Ministry of Health orders business premises to provide free toilets

A man answers the call of nature in the open in Nairobi (FILE: Standard)

NAIROBI, KENYA: The Government has given banks, supermarkets, hotels and other public establishments one month to provide sanitation services free of charge to their clients.

This follows the expiry of a 120-day notice at the end of last month directing all public establishments to have free sanitation facilities.

Kepha Ombacho, the director of public health in the Ministry of Health, issued the order when he closed the second conference on sanitation and hygiene in partnership with the Water Sanitation Hygiene (Wash), in Nairobi last week.

“The ministry’s position is that provision of public sanitation facilities must be free. That is why all banks, supermarkets, parks, bus stations and other public places must have clean water and sanitation systems like washrooms,” said Dr Ombacho.

The conference, themed 'Accelerating access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation in Kenya', was planned to speed up implementation of the sanitation and hygiene programme in the country.

County governments

Consequently, Ombacho has directed all 47 county governments to enforce the Public Health Act to ensure that Kenyans enjoy free sanitation services.

He told a national sanitation workshop at a Nairobi hotel recently that laxity by county governments to enforce the Act in its entirety was costing the public millions of shillings to treat diseases caused by poor sanitation and hygiene.

He blamed county governments for being lenient on businesses that provide public services and allowing them to operate without fulfilling set requirements.

“Before a hotel, supermarket or bank is cleared to operate, it must meet minimum sanitation requirements. But county governments let these businesses circumvent the rules and allow the public to pay to use washrooms,” Ombacho said.

He lauded Narok and Nakuru counties for enforcing the Act, noting that this had helped to improve hygiene and sanitation in the two regions.

“In Nakuru and Narok, a bus driver can’t stop on the way and let passengers go and defecate in the open. They will be arrested and fined. This is what should be happen in all the counties,” Ombacho said.

Faced trouble

Many citizens have faced trouble in the absence of bathroom facilities in public establishments.

One man narrated his shock on discovering there were no toilets in a restaurant he was in two weeks ago. 

His order had just been placed on the table when he felt an urgent need to use the toilet. When he was told there was no toilet, he left to look for one.

But when he returned to the eatery situated along Moi Avenue in Nairobi's central business district, his food, which he had paid for but not even tasted, had been taken away. He had gone all the way to the Khoja Mosque roundabout to find a toilet

"It is disheartening to buy food only to abandon it on the table in the name of looking for a toilet," he said.

There have been hair-raising anecdotes of customers who had to pay for using high-end hotels while others have been disgusted to be told there are no washrooms.

In an effort to save thousands of Kenyans who daily suffer similar humiliations, the Government has ordered public establishments in install sanitation facilities and provide sanitation services free of charge to their clients.

Water Principal Secretary Fred Segor noted that Kenya needs Sh480 billion to roll out a universal sanitation programme to cover the entire country.

“The target for 2030 is that 80 per cent of the population in urban areas will have access to sewerage. The estimated cost for this is Sh480 billion,” said Prof Segor.

Speaking at last week's national sanitation workshop, he called for innovative financing methods if universal access to sanitation is to be achieved.

“The ministry has developed a national water services strategy where sanitation will be a key area to be addressed. We have also expanded sewerage systems in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Kiserian, Narok and Nakuru,” the PS said.

“The Water Sector Trust Fund, through the Upscaling of Basic Sanitation for the Urban Poor programme, is providing water solutions for the urban poor."

He said the national baseline data showed that the population using safely managed sanitation services was 20 per cent while basic sanitation services was five per cent.

Improved sanitation

“About 22.8 per cent is shared. In total about 48 per cent have access to improved sanitation. The proposed technical assistance by World Bank will help us tackle the sanitation challenges in urban and rural Kenya,” Segor said.

He warned property developers in some urban areas who build structures without sewerage systems and later empty raw sewage on roads or farms.

The PS said the country’s population faced recurring outbreaks of water-related epidemics like cholera.

Dr Xiaokai Li, World Bank’s acting practice manager for water global partnerships said the Constitution makes access by all to adequate sanitation a basic right.

Li called for a radical shift in mindsets and practices to achieve urban and rural sanitation.