By Sharon Atieno Onyango  (ScienceAfrica Correspondent)

Though Article 43(b) of the Kenyan Constitution clearly states that every person has the right to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation, only 30% of Kenyans have access to improved sanitation with the national defecation rate standing at 14%. Despite Nairobi being the capital city of Kenya, it has not yet acquired open defecation free (ODF) status.  According to Nairobi’s Shit Flow Diagram, 6% of Nairobi residents still practice open defecation (OD).

According to the Kenya County Fact-sheets, Commission of Resource Allocation (2013), 34.2% of children in Nairobi are stunted, a problem that is linked to poor sanitation and in most cases, open defecation. Scientists have associated childhood stunting with IQ deficits, poor school performance and higher risks of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke later in life and as a result, low economic productivity. At over US$ 17 per person each year, open defecation is the most costly unimproved sanitation practice.

The Kenya government had come up with a National ODF Kenya 2020 Campaign framework which requires all the counties to elaborate the National framework into County and Sub county Implementation Plans, in order to improve accessibility and use of improved accessibility and use of improved sanitation facilities aimed at making Kenya open defecation free by 2020. Nairobi is among the few counties that had not submitted their Plan by the time the framework was compiled.

Dr. Kepha Ombacho, the director of public health in the Ministry of Health had earlier this year blamed county governments for being lenient on public service business providers and allowing them to provide services without meeting set requirements in relation to sanitation. Nairobi not being an exception, as many banks, supermarkets and hotels within still do not have sanitation facilities that their clients can access.

Despite non-governmental organizations like Umande Trust and its partners constructing several biocentres in Nairobi’s slum areas, there are still widespread cases of OD. A good number of the dwellers in these areas cannot afford to pay the required 5 shillings (USD 0.05) to access the facilities in order to relieve themselves. The time factor is also another issue with these centres being opened at 6.00 a.m and closed at 9.00 p.m meaning that in between this time period, residents have to resort to other means in order to answer nature’s calls including open defecation.

Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) in informal settlements such as Mathare that were formed as early as 2010, have proved to be quite promising. Areas that were previously defecation zones within Mathare, have been transformed for other uses such as market stalls, kiosks, vegetable gardens and in some areas toilets have been constructed.  These toilets are ecosan-separating urine and faecal matter. Once the barrels are full, the operators empty the waste in to Umande Trust biodigesters within the area or manholes in the main sewer line.

Sanergy, a company that builds toilets and franchises them to local micro-entrepreneurs, has franchised over 600 toilets in three of Nairobi’s slum areas, with over 25,000 uses per day. This means that people who were not using toilets nor had no access to improved sanitation facilities are now catered for. The company’s employees pick up the waste on a daily basis and deliver it to a central processing facility where it is converted into organic fertilizer.

The 2017 annual report of Civil Society Organization (CSO) on water and sanitation performance prepared by Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Societies Network (KESWANET) shows that CSOs contribute 2.95 billion Kenyan shillings to the sector, the money being divided between rural and urban centres. Civil Society organizations play an important role in monitoring budgets and holding county governments accountable for provision of basic services such as water, sanitation and health.

The governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko in June, issued a directive that will see public toilets within Nairobi County being free of charge with residents not having to pay to access the facilities. The directive is yet to be implemented. There are 68 public toilets within Nairobi with 17 being in the Central Business District.

With Siaya County being declared open defecation free, Nairobi still has a long way to go. There is need for community mobilization and sensitization on sanitation and why it is important to use improved sanitation facilities and maintaining hygiene, more collaborative efforts by Nairobi county, NGOs, CSOs and other partners to ensure that residents especially those living in informal settlements can access proper and improved washroom facilities at no cost, proper policies and practices for slum upgrading and land tenure as well as housing policies which encourage structure owners to have sanitation facilities in their buildings.