Nieuws - 4 november 2011

Getting rid of refuse in African slums

Joris Tielens

Inhabitants in East African slums should be given more say on sanitary matters and refuse disposal, say three African PhD candidates who obtained their degrees in Wageningen last week.

Slum areas in Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam have neither proper refuse collection systems nor sewers into which toilet wastes can be emptied. Refuse is found all over the streets and people defecate into holes dug in the ground or in the 'flying toilet', a plastic bag which they throw onto the streets afterwards. Disease and stench result.
There are wide-scale and coordinated attempts to change these situations, such as refuse collection services or the construction of sewers currently being financed by the World Bank in certain slums. Small-scale and decentralized solutions are also sought after, such as the dry composting toilet from Ecosan recommended by many Western aid organizations.
Both types of efforts fall short of the target because they disregard the very inhabitants of the slums and the role these can play, concluded three researchers from East Africa who obtained their PhD degrees from the Environmental Policy Group in Wageningen last week.  The municipalities of Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam do not have enough money to keep all the slums clean or to lay sewage systems, were it only because the population is growing too fast. Even small-scale solutions such as the composting toilet from Ecosan are not successful 'because of a lack of cooperation with the inhabitants themselves', says Judith Tukahirwa, one of the researchers. The composting toilet takes up too much space or the compost cannot be disposed of. Muslims do not accept the composting toilet as water is essential in their toilet-going.
Judith Tukahirwa has in the meantime been employed by the Kampala municipality to tackle the problem. She will implement the recommendations of the three PhD's. She pins her hopes on a custom-made solution in which the inhabitants are more involved. They would determine where to locate refuse collection points, or how much to pay for refuse collection. Small companies could collect refuse from people who can afford to pay, while ngo's and community centres could do so from areas where the poorest live, with the municipality as coordinator. Vehicles could be modified for use in small lanes; motorcycle trucks used instead of big trucks.