Untrapping Dignity-The Kosovo Sanitation Project

By Shadrack Mbaka (MUST)

Mathare valleyis one of the oldest slums in Kenya. Situated three miles east of Nairobi city’s central business district, Mathare slum is home to over 700,000 people occupying an area of two miles long by one mile wide. Because of congestion, survival is a daily battle for the resident’s against the backdrop of social and economic upheavals such as diseases, crime, prostitution and lawlessness. Mathare informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, members of the Mathare Valley community, University of California Berkeley, the University of Nairobi, the federation of slum savings groups, Muungano wa Wanavijiji and Muungano Support Trust (MUST), have continued towork closely, for the past five years surveying and mapping residents and their living conditions. This led to the conceptualization and the development of the Mathare Zonal Plan.

Map of Mathare Valley Settlement
Map of Mathare Valley Settlement

Under the latrines - and the houses connected to them - run rivers of murky water clotted with cast-off soda bottles, maize cobs, broken branches, plastic wrappers, and lone sandals. Human waste lends an acrid smell; when the rain waters rise, seepage slips out of the simple pits below.

A shared latrine facility
A shared latrine facility

It’s a miserable situation for Mathare residents, though a familiar state of affairs. Many of those who living in Mathare valley built their homes piece by piece, sacrificing access to services such as garbage collection, running water, or basic household sanitation in their search for shelter.

Small-scale projects

Less than 10 years into its reform agenda, Mathare’s social, political and economic transformation can seem lightning-paced, as NGOs and  CBOs  race to reestablish ties with the settlement, offering solutions to problems faced by the poor in the settlement. But after a long period of isolation, the pace of change in the day-to-day living conditions of Mathare valley can seem painfully slow.

It will take time for the full effects of a nascent development agenda to be felt, and for the large-scale projects that will make real impact to take root, but in the meantime, small-scale projects like the Kosovo pilot sanitation program can demonstrate that local infrastructure and services can be developed by communities and city governments in the informal settlements where they’re most needed.

Workshops facilitated by Muungano wa Wanavijiji and Muungano Support Trust in a nearby community center have helped promote sanitation of which to a larger extent has promoted awareness, instilling community members with the knowledge on best practices that address sanitation at settlement-city hierarchy .

One of the Kosovo Workshops
One of the Kosovo Workshops

Construction of proper sanitation model latrines, made with deeper pits lined with concrete rings, is set to begin. Households will be trained to oversee the work, and how to operate and maintain the sanitation facilities.

Priority needs

The community has identified its priority needs as drainage and household sanitation as far as sanitation is concerned and electricity for enhanced security to access sanitation facilities at night.


They place emphasis on drainage - a much bigger project requiring more logistics and engineering - as they feel the stagnant flood water that’s left to collect up detritus from the neighborhood is a health risk.

However, empowered by a small sanitation project that’s already having a big impact, it’s hoped that the community will keep calling for ways to feel Mathare’s rapid changes and improve their living conditions.

The first phase of the Mathare-Kosovo Water Support Project has been implemented thanks to the joint efforts of the Mathare community, Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company, community’s members in the project villages, Nairobi City County government formerly Nairobi City Council, Regional Water Companies and the local NGO  as implementer. The project implementation was deliberately designed to ensure an optimum collaboration between village leadership structures and municipalities.


The project did not only address an immediate need for water supply (and sanitation in a few cases), but also contributed to the promotion of an enhanced civic culture amongst beneficiaries and responsiveness of leadership structures.

The Kosovo Sanitation Project, currently under way in Kosovo settlement of the expansive Mathare Valley aims at capitalizing and rooting the achievements of the water project. The water project has brought about suitable living conditions. The improvement of the living conditions in the settlement is tangibly contributing to a sustainable environmental and economic development, and to alleviation of poverty pressure to most Kosovo residents.

The increased demand of Sanitation infrastructure in Kosovo and the entire Mathare has shown the need of consequent improvement of the legal frame for a more efficient management of the urban water and sanitation supply systems taking into consideration the dissimilar economic capacities among communities in the urban areas. The Kosovo sanitation project is an innovative methodology for mobilising communities to completely eliminate open defecation (OD) and enhance better settlement hygienic practices. At the heart of this sanitation project lies the recognition that merely providing toilets does not guarantee their use, nor result in improved sanitation and hygiene. By raising awareness that as long as even a minority continues to defecate in the open everyone is at risk of disease, The Kosovo sanitation project seeks to change by way of demonstration triggers the community’s desire for change, propels them into action and encourages innovation, mutual support and appropriate local solutions, thus leading to greater ownership and sustainability. The sanitation systems, built through projects such as this one, should be as  a result of community and municipal/county government investments. In its interface module the project will advocate in order to better integrate informal settlement realities into the on-going water and sanitation sector reform promoted by the Kenyan government. Three main criteria were taken into account when selecting project villages: • Urgency (health conditions) • size of beneficiary community • community’s ability to make financial-contributions.

It is estimated that more than 3.5 million people die annually from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 98 percent, occur in the developing countries. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a plane crash every four hours. With an approximate of 60 million people being added to the world's towns and cities every year, most end up in informal settlements, with no sanitation facilities. About 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people. The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns and above all more people have a mobile phone than a toilet.

With knowledge based on best practices learnt from the Slum dwellers global network, Slum Dwellers International (SDI), there is more to planning. Planning is not just about policies and physical designs on white paper. Most important are the specific institutional designs and relationships through which physical planning interventions occur.  Building accountable and strategic leadership at the city level, urban poor households within the membership affiliation of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, is creating an institutional mechanism through which development decision-making processes can change meaningfully.

These experiences suggest that, with the Kenya’s new dispensation framework of county governments, especially at the city level, need to focus on supporting and engaging the mobilization of urban poor communities to represent them and network across the city. Once informal settlement communities have strong, accountable leadership and network across the city, they are able to put forth an articulate vision with authentic grassroots backing. Likewise, governments are enabled to orient development decision-making to incorporate better the priorities of urban poor communities, and to counter-balance much more dominant actors that drive urban growth.

Sanitation is a core area that demands attention. Having for too long been neglected by successive governments, as is reflected by sporadic service and dilapidated infrastructure for the urban poor, it is one of the MDG’s that will not be met by 2015. Sanitation provision has a key role to play in creating the political and legislative conditions for well-located land to be made available to the urban poor. Sanitation does speak volumes on matters of equitable access and tenure security. If the Kenyan government and urban poor communities provide sanitation facilities in partnership, then an in situ political and financial investment has been made in slum areas and, as a result, eviction (or relocation) becomes far less likely. Additionally, sanitation provision implies discussions around water provision, drainage, solid waste management and connections to bulk city infrastructure.

An incremental approach to informal settlement upgrading remains key to a long-term process that develops community capacity alongside infrastructure. Sanitation projects, such as toilet construction and management have the potential to bring organized communities and local municipalities together in partnerships that have the possibility for replication in other settlements across the city.

The momentum, that the Kosovo Project proposal has generated potential for both local and national policy reforms and articulations.  It is becoming increasingly clear that sanitation interventions and the partnerships that they create can lay the groundwork for partnerships and outcomes at a citywide scale.