Championing sanitation in Kisumu

On the outskirts of Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu are rusty shacks that dot the landscape. This is Nyalenda settlement, an informal dwelling of at least 60,000 residents (as per the 2009 national population census). Nyalenda is the second largest informal settlement in Kisumu, after Manyatta, and is situated to the south of the Central Business District (CBD). Nyalenda consists of two separate settlements, Nyalenda A and B. Nyalenda A is subdivided into four units (Dago, Kanyakwar, Central and Western A), while Nyalenda B features five smaller units (Got Owak, Kilo, Nanga, Dunga and Western).

An estimated 60 percent of Kisumu’s population lives in informal settlements and this population is rapidly expanding with the ever increasing rural urban migration, where rural communities move to the towns and cities in search of jobs and better livelihoods. Many households in the city’s informal settlements do not have adequate access to such basic services as water and sanitation, with as many as 100 people sharing a single toilet.

It is this great need of Kisumu’s over 200,000 residents that prompted Practical Action to embark on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) initiatives within the city’s informal settlements. For over a decade, Practical Action has been working to improve the living conditions of urban poor residents through increased access to basic services such as adequate water and sanitation facilities, functional storm water, effluent drainage and solid waste management.

A walk through Nyalenda provides a snapshot of what the residents here have to contend with. The congested tin roofed houses, large garbage heaps, and streams of sewage, are commonplace. One has to watch where they step as they walk through the villages as open defecation and ‘flying toilets’—the phenomena whereby residents relieve themselves in polythene bags, and then throw the bags outside on to streets, roofs and alleyways, is prevalent.

Practical Action has been assisting the residents of Nyalenda by providing piped water with the support of Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company (KIWASCO) as well as improving the level of sanitation through construction of toilets and pit latrines.

As a way of ensuring the residents fully participate in the overall improvement of the informal settlement they live in, Practical Action and its partner Kisumu Urban Apostolate Programmes (KUAP) in 2008 formed the Nyalenda A Neighbourhood Association that covers the villages of Dago, Kanyakwar, Central and Western A.

Christopher Ogla at the door of an improved latrine in Nyalenda, Kisumu

More significantly, Practical Action piloted Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) in this settlement. CLTS is an innovative and widely utilized methodology for mobilizing communities to completely eliminate open defecation (OD). Communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation (OD) and take their own action to become ODF (open defecation free). One of the CLTS successes has been Dago village within Nyalenda A. This village’s latrine coverage stood at 54% nine months ago, but once Practical Action and KUAP with the help of the neighbourhood association as well as the community health volunteers (CHVs) and public health officers (PHOs) stepped in and introduced the CLTS concept, Dago is now well on its way to becoming ODF as latrine coverage currently stands at 99%.

This modest success of achieving ODF status for one of the villages in Kisumu’s informal settlements demonstrates that if concerted efforts are put in place to improve sanitation through proper fecal disposal and proper hygiene, the spread of such waterborne diseases as diarrhea and cholera, particularly among children will be a thing of the past, and Kisumu can embark on a journey to see it free from open defecation which would herald a massive improvement of the health of its residents.

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