Building Communal Sanitation in Uganda

09 December 2015

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This is the third in a series of eight blogs that highlight lessons from community-led sanitation practices and experiences from across SDI’s network and which exemplify our practice. The blogs will cover practical, social and financial aspects of sanitation provision for residents in low-income, primarily informal, settlements. There is no single solution that can address sanitation across the network. This series offers a “toolkit” of options that speak to a variety of contexts. This “toolkit” is grounded in the experiences and learning of the urban poor Federations which make up SDI’s network.

This blog describes the Ugandan Alliances experiences with designing, building and managing communal facilities across the country. There are no capital subsidies for sanitation in Uganda and the Alliance has attempted to build mixed-use facilities that recover some of their capital costs through usage charges. While full capital cost recovery is still some time away the units provide concrete examples of collective planning, construction, management and maintenance. They have also assisted in securing partnerships with local government and leveraging tangible benefits (e.g. land) for scaling up sanitation provision across Uganda.

By Hellen Nyamweru, Silver Michael Owere and the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda

In Uganda, 32 million people do not have access to adequate sanitation. Over 8,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in Uganda (Water Aid 2015). In numerous enumeration, profiling and mapping exercises conducted in Uganda by the SDI alliance, sanitation “gaps” characterize informal settlements. A recent slum enumeration in Bwaise, Mayinja zone for instance revealed that approximately 220 persons lacked a location to ease themselves and most of the toilets in the area were either full, out of service or in very bad state emitting a foul smell. People ease themselves in buckets and pour out the waste in open drainages at night. The lack or inadequacy of an excreta disposal system is the main cause of diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid in the slums. UNDESA (2014) statistics indicate that about 2.5 billion people still lack improved sanitation and that 1.1 billion people still practice open defecation, (15% of the world population), the highest of this number being in sub-Saharan Africa. Sanitation should be made a global development priority.

The Ugandan SDI Alliance [National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda(NSDFU) and the support NGO-Actogether] recognise the seriousness of these facts and have been at the forefront of advocating for improved sanitation in the informal settlements of Uganda, adopting a sanitation strategy that provides improved, simple and affordable sanitation to urban poor communities. The Alliance shares a deep conviction that every human being should have access to basic sanitation in order to live a dignified life.

The Ugandan Alliance has constructed 18 Federation operated toilets in Mbale and Jinja-(Eastern Uganda), Mbarara and Kabale (Western Uganda) and in Rubaga, Kampala Central, Nakawa, Makindye and Kawempe (the five divisions of Kampala city). There are two typologies of toilet. The first category consists of two storeyed sanitation units containing toilet stances and bathrooms on the ground floor and a community hall on top floor. The structure also contains a water tank and a tap. The second category is water borne toilets with a compact digesting chamber that is filled with worms that naturally digest the waste. The toilets use a small amount of water, which is flushed before being directed to the digester.

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Photo 1: Kisenyi sanitation unit. This is the biggest sanitation unit in Uganda with 13 stances (5 for men, 8 for women), one for the physically disabled, 4 for children, and a urinal. The unit also consists of a caretaker’s house, a water point, a community hall and resource centre, which doubles as an office of the Federation.

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Figure 1: Uganda federation projects

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Photo 2: Mbarara sanitation unit-Western Uganda

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Photo 3: Mbale sanitation unit-Eastern Uganda

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Photo 4: Kalimali sanitation unit -Kampala

From project inception regional Federation teams led the design, planning and construction of toilets with the guidance of the ACTogether technical arm and national NSDFU leadership.

