Archive for February, 2010

Manchester United vs Aston Villa in Kibera slum

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by

Kibera Slum, Nairobi, 18:30 hours (approx), 28th February, 2009

There was a huge noise in this slum congested area, as Manchester United scored an equaliser. I never heard such a noise in Rugby or Leicester, UK, where I work and live. Perhaps Kibera slum has more supporters of Manchester United per unit area compared to any other place in the world.

We are sitting on the first floor of a communal toilet block and watching a television, which is running by a set of car batteries. Twenty youths are watching this match, and each paid Ksh 20 to watch this. This money will go the sanitation fund. Many other people are watching at different places in the slums. This sanitation block has six latrines, a point to sell water and a small office for the daily savings. Under the toilets, there is a bio-digester which produces gas. Each toilet user pays Ksh 2 per visit, Ksh 5 for a hot shower and Ksh 2 for a 20 litres can of water. I am visiting this project with Umande trust, a local NGO, run by one of the ex-staff of Practical Action. Is this scaling-up or may be a better quality scaling-up of what we are trying to promote.

Practical Action always promoted sanitation, not just as ‘toilets for only health benefits’. We have always seen sanitation bringing economic and social benefits – supported by technologies and innovative methods. It is really good to see that happening on the principles and values we have promoted and demonstrated.


Mansoor Ali
Still in Nairobi

It is raining in Nairobi. Are we all enjoying?

Saturday, February 27th, 2010 by

The time now is 21:00 hours, Saturday 27th of February, 2010. It has been raining for almost three hours. Rains in Nairobi are always awaited and welcomed, as it improves the water sources, wash the roads and polish the green and tall trees. A number of people, including me, are watching this beautiful rain from shades. Rain dropping on the hotel swimming pool and its lovely lights presents a lovely view.

However, for some reasons my mind is restricting me to enjoy this, it is taking me to those places where rain is an emergency and almost a mini disaster. This is almost half of the population of Nairobi, who live in slum areas. A total of 2.4 million people live in high-density slums, very close to each other, in areas where houses are made-up of temporary materials, tin roofs have holes in them, alleys are not more than 1m wide and electricity disappears after few drops of rain. A number of these areas are besides rivers and ponds, which overflow quickly, causing damage to houses and sometimes loss of lives. I am just wondering if everybody in Nairobi is enjoying the rain?

Is it good to feel this rain in different ways?

Mansoor Ali
In Nairobi

Fact: Currently more than 150 million in Africa live in slum areas in very poor conditions, without drainage, no clean water, poor sanitation, no electricity and no waste collection. Thousands of young professionals, such as architects, engineers and planners around the world are thinking, researching, writing and doing something to address this challenge. Practical Action, is always keen to listen from you what you feel and what you intend to do.

Influencing government policies on climate change adaptation

Friday, February 26th, 2010 by

This is the fifth full day of the conference on Community Based Adaptation in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and my head is full of the experiences that people have presented, and of the plans people have developed in small groups meeting late at night or over breakfast for working together on particular topics. I have agreed to coordinate a group looking at how to ensure that right from the local level, people whose livelihoods are being affected by climate change can be involved in decision making and budget allocation on adaptation. My colleagues are also getting involved – several of them in a group on sharing knowledge about technologies that help people adapt.

All five of us from Practical Action have now given presentations to the conference. Mohamed Siddig from Sudan, the only delegate from his country, gave a really brilliant talk this morning on our work under the Greening Darfur programme, showing how even with very low rainfall, people can have successful harvests and trees can thrive.

It is not often that field-based staff get the opportunity to travel internationally to meet colleagues doing similar work, and over lunch today it was great to hear my colleagues talking about information they plan to share. Besides our work at the local level, it is clear that in several countries we are having significant influence and involvement in government planning for coping with climate change.
This is so important, because ultimately if people are to adapt successfully to living with climate change, it will have to be government policies and planning that enable this to happen.

The conference will conclude tomorrow morning with a clear plan for the next steps on community level adaptation; this plan will be developed over dinner and later tonight by a small group including myself, based on ideas which many people have put forward. After that – it is back to work, and remembering to keep up the contacts and learning!

Is there a space for small scale service providers in improved sanitation?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by

a typical open drainage channel in the informal settlement of Kibera, KenyaIn slum areas of Nairobi, the population density is high and most of the residents are tenants. Houses do not have a separate toilet. So, people have various coping strategies, including open defecation and flying toilets. Those who could afford go to ‘pay per use’ toilets, run by small scale (informal sector) service providers. The charge is usually Ksh 5 to 3 (US $ 0.08) per visit. These toilets are not very popular with women and children.

Today, I had an interesting debate with some of my friends here. There is a growing feeling that these small scale service providers are not worth up-grading and need to be shut down. Improved facilities must be provided, which can charge the same fees. I liked the idea, but was concerned about the negative impact of new and improved toilets on the existing informal sector providers. We could not conclude the discussion, so need your assistance.

What do you think?

  • Do you have any experience of integrating small scale providers with the improved system?
  • Can they be rehabilitated in improved systems?
  • Can I expect some replies and engagement?

Please help with your brains!

Mansoor Ali, Nairobi, Kenya

Related pages: improved toilets | Video: Kibera toilets

Reports from Haiti now available

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by

Four EMMA studies from Haiti are now available.  They cover the market systems for staple food stuffs: beans and rice; and in the shelter sector: corrugated iron sheets and labour for re-construction.

The above reports are all .pdf documents.

