NAIROBI — Despite constitutional acknowledgment of safe water, sanitation and hygiene as a human right, the problem of basic sanitation in Kenya is still severe. In urban slums, which house 8 million Kenyans in densely packed and unstable conditions, the issue is especially concerning — an estimated 80 percent of people lack access to basic sanitation.
Further, in Nairobi alone, there are 57 slum residents per one toilet, and beyond that a disconcerting 6 percent live without any toilet access whatsoever.
The lack of sanitary options gave rise to several hazardous practices such as open-defecation, the use of pit latrines (which frequently empty into water sources that are later used for consumption and cleaning), and perhaps the most notorious, the “flying toilet” — a practice in which residents defecate into a plastic bag and toss it into the street upon completion.
Not only are these options dangerous for the environment and for the health of those forced live in such conditions (such practices breed cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks), they also are incredibly dehumanizing, and undermine inherent human dignity by subjecting affected individuals to such horrendous sanitary conditions.
This trio of environmental, health and emotional human danger is ultimately what the organization Sanergy seeks to eradicate through its creation of sustainable sanitation solutions for the sanitation crisis. Sanergy works through a comprehensive system of sustainable sanitation that operates on multiple levels. The basis for the entire operation is the installation of safe and hygienic “Fresh Life” toilets which are purchased, operated and maintained by local a resident(s) called a “Fresh Life Operator” (FLO).
FLO decides how their toilet will operate economically, typically choosing to adopt a pay-per-use model, which allows FLO to generate income off their toilet and also provide additional incentive to keep it clean in order to retain customers.
After a toilet is installed, the FLO maintains it by cleaning the toilet and removing the collected waste once a day. This removed waste is then transported to a treatment center where it is repurposed into organic fertilizer, insect-based animal feed, or renewable energy — an incredibly significant aspect to the program as it introduces sustainability.
By harnessing inherently beneficial properties of human waste through repurposing, Sanergy ensures that the waste is not just simply returned to the community, but that it also serves as a crucial piece to solving the sanitation crisis.
The presence of a Fresh Life toilet improves the quality of life for the community on the whole by diversifying sanitation options — residents can now choose to use a toilet rather than a plastic bag to dispose of their waste. Further, it addresses the health risks associated with illegitimate waste disposal by removing the waste consistently and transporting it out of the community — an important aspect for the environment. Such works contribute to diminishing the 4 million tons of faecal sludge that goes into waterways and fields yearly.
The implementation of such a simple institution — a clean, regulated communal toilet — can help in so many ways; once adopted, it’s clear that this solution can increase the hope for bettering the problem of sanitation in Kenya.