Slum Upgrading


Federation profiling has revealed time and again that sanitation improvement is a top priority for the urban poor in Uganda. The recent Kampala city-wide profile conducted by ACTogether and the NSDFU revealed the following ongoing challenges with open defecation and the “bucket system” (using a bucket in the house for defecation and dumping it outside).

Some of the constructed toilet facilities.

Sanitation in slums is complicated by high density and haphazard planning, complicated land ownership and local politics, environmental challenges of groundwater quality and flooding in low-lying areas. Enumerations also revealed that the main challenges related to sanitation include: toilet ownership complicated by landlord-tenant relations, limited local capacity to safely empty and repair pit latrines, lack of disabled accessibility, and lack of gender-specific toilets.

ACTogether Uganda and the NSDFU are committed to addressing the immediate and pressing need for improved sanitation in Uganda’s slums and have constructed sanitation units throughout Kampala and 5 other municipalities. Several of these units have incorporated second-floor community halls and have successfully experimented with new construction techniques and community contracting. Our experiences have shown that communities are willing and able to participate in the process of construction and management of improved sanitation units.

We believe that the only sustainable way to keep sanitation activities and facilities affordable and accessible to ensure long-term use and maintenance is to adopt a strategy that is initiated and driven by the local community. Our process begins with enumerations that identify the need for sanitation and act as a base for planning interventions in communities that prioritize sanitation. Local savings and skills are used to leverage limited resources and outside support. The Federation then assists in government negotiations to secure project approval and land tenure. ACTogether provides necessary technical assistance in the design of sanitation units, sourcing additional funds and loans, and training in financial and physical maintenance.

When the project is initiated, a Project Management Committee is created from local community members and trained by the Federation to oversee the construction and management process. The community is engaged throughout the process from initiation to long-term maintenance to ensure that the outcome meets local needs and expectations and to cultivate a sense of ownership that protects against vandalism and sustains long-term use and maintenance.

Actively incorporating the community takes advantage of local skills and networks to empower the urban poor to solve their problems themselves. It shifts some of the responsibility from an overburdened central government that has struggled to find land and money for upgrading projects, profile slums accurately, enforce sanitation regulations in slums, and manage public facilities. This changes the dynamic of the relationship between the government and the urban poor by encouraging collaboration and mutual respect and combining the strengths of both the local communities and the government to collectively work towards improving the city’s sanitation.

ACTogether and the NSDFU are constantly learning from the successes and failures of our past projects and reaching out to national and international partners to gather ideas and knowledge on how to best improve sanitation in a manner that is affordable and effective for the urban poor. Already, we have improved the system of PMCs, affordability of the unit design, and negotiations with government and partners for securing land and project approval.

ACTogether helps slum dwellers design housing and infrastructural facilities in ways that best respond to their needs and financial capacities. House model exhibitions are large, open-air events attended by housing professionals and members from the government. Slum dweller communities gather and show real-size house models which they have designed and constructed for themselves.

Such exhibitions allow the poor to discuss and debate-housing designs best suited to their needs. It also allows them to enter into dialogue with professionals about construction materials, construction costs and urban services. Slum dwellers have always been the architects and engineers of their settlements. In many cities, local governments are now beginning to see that the urban poor can play a significant role in creating housing stock for low-income communities.


The most important vehicle for community learning is through the direct exchange of information, experience and skills between the urban poor communities themselves. As part of the learning and training process for community-led slum upgrading, ACTogether organizes exchange visits and events between the different savings groups at city scale, national scale, and at international scale in partnership with other Slum Dwellers Federations from overseas countries affiliated to the Slum Dwellers International network.

These exchanges also help to spread knowledge about how urban poor groups can take up initiatives to improve their living environment themselves. It is also an important mean to strengthen the federation process that joins together the different savings groups, and to support a continuous learning cycle among its member groups.

The material centre hostels and community hall

The Centre located in Walukuba, Jinja municipality was launched by the federation in 2013 to produce low cost and environmentally friendly building materials such as soil-stabilized interlocking bricks, pre-cast slabs, t-beams, laadies (precast mini slabs) and concrete blocks. These materials provide an alternative to burnt bricks (which are more expensive and unsustainable due to the rampant deforestation mentioned above) and other cement-dependent materials.