The approach is demand-driven where communities realize the sanitation challenge and in turn initiate talks and negotiations to change the status quo. Community led approaches mean that investments are likely to be maintained and assists in ensuring that other issues are also addressed. Alliance sanitation goes beyond providing units and takes a holistic approach which includes improving people’s uptake of toilets.  NSDFU sells clean water at many toilets improving community hygiene and cutting down the distances many people have to walk to access water. Water is sold at UGX 100 per 20 litre jerry can – an affordable rate decided upon through community discussions and engagement. Federation members usually lobby the National Water and Sewerage Company (NWSCO) for a public meter as opposed to a domestic or commercial water point so as to benefit from reduced charges.  Domestic and commercial meters attract high charges because they are considered to be for private consumption. Toilet managers have to demonstrate that they will be providing water to persons in the community who live under water “stressed” conditions.  On average a family uses a maximum of three jerry cans per day, though this might rise to five or six jerry cans when they have to wash clothes and clean the house. During rainy seasons, community members collect rain water, saving a shilling or two. In different perception surveys conducted by the Ugandan SDI Alliance, communities indicate that cases of water-borne diseases have been reduced in the areas where water is sold.

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Tanzania federation undertaking training on bio-fill toilets at the Jinja Training material centre

Lessons from the toilets

Sanitation facilities have become an Alliance best practice that has been taken up by community groups and partners working on providing sanitation in urban settings. Since the establishment of the Kisenyi sanitation unit in 2004, communities in the federation have asked their local governments to provide land where they can set up public sanitation facilities. These projects also serve as catalysts of community mobilization. People living in the informal settlements are attracted to join the cause of the federation based on these public services. In Mbale for instance, the sanitation unit not only dramatically improved the sanitation situation in the settlement of Mission Cell, where no facilities previously existed, but it convinced the municipal council to award the federation a number of further contracts for sanitation units in the second phase of the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) program, funded by the World Bank to improve living conditions in informal settlements. When communities witness such happenings in their settlements, they are drawn to join the federation movement.

The projects have also demonstrated a new model for communities to access and manage services, build their skills and capacity in construction, gain employment and generate income. During the development of these sanitation facilities, project recipient federation members appoint a project management committee in charge of construction and responsible for the management of the sanitation unit. On completion, the same committee appoints a management committee responsible for running their new project.

Project management committees are trained in toilet construction and are now skilled in this field. The toilet units also employ caretakers who receive an average of UGX 150,000 each month (see fig.4 toilet breakdown). This amount depends on the monthly collection/income from the unit. For instance, when the collection is low the caretaker’s allowance is reduced so as to accommodate other expenses incurred by the unit. The UGX 150,000 allowance is the ceiling for all Uganda federation projects.  Caretakers conduct the daily activities of keeping the unit clean and collecting the user fees.

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Figure 2:Project Management Committee-Construction phase

 

PROJECT MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE –MANAGEMENT PHASE

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Figure 3: Project Management Committee-management phase

Federating around the issues of improving sanitation has augmented the social capital of the communities in that the community takes a collective role in changing the status quo of their settlement. Members have learnt that unity and cooperation is very important in overcoming different challenges in their communities. Women are very active in sanitation meetings and make up the greatest number in the project management committees. They are committed to improving sanitation for themselves and their children. A good example is Mukama Wakisa saving group in Jinja, Walukuba West settlement. The group is made up of 53 women who wrote a proposal to the municipal council in Jinja seeking to be awarded a grant under the Community Upgrading Fund. After their proposal was evaluated they were awarded UGX 30,000,000 to construct a four stance toilet (2 for men, 2 for ladies), 1 shower room on either side, a store and an office for the caretaker.

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Walukuba West Toilet in Jinja

The Uganda alliance sanitation strategy is guided by the pillars of the federation, the most prominent being savings. The realization that UGX 100 saved daily can make a difference catalyzes the Federation movement. The federation uses savings to show commitment as well as their financial contribution to projects. They bank these savings in the local urban poor basket fund (known as SUUBI) and then approach the NGO for additional funding for a sanitation unit.

A good example is found in Mbale municipality where Mission Cell savings group purchased land worth UGX 5,000,000 from a community member. They then approached ACTogether to support the construction of a sanitation unit. ACTogether lobbied for additional funds (UGX 54,220,000) from SDI’s Urban Poor Fund International. The group was awarded a total of UGX 38,220,000 which they used to construct the ground floor that consists of eight stances (4 for men, 4 for women), 2 shower rooms on either side, 1 stance for the physically disabled, 1 store, a tank on the roof, and a community water stand pipe . The group is also contributing towards the completion of the second floor which will have a community hall. So far the group has paid a total of UGX 4,360,000 since July 2013. The unit began operations in June 2013

ACTogether Uganda receives many proposals from community members who desire to have toilet facilities in their settlements. These proposals have to be backed by a 20% contribution from the communities which they mobilize using their urban poor fund saving basket. The NGO mobilizes additional funding from a wide range of agencies including the Uganda government, development partners (e.g. World Bank, Cities Alliance), and private companies (e.g. Barefoot Solar, Bartle Bogle Hegarty).

