Living dangerously in harmony with waste
The midday Kibera sun falls on the thousands of iron-sheet roofs of the shanty dwellings, intensifying the heat. People mill around the mostly mud-walled houses lining the pathways. Some are running small businesses of all types.
Others, men and women, sit on benches, talking, gossiping and noticing newcomers from way off. At one shebeen (local bar), a loud din of excited voices emanates. Inside are about a dozen men, seated in groups of fours in a semi-circle. At the centre is a container where each man dips a pipe running to his mouth. They are sharing buzaa; a local lethal thick, yellowish, homemade illegal brew.
A few metres from the den is a garbage dump in a small field that teems with all manner of waste. Plastic bags, vegetable peelings, torn clothes, flip flops. A woman approaches balancing a Karai (basin) precariously on her head. At the dump, she bends over slightly and dirty water comes spilling out. Several pairs of eyes are staring at what is being discarded curiously and they start advancing. The boy gets there first before the goats.
A boy competes for morsels with goats
The boy has been here for quite some time, competing with the meek animals for morsels of anything edible. He continues to rummage at the dump long after the goats have had their fill and are lying down on the ‘comfort’ of the strewn paper bags.
The boy looks up when Levy Shikami, the Supervisor of Riziki Safi Services, rides a wheelbarrow to the dump. The boy’s curiosity turns to disinterest when he realises the wheelbarrows are only carrying muddy dirt collected from the many open sewers running around the shanty town like necklaces. Together with the Riziki team, they are cleaning the sewers and heaps of waste that run a heartbeat away from the houses where children play.
As Shikami and his team push their wheelbarrows, he points at the boy rummaging in the garbage and says that most of the plastic bags the boy is picking are loaded with human faeces.
“Even children as young as three years old play in the dumps, oblivious of the danger.”
The flying toilets of Kibera
The plastic bags, which are an environmental hazard, have been popular in Kibera in the form of “flying toilets.” According to a United Nations Development Program (2006) study, two in three people in Kibera identify the flying toilets as the primary mode of excreta disposal available to them. The bags laden with human waste end up on roofs, doorways, pathways; residents seem to have adapted to them.
The population size of Kibera has been in dispute. Over the years, several bodies had identified the slum to be home to a million, others two million inhabitants.
Located about five kilometres from the capital Nairobi, Kibera has been ranked as the second largest slum in Africa after South Africa’s Soweto.
The inhabitants are among the most poor in Kenya, living below a dollar a day in the most of inhuman ways. The crime is high, diseases reign supreme and HIV and AIDS related deaths have orphaned many children.
The widespread diseases here include diarrhoea and amoebiasis, typhoid, worms and malaria, and, of course, HIV/AIDS, whose prevalence stands at 20% in Kibera. According to countless studies, including one by Riziki Kenya, many cases of these diseases are caused by the listless and haphazard disposal of waste. Riziki says that all the waste dumped in the open sewers is the major cause of blockage that leads to stagnant water and sewage.
Following Shikami with his team cleaning the slum around the ward of Lindi, we find children as young as two and three years playing on the open sewers with its thick, greenish dark liquid. They jump over a bit too skilfully and sometimes slip in. Women sit outside shanty buildings next to a kiosk that is selling vegetables. The Kiosk is about two feet from a sewer that emanates an acrid smell. Yet, the customers stop to chat with the women idling around the kiosk, some doing each other’s hair, as the owner of the kiosk slices the vegetables for her clients as they wait.
Environmentally related diseases reign supreme
Gatwiri Murithi, a public health worker attached to Riziki Kenya, has seen it all in her work with the community in Kibera, especially in Lindi. She says that children are exposed to water borne infections and diseases: “From our survey, typhoid was the most common cause of the diarrhoea within Kibera.” Mosquitoes also breed in the sewers, making malaria the number one killer.
This is corroborated by another study by Adelaide Lusambili entitled: ‘It is our Dirty Little Secret: An Ethnographic Study of the Flying Toilets in Kibera Slums’. Lusambili writes that the five most common diseases in Kibera are malaria, skin diseases, diarrhoea, intestinal worms and trachoma, which are all environmentally related. “Child mortality in the slums of Kibera stands at 112 per 1000 live births while infant mortality is 156 per 1000 live births. Those most affected are children under five years”.
After a hard day playing in the open sewers and rummaging in the open garbage for toys, sometimes food, the children never wash their hands before eating. Hand washing is recognized as the single most important approach to preventing hand-transmitted infections and, according to World Food Program, hand washing can reduce diarrhoea incidence by 45 percent and acute respiratory infections by 30 percent.