The increased affordability of building materials is critical to incremental upgrading of informal settlements. ACTogether engineer, Waisswa Kakaire, explains the savings: “One square meter of regular burnt clay brick costs UGX 35,000 ($14), but we sell a square meter of compressed-soil bricks costs about UGX 28,000 ($11). Those savings are significant when you talk about building a whole sanitation unit or house. Then, when you construct a conventional slab you will need about UGX 120,000 per square meter ($48), but with our Laadies [pre-cast concrete mini slabs] you can buy a square meter for about UGX 90,000 ($36) because we use about 1/3 less cement while maintaining the same strength.” The pre-cast slabs are not only less expensive, but provide an attracting option for slum dwellers with uncertain tenure security as they can easily be disassembled if they are compelled to move.

The project started with a capital injection of $10,000 and the contribution of land for the project from the municipal council. These funds were used to construct a building shed, curing pit, extend water to the site, and purchase 1 interlocking brick making machine and site fencing. In 2014 another $10,000 was secured from SDI as investment capital. With these funds the project moved to phase two, in which a demonstration house, 2-stance toilet were constructed to demonstrate the potential of the materials being sold and the potential for new technologies to save not only cost (opening up the space for the urban poor to make incremental permanent improvements to their dwellings), but build resilience through the use of local, more environmentally friendly materials. The funds were also used to purchase as “egg-layer” concrete brick machine for manufacturing blocks of various sizes and shapes.

COMMUNITY VOICE: Namwonyo Abu, a 19-year old trainee said, “Having studied up to senior four my parents lacked money to further my education spending most of my time playing football in a village team that mobilized young people in the village to engage in sports and desist in taking part in other unlawful acts in the community, when many of my age mates returned to school after the holiday it left me with no one to play with that’s when my mother decided to send me to the center where I have been casually working. Am now able to own my business of brick making to enable me earn a living, help my family, enable me further my education and also help me go through this world very well.”

The center has produced all the materials for construction of the (buildings on site) and also orders for sale for houses, toilets, pre-cast walls, and worm-digesters. A number of orders were for public toilet projects in slums financed by the Community Upgrading Fund initiative of Government as part of the TSUPU project. During the TSUPU project construction municipal engineers recognized the importance of promoting such alternate materials, which was an important milestone for the federation and building materials workshop. Plans are underway to expand the market and also target hospitals and other social infrastructures.

The center has generated healthy profits from the sale of materials since it commenced operations in 2014. The profits are used to service the loan and reinvest in materials for the project. It has also been a center for innovation, constantly testing new technologies for sanitation systems and building. Greater resilience in communities of the urban poor will depend upon incremental upgrading of housing and affordable building materials will be critical. As we noted in the briquette example, the partnership between the local authority and the community is an encouraging sign of the potential for partnerships in resilience-building initiatives and the innovations of the community to meet affordability and livelihood demands can be harnessed to forge part of a larger municipal/city-level resilience strategy.

The project has hosted different people who come to train for example the students from the University of Manchester who carry out their internship in the municipality on different aspects.

The solar project is implemented and managed jointly by the National Slum Dwellers federation of Uganda and ACTogether Uganda. The project was informed by energy enumerations which were conducted in 2015 in Jinja with an aim of assessing the energy related challenges and determining the level of need for solar energy as an alternative to hydroelectricity power in Jinja Municipality. This was done by sampling 200 households representing the settlements of; Masese 1 also known as Kibuga-Mbata, Bugembe, Danida and Kimaka. Community meetings were then held in Mbale and Arua to access the need for Solar energy.

The findings prompted the Federation and ACTogether Uganda to establish three solar hubs in; Arua, Mbale and Jinja, in all these hubs, trainings were conducted and the different roles and responsibilities apportioned to the different committee members.

Currently in Jinja, discussions are on how street lighting can be provided to the municipality given the big security challenge is ongoing.

Some of the project achievements are highlighted below;

  • It has helped the urban poor community save their income as compared to hydroelectricity power which was expensive as the solar panels only need charging under the sunshine.
  • The pay to own approach used has addressed the affordability challenge as it was highlighted in the solar enumeration report as one of the major challenges for people to access solar energy in the settlements of the urban poor.
  • The communities have got Jobs that help them add a small income to their monthly Income for example; the marketers and technicians have being paid commission on every sold product.

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ACTogether, established in 2006, facilitates processes that develop organizational capacity at the local level and promote pro-poor policy and practice in Uganda’s urban development arena.



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