The Ugandan Alliance’s sanitation intervention has served to demonstrate the capacity of the urban poor to the government and other development partners. It has exhibited the community’s ability to design projects, budget on available resources, negotiate for land, construct facilities, and craft ways of ensuring project longevity and sustainability. Communities are now equal partners – not passive beneficiaries – in development projects . In Jinja and Mbale for instance, the community has been engaged in municipal infrastructure upgrading programs including the construction of public sanitation units, waiting sheds, community drainage systems, street lights, and health centres.

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Toilets in Jinja constructed by the community using TSUPU funds 

Several sanitation projects have been set up on land provided by the government and for which building commencement fees have been waived. Sanitation units in Kisenyi Mbarara, Kabale, Rubaga, and Kinawataka sit on land provided by the government. The government has also provided technical support in project design and supervision during construction to these toilets in the spirit of partnership and contributing to a common goal of improving community sanitation.

Affordability

The communities are involved from the initial stages of project conception, and toilet fees are agreed upon by a general consensus. Communities have had experiences where toilet facilities provided by local government for which no fee was charged have broken down because of poor maintenance. Some of these toilets have been taken up and privatised by landlords or Parish Development Chiefs only to charge exorbitant fees, which local residents could not afford. They therefore agree on a figure which considers their pocket while ensuring the continuity of the project. All federation toilet projects in Uganda charge UGX 200 for toilet use and UGX 500 for bathroom use. This cost is lower than other public facilities (e.g. the city centre and bus park) where the charge is UGX 300 for toilets. Showering at the bus park bathrooms costs UGX 1000. Children use federation facilities free of charge.

To further subsidize on this cost, federation members running these units are exploring the subscription system where a family subscribes for toilet usage on a monthly basis paying UGX 6,000. The subscription system ensures a guaranteed source of income for the unit that can be used to maintain the facility. The names of the family members are registered with the caretaker who then provides a subscription card to the household head. The card is used by the registered family for as many times as they wish till its expiry at the end of the month. While paying these amounts at any community sanitation facility, one has to consider that the federation has to pay water bills and electricity bills while at the same time ensuring a good ambience in the facility, keeping it clean (soap and disinfectants) and providing tissue paper to the users.

Mbarara Nyamityobora Toilet Breakdown

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Fig 4: Nyamityobora toilet breakdown,Mbarara

Experience on mini-block toilets

Over the years, the Uganda federation has been thinking on how to approach the issue of limited space in relation to setting up sanitation units. Space among other factors has been one of the major hindrances to the provision of sanitation units in slums considering congestion and density. Some parts of Kampala, such as Bwaise, have a high water table that makes toilet construction an extremely expensive venture.

Through peer-to-peer exchanges, the Ugandan SDI Alliance piloted a new toilet model that uses very little space. Bio-fill toilets are water borne with a compact digesting chamber that is filled with worms that naturally digest the waste. The toilet uses a small amount of water that is flushed before being directed to the digester. The worms naturally digest the waste, reducing mass and smell. The size is ideal for crowded slum areas and can be easily raised for places with high water tables. The pit only needs to be emptied after every two years. Each stance is designed to accommodate 20 users in a day. A public toilet with four stances can therefore accommodate a maximum of 80 long calls (defecation) per day and many more short calls. Surpassing this number would mean overloading the facility that can result in the toilet breaking down. Communities are sensitised against overloading their units to avoid such costs.

Because the toilet uses only a limited amount of water, necessary water can be collected from rain tanks and supplemented with purchased water during the dry seasons, reducing maintenance costs and eliminating the cost of water and sewerage connections and bills. Water is diverted into a soak pit where it is safely filtered before draining into the ground. When the pit fills digested waste is safe for manual removal and can easily be processed to become high quality fertiliser. To implement this new technology, the engineer at ACTogether worked with an international intern from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)  to develop sanitation prototypes to be used by the communities.

