A Sanitation Unit Symbolizes New Approaches to Slum Upgrading in Uganda

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By Skye Dobson and Frederick Mugisha

In Jinja, a municipality in Uganda’s South-East, slum dwellers are setting a precedent for upgrading and expanding sanitation infrastructure in the country’s slums. The Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation has pursued a number of community-centered steps for changing the status quo.

First, the Federation completed an enumeration in 2010 to determine need. The enumeration revealed 82.5% of Jinja slum residents do not have access to a toilet in their compound and 95% do not have access to water on their compound.  The Federation’s profiling activities revealed the vast majority of residents must purchase water from privately owned water points at an average of 100 shillings per jerrican. The profiling also revealed that many of the municipality’s sewer systems failed long ago, leaving residents no option but to relieve themselves in the bush or the lake.

The enumeration revealed especially vulnerable sections of Jinja. One section that was particularly underserved was Rubaga Market. The community in and around Rubaga market only had one dilapidated public toilet that was unsanitary and unsafe. Most residents preferred to go in a bush or walk to an adjacent settlement to find facilities. This reality contributes to the staggering number of children who die in Uganda from diarrhoeal diseases – some 26,000 under five each year.

Second, the Federation approached the local community and market authorities to discuss a solution. The Federation is acutely aware that sanitation projects undertaken by NGOs, governments, or CBOs alone are rarely sustained and/or scaled up and they thus seek to foster partnerships between local authorities and the community to ensure projects are targeted and maintained efficiently.For its part, the Federation was prepared to contribute member savings to the project. This represents a key signifier of urban poor’s commitment to the project, desire for the project, and capacity to contribute financially toward slum upgrading. A particularly interesting component of this project is that the community contribution – some 15 million Ugandan Shillings (almost US$6,000) was sourced from member repayments on another Uganda Slum Dwellers Federation project – a housing project in Jinja. This exciting development highlights the scalability of Federation slum upgrading projects through revolving finance.

The municipality, impressed by the information collected by the Federation and the financial contribution it mobilized, agreed to supply land for the sanitation unit to be constructed. The contribution of the municipality is another key ingredient to scalable and sustainable slum upgrading.

One of the most exciting things about the project is that it could provide a working model for how communities and local authorities can work together to improve access to water and sanitation infrastructure. The Federation hopes that this will make it an attractive partner to private companies, donors, and municipal governments throughout the country.  The Federation has seen such a phenomenon in India, where the Indian Slum Dweller Federation works with partners to provide sanitation services to the urban poor at tremendous scale. The hope to emulate this success right here in Uganda.

Thirdly, the sanitation unit will provide much more than simply hygienic benefits. On the second floor of the unit, the Federation will construct a community hall and office space for the Federation. This space can be used to generate income that will help to repay the loans taken to complete the project and thereby start a new pool of funds that can be used for other upgrading initiatives. The Federation is confident in the success of the model, as it is based on a sanitation unit they constructed in Kampala in 2004. This unit has been maintained to impeccable standards by the Federation, still generates income, and it still being used for Federation meetings, activities, and business.And lastly, the Federation is using innovative low-cost building technologies that are gaining increased recognition and promise to reduce the cost of slum upgrading in Uganda. Jinja Municipal Council was initially skeptical about the use of laadis and T-beams in the construction of multi-storied structures and this delayed the approval of building plans. However, after consultation and sensitization on the matter, the Council has come to appreciate the technology so much that it is now directing other groups to visit the site and learn more about the technology’s benefits.