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Tackling Garbage Problem is Key to Success of Slum Upgrading Projects

By John Wafula | July 30th 2019

Basic sanitation or lack of it is among myriad challenges facing millions of Kenyans living in informal settlements. Projections by UN-Habitat show that 56 per cent of Kenyans live in informal settlements. Thus, providing basic amenities has become a key part of the ongoing national dialogue on inclusive and sustainable growth. These areas suffer deficiencies in services and basic infrastructure that worsen pollution, poverty, and ill health.

One of the biggest challenges in the informal settlements is poor solid waste management. Past interventions to address the problem have had low success rates. For example, an experiment with dustbins has not been successful due to vandalism, theft, and non-collection, creating mini-dumpsites.

The Kenya Informal Settlements Improvement Project (KISIP), a -project of the Government of Kenya, with support from the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Agence Française de Development (AFD), is a key intervention whose objective is to improve living conditions of people in informal settlements by improving security of land tenure and investing in infrastructure based on plans developed in consultation with communities.

Cumulatively, the Project has positively impacted the lives of 1.2 million people in 14 counties since June 2011. This is by upgrading roads and footpaths; drainage systems; water connections, installing high-mast security flood lights, and ablution blocks. The infrastructure has improved mobility and connectivity, security, economic potential, access to emergency services and general sanitation. Moreover, with upgrading, the land value and rental income have significantly increased. However, poor solid waste management is eroding these gains. For example, reckless dumping of solid waste in drains leaves them clogged and causes flooding which they were meant to prevent.

KISIP appreciates that improved solid waste management is a critical operation and maintenance issue that is central to the sustainability of the developed infrastructure and improving the living conditions. Moreover, proper waste management will ring-fence the positive health and aesthetic impacts of the project. It will anticipate and arrest potential increase in waste streams and volumes from a likely increase in economic activities as a spin-off of upgrading.

Due to these, KISIP is involved in developing a community-based strategy to provide an effective and sustainable solid waste management system, appropriate to unique conditions of the informal settlements. Through the strategy, KISIP wishes to enhance community awareness and participation, capacity and collaboration with stakeholders, especially County governments; protect the health and quality of life of people living and working in the informal settlements, and explore sustainable opportunities for waste management to support economic productivity and employment.

A study by KISIP and community consultations done as part of strategy development identified a number of key challenges. There is limited separation and sorting of waste at the household level. The existing collection systems are inadequate. As a result, substantial quantities of solid waste remain uncollected in the settlements. Waste collection and transportation is mainly done by organized groups, CBOs, and individuals with limited capacity and supporting infrastructure. Recovery of recyclable items like plastics, papers, glass and metals is done by an increasing number of informal groups who sell to middlemen.

Most counties lack well managed disposal sites. In cases where disposal sites are far from the settlements, the CBOs have challenges accessing the sites and illegally dump wastes on roads and river beds. Open burning of waste is common at dumpsites, adding to air pollution. In the absence of regular rubbish collection, solid waste regularly blocks drains, reducing their capacity for storage or conveyance. The result is flooding and burst sewers. Blocked drainages also serve as breeding sites for mosquitoes and other disease vectors. The impacts of poor solid waste management can be especially acute in informal settlements that are located in flood-prone areas.

Solving the garbage problem is therefore a critical intervention in improving the standards of living in informal settlements. While adequate refuse collection can help to reduce flood risks, it is also imperative to maintain drainage systems in informal settlements and holistically manage downstream and upstream wastes. Additionally, improving solid waste management can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To succeed, such interventions must focus on three things. First, strategies must focus on the entire waste management system from generation, collection, transportation, material and energy recovery, and final disposal. Secondly, collaboration between key stakeholders especially, the communities and County Governments whose role it is as a devolved function. Community initiatives should be supported by the necessary infrastructure, legal and policy changes. Functional links between community-based activities and the municipal system are very important because even where municipal waste collection services are provided, user cooperation is essential for efficient operations. Thirdly, law enforcement should be complemented by awareness raising for behaviour change.

Mr Wafula, Environmental and social safeguard specialist at KISIP & Regional Director of Environment, NEMA

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