1 stance biofill = $1000 (2.5 millions) 1 stance with double pit = $1200 (3 millions)
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 2 stance biofill system = $1000 (5 millions) 4 stance and 2 shower rooms biofill public toilet =$6400 (16 millions)

Four models of toilet are currently available:

  • 1 stance biofill toilet (uses worms to digest the fecal matter)
  • 2 stances with a double pit (fitted with two septic tanks)
  • 2 stance bio-fill toilet (uses worms to digest fecal matter)
  • 4 stances public toilet and 2 shower rooms (this can either be fitted with a septic tank or bio-fill technology-worms- depending on the population of the settlement. .

The double pit is advantageous in that one side of the toilet can be closed to allow decomposition. Once the manure is removed and sold that side of the toilet can be used. This rotation ensures that the facility can be used constantly.

Bio-fill units are provided to communities through a loan arrangement and require a federation savings group to deposit 20% of the total cost as a commitment fee before the construction of the unit can start. The beneficiaries then have to repay the loan in full in a matter of years depending on the type of unit. Repayment periods range between 1 and 4 years depending on the unit. In most cases, the toilet proposals are made by families saving locally. Landlords also apply for the loan and spread the cost across tenants’ monthly rentals. Once the loan has been paid to full balance the individual or the group owns the facility. Using the innovative technology of pre-cast panels, these toilets can be disassembled in case the owner or the group is relocated or in unfortunate circumstances where there are evictions. The repayments from these units are used to scale up the toilet provision process in other regions.

The alliance is set to popularize these units by spreading the idea to landlords in all of Kampala’s informal settlements. They are suitable in circumstances where there is little space and a need for limited water consumption. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), the governing authority in Kampala, has come down hard on landlords who rent units that do not make provision for toilets and bathrooms. They have put in place stringent measures that mean closure of the rental units unless they comply.  The Alliance wishes to capitalise on this and sell bio-fill toilets, thereby revolving monies in the Urban Poor Fund while at the same time increasing toilet coverage in the slums and in turn keeping diseases such as typhoid and dysentery at bay.

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Photos showing Kitunzi market bio-fill public toilet before and after upgrading

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Wakaliga toilet in Rubaga divisions showing the state of the toilet before upgrading and after

In a perception survey conducted by the Alliance late last year, communities reported improved hygiene and clean environment as key results from the sanitation intervention. Individual beneficiaries are also enjoying odorless, clean and easy to maintain toilets in their compounds. One beneficiary shared her joy in having the new unit and how she can now host visitors with confidence in her house unlike in the past.

“I would get embarrassed every time I hosted visitors because of the filthy smell around home that would come from my old toilet, a pit latrine that kept filling now and then. With this new toilet, I don’t have to worry about all that, you can’t even tell where the toilet is located, there is no bad smell and many people are asking me where I got this toilet”

Impact and Policy

At the national level, ACTogether and NSDFU are members of the Uganda National Solid Waste Strategy committee steered by the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development which focuses on how municipalities can manage solid waste. Presently, municipalities are preparing individual solid waste plans to feed into the National Strategy.

The government is obliged to find solutions for ensuring access to water and sanitation for all but the high population and the pressure of urbanization makes this difficult. At best, the state has been able to supplement these efforts by providing land, funds and the technical support necessary to establish sanitation units.

Communities have proven their potential to manage capital projects. This has also attracted international recognition, a case in point being the awarding of funds to community groups in Jinja and Mbale to put up community toilets under the Cities Alliance/World Bank funded TSUPU program worth UGX 150,000,000. To date thirteen toilets have been built under this programme ( 8 in Jinja and 5 in Mbale)

The Ugandan Alliance believes the journey towards adequate sanitation and water is still long but we take pride in being active change agents on this agenda. Community services provided by the federation allow those who cannot access these facilities to access sanitation and water through their own means, a clear demonstration of active citizenship.