According to Kenya’s former Minister for Public Health and Sanitation, Mrs. Beth Mugo, diarrhoea diseases in Kenya are of great concern. She says that every year the country loses close to 30,000 lives through incidents of diarrhoea which cause 16 percent of deaths among children below five years. This is second only to pneumonia.
Yet, the children of Kibera live exposed to the dangers, with their parents seeming oblivious or unable to provide alternatives.
On this day, Shikami knocks on the door to a humble abode. He is bearing a long, black plastic bag. A young, shy looking woman, heavy with child comes to the door. Shikami tells her he has come to deliver the bag where she will be throwing her waste for collection every week.
In partnership with KIN and Devon Contract waste limited (DCW), Riziki Safi services was established to tackle the menace of the waste in Kibera. Having been in the slum for over a decade, feeding, clothing, educating and intervening on the many health issues, Riziki has acknowledged that the war on health issues cannot be won without coming up with a comprehensive waste management programme. Besides waste management, Riziki has constructed pit latrines (hole-in-the-ground WCs) in the areas it operates to prevent the ‘flying toilets’. In Lindi, it has three toilets as well as a bathroom.
Typically in shanty towns bathrooms are located outside and people bathe with no privacy, as the bathrooms are made with flimsy materials and bathers are visible from the outside. Also, while bathing one has to take to precautionary measures as thugs wait until you have undressed before snatching the clothes which people hang on the near non-existing door frames.
However, Riziki has moved in to cover the residents’ decency and provide more secure, discreet bathrooms. For the latrines, locals pay (Ksh 100 monthly) to employ a person to ensure they are clean at all times.
Riziki Safi Services to the Rescue
To manage the improvements to the waste management and sanitary services, Riziki launched Riziki Safi (Safi is Kiswahili for cleanliness) Services, and recruited locals from Kibera who have previously been involved in garbage collection, among them a beneficiary of KIN education sponsorship, James Kiguru. He is waiting to join college and he has been collecting the waste for a fee with his youth group, Soweto Self Help. He is upbeat about his role as Riziki has “professionalised” the waste management initiative: “We did not have protective clothing or wheel barrows, and Riziki has provided this,” says the 22 year old. Shikami, who has long experience in garbage collection, albeit without the necessary tools will be the supervisor of the project.
Riziki Safi Services kicked off in the Lindi ward, Kambi Muru village, but will soon spread to Kisumu Ndogo and eventually other villages in Kibera.
“Where have you been throwing your waste?” asks Kenneth Kiunga to the lady whom Shikami handed the bag. For an answer, Nancy Auma, a mother of a three-year-old girl and expecting her second, shyly points to a heap of waste right across her house. Auma says her daughter “hupenda kuhara sana” (roughly translated means that her daughter always has a running stomach). She adds that malaria is also very common.
Kenneth says that the Safi Services aspires to change all this.
Auma is the first of a target of 200 clients, and 50 of the pilot group who will benefit from the clean up service. They will see the money they use in treating these environmental diseases diverted to other areas like healthy eating and education; this besides living in a more dignified environment.
Sensitising the residents
The people who have been recruited for the day-to-day operation are highly motivated and they are getting a monthly salary which will enable them to plan their lives. Unemployment is rampant in Kibera, where many youths turn to crime along with the male adults. Other men laze their times away in the Buzaa dens, leaving the burden of feeding the family to their wives.
As Shikami and Kiguru go around cleaning the area, the neighbours look at them with puzzled looks. Muchemia says: “It won’t take long for them to heap the place with garbage again.”
This devil may care attitude can only be eliminated through civil education and Riziki knows this only too well. On November 3, 2012, Riziki Safi Services undertook a massive cleanup in Kibera. This was geared to raise awareness among the residents about the dangers inherent in indiscriminate waste disposal, and of the need to conserve their environment. The team created informational materials, posters, T-shirts, stickers and speeches which were used to educate and inspire the population.
What does the future hold?
Well, as Shikami will get a regular income to cater for the needs of his three children aged from five to twelve years, Kiguru will be able to raise bus fare to the city centre where he plans to go to college. He wants to study for Business Management. The tuition fee will be covered by Riziki Kenya Education Program sponsored by KIN, which also educates Shikami’s two older children in private primary schools.
We aim for the project to grow across Kibera and become a self-funding waste management industry that creates more jobs, improves health and educates people on the risks associated with poor waste management.
Needless to say, keeping the environment clean, everyone within or outside Kibera benefits.
For more information on Riziki Kenya, visit http://www.rizikikenya.or.ke/