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Bringing water to the Kibera slum
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One of the open sewers in Kiberia, left. The slum housing and some of the young inhabitants, centre. David Kuria, top right.

David Kuria: bringing water to Nairobi's Kibera slum

Kibera is the biggest slum in Nairobi and the second largest in Africa after Soweto. It is home to 700,000 people.

Although built on land owned by Nairobi City Council, Kibera is an illegal settlement, relying on a privately organised water supply.

The result is ancient stinking latrines, open sewers, no proper drains and no rubbish collection. Malaria and typhoid are common.

Wilson Gudima has lived in Kibera for 25 years. He is an executive member of a community-based organisation dedicated to cleaning up the area. Their efforts are about to get a huge boost.

The Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), has employed local architect David Kuria as project manager on a pilot scheme to bring clean water and sanitation to Kibera.

Toilets a key priority

"We asked the community what they wanted," explained Kuria. "Toilets were a key priority. This project provides separate male and female toilets, toilets for children and for the disabled.

"There are bathrooms for both sexes, an information centre which will double as a kiosk to sell clean water, a small community library, and an area where women can wash clothes and utensils.

"On the upper floor is the boardroom for the community meetings. Having the meeting room on top is also to encourage maintenance. No one is going to let the toilets smell."

Eventually huge water tanks will sit on the roof so that there will always be clean water.

Although Kibera has water, the supply is not reliable and the taps are often dry. Then residents are reliant on private vendors selling water by hand cart, or the river, into which Kibera’s sewers drain.

The poor state of the existing sewers will make it impossible to connect up the new flushing toilets – they would simply add to the flow of sewage which already floods through Kibera.


Instead the waste will be collected in digesters that can produce methane. This methane can be used for fuel or sold on, generating income for the community.

"The uniqueness of this is the integration", Kuria explained. "A toilet is not just a toilet. This is all about the value of water."

Built by the community, skilled local workers have been identified and will be paid for their labours.

One block will serve 300 people, at a cost of one million Kenyan shillings, (approx 13,170 US$).

Once the three pilot blocks are built the designs will be refined and then spread out across Kibera. It will take another 200 blocks to provide for all 700,000 inhabitants.

"I don’t know if it’s realistic," Kuria said, "but that’s the aim."

Related website:
Intermediate Technology Development Group
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Listen to the radio series:
Solutions parts 1-4

BBC World Service Online visited Kibera early in February 2003. The water tanks were on site and work was due to start on the new facilities the following week.
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