (ie. minimum repayment pa)












Loan Terms and Repayments

In the interests of conservatism and in order to cater for unexpected expenses, the federation would like to spread the loan repayment over 6 years.

Projected loan period:  6 years

Interest rate: 8% pa

Loan amount: 37,440,000 UGX = $15, 600


year 1

year 2

year 3

year 4

year 5

year 6


Principal repayment
















Total payment
















Monthly contribution









Community Perspective:

Mdamba Umar: Toilet Project Management Committee (PMC)-Rubaga Market Toilet, Jinja

I am from the project managment committee of this sanitation project here in Rubaga market, Jinja region. We aquired land from Jinja municipal council free of charge due to our relationship with the council. Drawings were made by the community and these were approved.

We are constructing this toilet with one side for men and another for ladies and access for the disabled. Above the toilet we are going to put our community hall for Jinja. The municipal council promised to put a sanitation line. Now there is a temporary septic tank.

We have almost 1000 vendors at the market but only one toilet which was not enough-this was made clear by the enumeration. This toilet was a pit latrine but the new one will be a water-borne toilet that can accommodate more people and has a shower. We have used new forms of technology like T-beams and ladders which are cheaper than conventional options

Under the Project Management Committee (PMC) we have a procurement committee, the tender board. First we do material sourcing. We go to suppliers and ask for a formal invoice and quotation which we then compare at our local office.  We discuss what material we can purchase, at what price and who is supplying both quanity and quality.

The members of the community will pay for this service. Those who wish to use the urinals will pay 200 shillings and the shower will be 500 shillings. We agreed on these prices after analysing the enumeration information.

The main challenges we face are; funds come in installments so that delays the work, at times the council comes late to supervise the work,. The community has participated fully because they were interested in this project. We have built this modern toilet which is a pilot project not only for Jinja but for the whole of Uganda and all the work has been done by the community.


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

Construction in Nakawa

By Skye Dobson, SDI Secretariat 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slum Dweller Federation of Tanzania Leads Construction of Public Toilet

Toilet construction

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

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

History and Context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toilet construction Toilet construction

Technical Design and Construction:

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

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

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

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

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

Financing and Maintenance:

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

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

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

Starting with Sanitation: New Approaches to Slum Upgrading in Uganda

Sanitation unit in Jinja


**Cross-posted from the ACTogether Blog**

By Skye Dobson & Frederick Mugisha, SDI Secretariat & ACTogether Uganda

In Jinja, a municipality in Uganda’s South-East, slum dwellers are setting a precedent for upgrading and expanding sanitation infrastructure in the country’s slums. The Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation has pursued a number of community-centered steps for changing the status quo.

First, the Federation completed an enumeration in 2010 to determine need. The enumeration revealed 82.5% of Jinja slum residents do not have access to a toilet in their compound and 95% do not have access to water on their compound.  The Federation’s profiling activities revealed the vast majority of residents must purchase water from privately owned water points at an average of 100 shillings per jerrican. The profiling also revealed that many of the municipality’s sewer systems failed long ago, leaving residents no option but to relieve themselves in the bush or the lake.

The enumeration revealed especially vulnerable sections of Jinja. One section that was particularly underserved was Rubaga Market. The community in and around Rubaga market only had one dilapidated public toilet that was unsanitary and unsafe. Most residents preferred to go in a bush or walk to an adjacent settlement to find facilities. This reality contributes to the staggering number of children who die in Uganda from diarrhoeal diseases – some 26,000 under five each year.

Second, the Federation approached the local community and market authorities to discuss a solution. The Federation is acutely aware that sanitation projects undertaken by NGOs, governments, or CBOs alone are rarely sustained and/or scaled up and they thus seek to foster partnerships between local authorities and the community to ensure projects are targeted and maintained efficiently.

For its part, the Federation was prepared to contribute member savings to the project. This represents a key signifier of urban poor’s commitment to the project, desire for the project, and capacity to contribute financially toward slum upgrading. A particularly interesting component of this project is that the community contribution – some 15 million Ugandan Shillings (almost US$6,000) was sourced from member repayments on another Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation project – a housing project in Jinja. This exciting development highlights the scalability of Federation slum upgrading projects through revolving finance.

The municipality, impressed by the information collected by the Federation and the financial contribution it mobilized, agreed to supply land for the sanitation unit to be constructed. The contribution of the municipality is another key ingredient to scalable and sustainable slum upgrading.

One of the most exciting things about the project is that it could provide a working model for how communities and local authorities can work together to improve access to water and sanitation infrastructure. The Federation hopes that this will make it an attractive partner to private companies, donors, and municipal governments throughout the country.  The Federation has seen such a phenomenon in India, where the Indian Slum Dweller Federation works with partners to provide sanitation services to the urban poor at tremendous scale. The hope to emulate this success right here in Uganda.

Thirdly, the sanitation unit will provide much more than simply hygienic benefits. On the second floor of the unit, the Federation will construct a community hall and office space for the Federation. This space can be used to generate income that will help to repay the loans taken to complete the project and thereby start a new pool of funds that can be used for other upgrading initiatives. The Federation is confident in the success of the model, as it is based on a sanitation unit they constructed in Kampala in 2004. This unit has been maintained to impeccable standards by the Federation, still generates income, and it still being used for Federation meetings, activities, and business.

And lastly, the Federation is using innovative low-cost building technologies that are gaining increased recognition and promise to reduce the cost of slum upgrading in Uganda. Jinja Municipal Council was initially skeptical about the use of laadis and T-beams in the construction of multi-storied structures and this delayed the approval of building plans. However, after consultation and sensitization on the matter, the Council has come to appreciate the technology so much that it is now directing other groups to visit the site and learn more about the technology’s benefits.

Sanitation unit in Jinja

Slum Life: Improving Sanitation through Community Action

Toilets in Kibera

SDI Chair Sheela Patel pushes for co-production of sanitation solutions by and for urban slum neighborhoods in this podcast from World Water Week.

Hundreds of millions of people living in urban areas across the globe lack access to water and sanitation. This was the focus at World Water Week in Stockholm this August, where SDI Chair Sheela Patel, emphasized the need for slums to be recognized as neighborhoods already producing their own solutions, rather than simply nameless, faceless shackdwellers. In her podcast for SOAS Radio, Patel repeats her plea that the urban poor be engaged as co-producers of urban sanitation solutions, citing public toilets as being at the heart of effective slum upgrading. 

Patel elaborated on these issues and more in her article for The Global Herald, which you can find here