How Kenyans flush millions down the toilet

As Kenyans today observe World Toilet Day, the irony is that many have nowhere to go when nature calls or have to pay dearly to relieve themselves.

For residents of urban areas, answering the call of nature is an expensive affair. Your status, age or gender does not matter — you have to pay to relieve yourself.

But for babies, the cost of answering that crucial call is even more costly.

Disposable diapers, which are now the preferred choice for most parents, can cost hundreds of thousands of shillings for just one child by the time he or she reaches the age of four.

With the average cost of one diaper being Sh20, it means parents need at least Sh100 every day, assuming the diapers have to be changed at least five times day.

That will set the family back Sh3,000 every month and Sh36,000 per year. By the time the child clocks four, parents will have spent not less than Sh144,000 on diapers alone.

Disposable diapers also have huge cost on the environment. Besides clogging drainages, filling pit latrines and littering neighborhoods because of poor disposal, diapers are made of non-biodegradable material which may take up to a 1,000 years to dicompose

Sanitary towels, which are made of similar material, add to the problem. Baby diapers, tampons and sanitary pads are responsible for most sewerage and drainage blockages, according to urban authorities.

But Stanley Kariuki who runs Stamka Exhauster Services in Nairobi, says most city residents have learnt to dispose diapers and sanitary towels in the correct manner, thus reducing cases of blockages.

“Nowadays we encounter fewer problems when servicing apartments and homes. We normally advice them to put diapers and other solid waste in garbage collection bags. People should avoid flushing down solid waste down toilets,” he says.

Growing out of one’s diapers does not guarantee a Kenyan a cheaper way to relieve oneself. While some office spaces, hotels, bars, night clubs and restaurants offer free toilet facilities, most people have no choice but part with at least Sh10  every time they need to use public toilets.

In July, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko announced that his government was rethinking the management of public toilets, including scraping charges for users. Users are charged Sh10 and the 68 public toilets in the city reportedly rake in more than Sh6 million annually.

But like many services offered by county governments, many  city residents are skeptical on the effectiveness of the county government in running the toilets.

In the meantime, Kenyans are still at the mercy of the those running the toilet facilities.

Exhauster services

Exhausting septic tanks and pit latrines is another cost that home and apartment owners in urban areas have to grapple with. 

Most companies in Nairobi that offer exhauster services charge from Sh10,000 upwards, depending on the location.

Enock Oruko,  the associate director for Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (Wash) at World Vision Kenya says the cost of procuring exhauster services may be too high for most households, leading to neglect of  pit latrines and septic tanks, which poses health risks.

Sewer blockages is a big problem both for urban authorities and owners of private homes and rental apartments.  The Nairobi sewer line was built in 1961 when the city hosted less than one million residents.

Five decades later, the system is yet to be upgraded even as the city’s population has grown to more than five million people. The most common sanitary facilities in the informal settlements are pit latrines, supplemented with flushing toilets and septic tanks as you move towards more affluent residential areas.

Eighty per cent of the waste water produced in the capital, ends up in Ruai Sewage Treatment Plant, the biggest treatment water plant in the country.

The plant receives 80,000 cubic litres of waters every day, which includes domestic and industrial water wastes and takes 60 days before the water is recycled and safe to be released for public consumption.

According to the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), only 40 per cent of waste generated in urban centers is collected and disposed of at designated disposal sites, with Nairobi  producing 2,475 tons of waste each day. 1,500 tons of this is dumped at the already choked Dandora dumpsite which was declared full in 1996, yet remains the only destination for the waste.

Part of solution

“ We are working on putting up a waste-to-energy recycling system at Dandora to help us deal with the waste management menace in the county. Once in place, we will be able to deal with the issue,” David Makori, the officer in charge of environment at Nairobi County Government told People Daily.

According to Makori, despite the measures that the county is putting in place to address the problem of waste management and sanitation systems, residents should adopt better and healthier ways of disposing waste.

“There is need to sensitise the public on how they can be part of the solution. In estates, you will see people throwing solid waste in sewers which end up clogging the  system,” he added.

Although Articles 43(1) (b) and 42 of the 2010 Constitution guaranteeing the right of every person to “reasonable standards of sanitation”, it remains a pipe dream for most Kenyans.

There are attempts by the national government to put in place measures that ensure that the  sanitation levels are on track with the Sustainable Development Goal (6) on ensuring availability and sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030.

More than 4.5 billion have no access to safe toilets while 892 million people still practice open defecation globally.

Kenya missed the MDGs targets after the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water and Sanitation 2011 reported that only 30 per cent of Kenyans have access to improved sanitation with 15 per cent of the population in rural areas defecating in the open, compared to three per cent in urban areas.

One of the strategies that the government has put in place is the Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Strategic Framework (KESSF) 2016- 2020, which provides a broad strategic framework for both State and non-state actors at all levels to work towards ensuring universal access to improved sanitation.


However, sanitation systems have been facing bottlenecks with institutional fragmentation being a major problem.

The Constitution has devolved most sanitation functions and services to counties with the National government retaining the role of national policy, training, capacity building, technical assistance and standards formulation.

“Devolution has helped bring efficiency to management of sanitation systems. At the county level, decision-making is faster, especially when dealing with emergencies. However, there is much to be done which we are up to the task,” says Makori.

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