Lessons from Turkana on promoting sanitation in Kenya’s arid areas

Since 2014, Practical Action has been delivering water, sanitation and hygiene promotion services to communities in northern Kenya through its SWIFT project.

This is how a typical pit latrine built from local materials looks. Due to poor soil structure many of such latrines soon collapse.

So far we have worked in 9 locations of Turkana County reaching 160,000 women, men and children directly. The activities that have been undertaken include the drilling of boreholes, Installation of pumps, construction of shallow wells, rehabilitation of 10 dysfunctional shallow wells, upgrading of 6 piped water systems and the Installation 5 high capacity solar pumps.

Heavy rains and flash floods in Turkana wash away soil and damage structures such as latrines

As part of the project, the Kenya program was also expected to construct 275 latrines with an expected outcome of reducing the occurrences of open defecation. The locations, mainly on the outskirts of the major town (Lodwar), had over 90% occurrence of open defecation and only a handful of sanitation facilities.

The project faced a few challenges in 2016 with a number of the latrines collapsing due to the environment and condition of the soil in Turkana – loose soils that cause the collapse and exacerbated by disruptive weather such as heavy rain and flash flooding.

As the toilets in Turkana were constantly collapsing due to the weak soil structure. We came up with simple culverts to line the outer wall of the latrine

The collapse of the latrines meant a strategic shift in understanding the context and re-examining the technology needed to ensure that the latrines are sustainable and contextually appropriate for the arid and semi-arid areas of Northern Kenya.

The Kenya program has recently embarked on another leg of the project to reconstruct the latrines. The new technology will involve lining the pit latrines with culverts and a top concrete slab that would make the latrines resistant to the harsh climate and adaptable to the loose soil. In addition, the use of culverts means the latrines would be appropriate to the lifestyle of the predominantly pastoralist community and can be easily moved /relocated by the community if need be.

A community member digs the loose sandy soil to install a culvert that acts as the wall of the pit latrine

Due to the weak soil structure culverts have to be installed to ensure the walls of the latrines do not collapse

This concrete mould acts as the cover of the culvert and the base of the pit latrine

Construction has commenced in four locations in Turkana County with an anticipated finish of July. This project provides an opportunity for reflection and demonstrate appropriate sanitation technology for an arid climate and most importantly pastoralist communities who are in constant movement. Practical Action in Eastern Africa hopes that the technology employed and its success will generate learning, inspire others and create opportunities for further programming in waste management and the re-use/ recycle of faecal waste that hasn’t been considered before in the geographic area.

Leave a reply