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What next for Kibera flying toilets after ban of plastic bags usage?

By Graham Kajilwa | August 28th 2017
An open sewer mixed with 'flying toilets' in Kibera. A shortage of toilets has forced residents to turn to alternatives. [David Njaaga, Standard]

It will be a tricky affair for some of the residents in Kibera who still depend on plastic bags to relieve themselves. The bags and their content are famously known as flying toilets.

As the Government effects the ban on the use of plastic bags, these residents will have to seek alternative means due to a lack of adequate sanitation services in the informal settlement.

This is despite several organisations, including the National Youth Service, introducing improved washrooms that are self-contained and have clean water. Residents pay between Sh5 and Sh10 to use them.

Prefer plastic

But a visit to the area revealed that the majority of residents still prefer using plastic bags, which they either throw far from their houses or dump in the nearest streams.

In Katwikira village, for instance, it is almost normal to encounter faeces wrapped in plastic bags in trenches. The trenches lead to a river whose waters have since been darkened by a mixture of industrial and raw sewage. Plastic bags also line the river banks.

Walking along the banks often involves a hop, step and jump to avoid stepping in human waste - some wrapped in plastic and some left open. The stinky river, which ends up in Nairobi Dam, seems to be a haven for children scavenging the area for anything valuable apart from being the perfect environment for flies.

Dorothy Akinyi, a resident, says they are not to blame for using flying toilets.

“The washrooms do not operate all the time. They close business at 6pm. So tell me, (what happens) if someone starts to diarrhoea at night?” she said.

For her, plastic bags are the best means in such desperate times.

“I could use a basin but that would mean I have to wash it and it will not stop stinking.”

Ms Akinyi also says the price for visiting the community washrooms is high.

“So if they ban (plastics), what will people use? Maybe flour packets and old newspapers, but these are so unreliable and unhygienic.”

Fredrick Owino, an attendant of bathrooms developed by the Maranatha Vision Youth group, however, says the prices are fair.

Cold shower

“For a cold shower or normal toilet visit, we charge Sh5. But if you want a hot shower then we charge Sh10,” he says.

Mr Owino adds that the outlet operates from 6am to 9:30pm.

“We could operate 24 hours because we have electricity, but there would be very few people.”

Food kiosk operators in the area have also expressed concern as they use plastic bags for packaging.

Old newspapers

“Just to be safe, from tomorrow I will use old newspapers to pack my mandazi. But I have to look for another way for githeri. Maybe customers will start coming with their own dishes,” says Millicent Adhiambo.

In the informal settlements, most foodstuff is sold in either homemade packaging or it is repackaged in smaller quantities than what comes in the original packaging from the manufacturers. For example, a kilo of sugar might be repackaged to an eighth of the original quantity, the same with rice.

Until now, repackaging has meant more and more plastic bags are in use, which is what the Government is working hard to reduce.

Other basic commodities packaged in smaller quantities in plastic bags include cooking oil, milk bought from dispensers, paraffin, vegetables and meat.

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