By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
Across the global South, clever entrepreneurs are transforming services that were bare-bones, grim and out-of-date into modern facilities packed with features that help to pay for their operation. In Kenya, an entrepreneur has used this approach to transform the poor quality of public toilets.
Public sanitation is essential for good health and a high quality of life. Around the world, more than 2.6 billion people, or 41 percent of the world’s population, are without access to basic sanitation. As a result, most have to make do and defecate or urinate wherever they can. In crowded urban areas, the result is an unpleasant source of disease and filth that fouls living spaces and sickens or kills many people.
Nairobi’s slums are notorious for so-called ‘flying toilets’ or ‘scud missiles’: plastic bags filled with excrement that act as the only toilet available for many. Half the population also has no access to clean water. It has been estimated these appalling conditions contribute to up to 50 percent of health problems for slum dwellers.
The Iko Toilet started by David Kuria first came to life in Nairobi’s central business district.
“What we saw in the last 10 years, the few public toilets that existed were in very poor shape,” he told CNN. “In fact they had been taken over by the street boys, and they were a point for mugging and drug trafficking. With that background we needed some sort of social transformation. For people to gain the confidence that you could have a public toilet which is clean which is safe and you can go in and come out the same way.”
The solution was “toilet malls,” complete with a range of on-site micro businesses to make going to the public toilet attractive. Apart from music and radio to listen to, there is a shoe shining service, snack bars selling fruit and water, and even banking services. The idea is that the micro businesses pay for the upkeep and cleaning of the toilet. And their presence also keeps the toilets safe because there is always somebody around.
While the concept was pioneered in the business district, it is now moving out into Nairobi’s slums. So far, Kuria has completed 12 toilets in Nairobi and has another 18 under development. He is also rolling out the toilets to other parts of the country. He receives the plots of land from local municipalities and his company, Ecotact, builds the toilets.
It costs five Kenyan shillings (US .07 cents) to use the toilets.
Kuria had become frustrated with the city council’s inability to provide clean and safe public toilets.
“I thought for some time before coming up with the idea,” he told The Nation. “People had nowhere to go and thugs were holding them to ransom in the few facilities then run by the council.”
Kuria said people are leaving good comments about the toilets and say it makes them proud to be Kenyan.
The cost to build a toilet is Sh 2 million (US $26,000) and the toilet is managed by Kuria for five years. At the end of the contract, he will hand them over to the local council.
“We are getting support from UNDP and other partners like East African Breweries, the Global Water International and the Rotary International,” he said.
An architect by training, Kuria is hoping to employ more than 1,000 people by the end of this year. So far 120 people work for the Iko Toilets. Like so many others, he is also affected by chronic water shortages.
“We are worried because when there is scarcity of water, we are forced to buy it at an additional cost,” he said.
Private vendors currently provide the water for the toilet malls.
Iko Toilets are so successful they have made it into the ‘Hall of Fame’ at the World Toilet Organization (http://www.worldtoilet.org/). Kuria was also winner of the World Economic Forum’s Africa Entrepreneur of the Year award earlier this year.
And his ambitions extend beyond Kenya.
“We also want to go to other countries. Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa have already approached me for Iko Toilets,” he said.
Published: August 2009
1) World Toilet Organization: The global non-profit organization committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions. Website: http://www.worldtoilet.org
2) World Toilet College: Established in 2005, the World Toilet College (WTC) started as a social enterprise, with the belief that there is a need for an independent world body to ensure the best practices and standards in toilet design, cleanliness, and sanitation technologies are adopted and disseminated through training. Website: http://www.worldtoilet.org/ourwork3.asp
3) Official website for the 2008 International Year of Sanitation. Website: http://esa.un.org/iys/
4) Waste has expert knowledge on domestic solid and liquid waste management and sanitation issues. Its website offers a comparison of designs and methods for toilets. Website: http://www.ecosan.nl/page/353
5) A set of photos on Flickr of the Iko toilets. Website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wateradvocates/3306962447/
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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