Water and sanitation to urban poor

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by

clean water provision in MukuruIn Nairobi, today we have finished a two-day learning and sharing workshop on a project concerned with providing water and sanitation to urban poor, which was implemented in a slum area called Mukuru.

This slum represents one of the poorest urban slums in Africa, with very little access to services. This project will benefit 75,000 slum dwellers through better quality water and improved sanitation.

There is a strong recognition among water utilities in Nairobi that urban low-income people are an important and large group to provide with services. Urban poor have many abilities to organize themselves, provide labour and negotiate well with the external actors. They are willing to pay for the use of toilet facilities – Ksh 3 per visit and it is free for children. There is also constant attention on hygiene, especially washing hands after using the toilets. Now, the future challenge is to improve the local environment, with better drainage of wastewater and collection of solid waste.

Related pages: More on the project work in Mukuru | Urban infrastructure projects

The conference begins

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 by

Rachel Berger, Practical Action, addresses the conference on governance and community-based adaptation to climate change. Photo: Tallash Kantai/IISDToday the conference sessions began. After initial welcome speeches, I was the first presenter, on the issue of how to ensure that governments plan adaptation with, and for the benefit of, their most vulnerable communities. Other presenters in the session spoke on linked aspects of the institutions necessary to enable adaptation, and how to involve communities. It seemed to go down very well, and I have been asked to chair a discussion group with people who want to discuss the theme further.

In the afternoon, Bhatiya presented on experience in Sri Lanka in implementing a process of community planning, in a session on linking community based work with policy making, and he described how the successful experience of a couple of programmes of work have led to policy change in Sri Lanka, and even modification of the recently amended Disaster Management Act.

One of the great benefits of these conferences is the opportunity in coffee and meal breaks to talk to people about their work, and to share experiences. One of the people I met works on advocacy for equitable access to water in Tanzania – Water Witness International. Building people’s capacity to fight for their rights for development is going to very important for adaptation, and Practical Action will benefit from building alliances with organisations that are experienced in this area.

Climate change and environmental degradation

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 by

We got back from our field trip by 6 – just time for a quick shower and then off to another dinner, sponsored by WWF at a rather smart hotel on the coast!

The visit was worth the discomfort of the journeys, to see the rural landscape, and to meet the people of the coastal villages which are within the Saadani National Park – designated only a few years ago. The villagers are struggling, with changes that are attributable partly to changing climate, such as wind patterns, but probably more due to environmental degradation, such as cutting of the mangrove trees for charcoal in past decades. Loss of mangroves has led both to coastal erosion, leading to loss of people’s houses, and reduced fish catches; mangroves are the breeding grounds for prawns and many species of fish. A further major problem, whose causes are a bit harder to understand, is why the well water is now saline, rendering it far from ideal for domestic uses, and it has to be boiled for drinking – using even more fuelwood. These people were looking to government to help them – with new boats to enable them to access deep sea fish, and other options for earning a living.

(Besides our field visit, we were lucky enough to have time for a swim, and a ‘game drive’ in our rather rickety bus, over tracks definitely more suited to 4WD vehicles than minibus. We saw giraffes, wildebeest, hartebeest, baboons and warthogs, definitely the icing on the day’s cake!)

Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar

Sunday, February 21st, 2010 by

I travelled from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam yesterday morning early, and checked into the conference hotel – a vast place, but not that well run! Later in the day I met up with Mohamed Siddig from our field office in Darfur. Today, I went with a couple of other delegates for a day out in Zanzibar, travelling by ferry. The island has such a different feel from Tanzania – very Arab in its architecture, and though the old Stone town is run down, it is full of character. First impressions of Dar es Salaam is of greater poverty than Kenya, though people are extremely friendly and welcoming. This evening we all gathered together for the conference welcome dinner, and allocation to our different groups for the field visits that will take place over the coming 2 days. Guests included the Minister for Environment in Tanzania, Mrs Batilda Burian, and the Tanzanian climate change lead negotiator, Richard Muyungi, whom I have met a number of times at UNFCCC negotiations.

All of us from Practical Action have arrived safely – Mohamed Siddig from Sudan, Eric Kisiangani from Kenya, Douglas Gumbo from Zimbabwe and Bhattiya Kekulandala from Sri Lanka, whom I am meeting for the first time. There are five different field visits, and we are each in a different group; I can’t believe my good fortune – I have been put in the group going to visit coastal communities within the Saadani National Park. Only downside is – it is over 4 hours drive in a minibus!

The poor not only die young – they also suffer most

Sunday, February 21st, 2010 by

This year, I am completing 25 years working for the poor. My first assignment, as a fresh engineer in 1985, was to survey 80 remote villages in a low income country – villages where 100% of children go to madressahs and 100% of mothers deliver their babies at home. There were no schools, no hospitals, no electricity and no roads.

The government engineers were supposed to build water sources and sanitation services in those villages. This was funded by a UN organization and designed by highly-qualified professionals overseas. The work was supposed to be already completed and my task was to verify this and prepare a report. When I visited these villages, to my surprise not much work was completed and some which was completed was irrelevant to the needs of the poor. Remembering this, it is clear that the poor not only die young but they also suffer most.

The role of young engineers is often more complicated and beyond the physical planning and designs. Practical Action is keen to work with young professionals and aims to build their capacity in pro-poor engineering.

Dr Mansoor Ali
International Projects Manager, Practical Action

Is there a role for external technical support in the Community-Led Total Sanitation Approach? – paper delivered at the Annual Research Conference, Engineers Without Borders (EWB), London