Access to toilets needs to be a priority in Kenya


Estimates on access to private, improved sanitation in Kenya, including sewerage by World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) 2015, indicate that only 30 per cent (31 per cent of urban and 30 per cent of rural), which is over 21 million people in Kenya, still use unsanitary or shared latrines.

Approximately 18 per cent of rural populations in the country practice open defecation. However, more needs to be done to address the sanitation challenge, especially since a percentage of the population still do not have access to basic toilets and one in seven people worldwide, still practice open defecation.

“The matter of having toilets is crucial to creating a strong economy, as well as improving health, protecting people’s safety and dignity, particularly for women and girls,” says World Vision Kenya National Director Dickens Thunde.

According to a desk study carried out by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) in 2012, poor sanitation costs the country, Kshs 27 billion annually, equivalent to US$324 million. This sum is the equivalent of US$8 per person in Kenya per year or 0.9 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Sanitation has been defined as a constitutional right in Kenya and embodies availability, accessibility, quality and proper use. The lack of toilets at the workplace and at home has a negative impact on businesses. This is due to factors such as poor health, absenteeism, reduced concentration, exhaustion and decreased productivity.

The study indicates further that open defecation costs Kenya US$88 million per year, yet eliminating the practice would require less than 1.2 million latrines to be built and used.

World Vision Kenya National Director Dickens Thunde says, sanitation has a positive impact on the livelihoods of the communities. Safe sanitation provides hope to Kenyans living under the poverty line that women and men can undertake initiatives to mobilise their assets. Without a minimal degree of safe sanitation, and the resulting improvements in health and the environment, the poor might lack sufficient energy. This implies low productivity expected to initiate and sustain relevant action for improvement of lives both at household or community levels.

From observation, Kenyans living below the poverty line lose their jobs and incomes, often fall ill due to lack of access to clean and safe water, resulting in sanitation-related diseases. Other family members, have to spend scarce resources on treatment and may have to stop working, or attending school to care for sick relatives. Valuable time, energy and resources are absorbed in household-level care, which would otherwise be put to productive and educational use.

“Investing in good toilets, in workplaces and schools, to ensure that women and girls have clean, separate facilities to maintain their dignity, manage menstruation or pregnancy safely, can boost what is often referred to as the ‘girl effect’, which is maximising the involvement of half the population in society,” says Mr. Thunde.

Busia County has been certified as the first county in Kenya to be declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). Isiolo and Siaya and other counties, have made good progress towards becoming ODF, though there is more work to be done before the whole country achieves this status.

World Vision Kenya has been carrying out sanitation interventions as part of its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programming (WASH). The Ministry of Health has advocated for the use of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which is a methodology that empowers the community to take care of its own sanitation. It is a no-subsidy approach, where it advocates for no supply or giving the community any form of materials or cash to help them to construct latrines at the household level. The community is instead encouraged to use locally available materials to erect low cost latrines. The community is triggered through evoking feelings of shame and disgust about open defecation, to construct latrines using locally-available, materials.

“Approaches that mobilise communities to end open defecation, promote use of improved sanitation facilities and hygiene practices, will contribute to positive outcomes. Based on field experience, it is challenging to improve livelihood outcomes unless sanitation conditions are addressed as well,” says Mr. Thunde.

In financial year 2016, WV Kenya carried out sanitation activities in 30 Area Development Programs (ADPs) and were able to reach 72,707 beneficiaries that includes 15,994 women, 14,724 men, 23,996 girls and 17,993 boys in 22 counties in Kenya. Since 2011, the organisation has managed to get 791 villages to be “open defecation free” in Kitui, Kilifi, Nakuru, Baringo, Busia, West Pokot, Kajiado, Makueni and Baringo counties.

The total number of households and the population in the ODF villages are 39,550 and 237,300, respectively. World Vision USA, Stone Family Foundation, UNICEF and the Millenium Water Alliance, have been funding ODF projects for the WASH sector in WV Kenya.

  • 2.4 billion people live without improved sanitation (World Health Organization/UNICEF 2015)
  • One in ten people have no choice but to defecate in the open (WHO/UNICEF 2015)
  • Diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water kills 315,000 children every year (WASH watch 2016)
  • Disease transmission at work, mostly caused by poor sanitation and hygiene practices, causes 17percent of all workplace deaths (International Labour Organization 2003)
  • Loss of productivity due to illnesses caused by lack of sanitation and poor hygiene practices is estimated to cost many countries up to 5% of GDP (Hutton 2012) 

The World Toilet Day, was celebrated on 19 November 2016 with the theme this year focusing on toilets and jobs. In essence, the focus is on how sanitation or the lack of it, impacts livelihoods. It is about taking action to reach the 2.4 billion people of the world, living without a toilet.

The national celebrations were organized by the Ministry of Health and partners, including World Vision Kenya and were held in Isiolo County. The guest-of-honor was the Governor of Isiolo, Godana Dayo. Other dignitaries who graced the occasion, included the Director of Public Health Dr. Kepha Ombacho and the UNICEF Kenya country representative Wermar Schultnik.

County Government representative point persons reaffirmed commitment of Isiolo County to end open defecation by January 2018 and ensure access to sanitation for all. Other distinguished guests shared their insights on the additional steps and actions the international and business community can do to address the sanitation challenge. There was unanimous acknowledgement by the speakers that open defecation and the lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation, along with the absence of good hygiene practices, were among the underlying causes of poor livelihood within a community. 

“Addressing the sanitation challenge can improve, not only the dignity of each individual, but will contribute to better health, safety, survival and livelihoods for everyone, as a key building block for the Sustainable Development Goals,” Mr. Thunde said.

Written by World Vision Kenya : Communications Officer Zipporah Kageha Karani and WASH Technical Specialist in Sanitation and Hygiene Wanjiku Kuria