Lessons learned from 5 years

So, after five years of working with the urban poor in Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali and Mozambique, the ACF programme is almost coming to a close.

This final post is a quick summary on the lessons we have learnt as a result of the programme. Summaries of the activities done and successes achieved can be found on the individual project area pages.

  1. Viable tariffs are a key to success: a tariff must be both affordable to the consumer and sustainable for the service provider. This is particularly a challenge in sanitation, where a lack of understanding of the purpose of tariffs and a lack of clear responsibility for the services.
  2. Social and cultural influences must be considered and worked with: these include tenancy issues and cartels among many others and are generally things which either change very slowly or cannot be controlled by the project implementation, so understanding is key.
  3. Hybrid management can be effective: a combination of private management and local groups managing a project can ensure the necessary buy-in from the community alongside appropriate commercial priorities to ensure sustainability. The relationship needs to be drawn carefully in contractual agreements.
  4. Demonstration of services can sow a seed: to bring private service providers in, a pilot needs to be demonstrated, in order to show them the potential of an idea and the opportunity for scaling and mainstreaming it in their work.
  5. Consumers need to be able to demand services for themselves: development of better consumer feedback mechanisms is a win-win situation, enabling the poor to demand improvements to the services they receive and the company to improve their business.
  6. Motivation can come through peers: investing in exposing decision-makers to companies with innovative models and other ways of expanding the frontiers of business is much more likely to result in uptake than showing them on paper.
  7. Inclusivity needs to be included in planning from the outset: whether women’s needs or the disabled, disadvantaged groups need to be incorporated into planning and execution to ensure they are not left behind by the project.
  8. Encourage pro-poor commitment early on: low income customers must be mainstreamed as they are often not highly valued as customers due to many misconceptions.
  9. Long-term change can only be achieved through strengthened institutions: WSUP will not be here forever, so long-term improvements can only be achieved through strengthening the companies and institutions mandated for service provision.
  10. Advocacy with senior decision-makers for policy change is key: the policy environment must encourage pro-poor services in order for the company to be motivated. Persistence here may be required as the poor are often marginalised in policy.

You can read more in the final report.

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Final ACF Annual Report

The final ACF Annual Report is now available.

ACF-annual-report-year-5 1-page-001

Over the past year, we’ve been working in just three areas:

  • In Nairobi, work focused on assisting landlords in Kibera to upgrade their latrines to pour-flush standard and connect them up to the sewer network (part of which was previously constructed as part of ACF’s activities). Over 170 landlords were able to connect in the past year and improve the lives of around 11,000 tenants, who now have cleaner toilets that bring them greater dignity and without any worry of the toilet getting full and there being no money to empty it. The cleanliness of neighbourhoods have also improved as a result of avoiding emptying and dumping the sludge in inappropriate ways.
  • In Nakuru, Kenya (a new area added for this final year), improved access to water became a reality for 23,500 residents in Mwariki low-income area. Network repairs enabled NRW reduction and better services as a result and prepaid water dispensers enabled 24-hour access to clean water at a controlled and cheap price (set by the company).
  • In Kumasi, two WASH blocks were built in schools to enable improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene for many school children and reduce absent time from school as a result of water-borne infections and (in the case of girls) challenges faced during their period. You can read more here.

ACF-annual-report-year-5 10-page-001


We’ll be posting a summary of all programme achievements and learning very soon. Watch this space!

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Kumasi’s New WASH Blocks

A post is pretty long overdue here, and as we come towards delivering ACF’s Final Report – watch this space – it’s been pretty exciting to see the great things ACF has done in its fifth and final year, as well as being reminded of some of the activities that were conducted previously in the programme and have had long-lasting effect.

In Ghana, the main thing we’ve been working on this last year has been WASH blocks in schools (toilets, hand-washing facilities and more). Support was given directly to Kumasi Municipal Authority’s (KMA) Waste Management Department (WMD) for the development of plans which would rehabilitate inadequate facilities or construct new facilities according to the need.

School WASH Blocks 1

Assessments were made in 10 low-income area schools on existing facilities, as well as attitudes and practices – followed by a consultative design process and development of a financing strategy. Two schools were selected for the initial intervention with USAID funding, and these WASH blocks were completed last month.

These improvements are vital – one of the things that has struck me from the MyToilet project is the importance to which school children and their parents assign adequate sanitation facilities (see e.g. the story of Eunice in Kenya). Inadequate WASH facilities can lead to children missing school, especially in cases of diarrhoea and, for girls, during their period. The new toilets bring safety, inclusivity and desirability to the classroom, as the next generation of leaders is brought up.

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Challenges in FSM

I’m just back from a meeting with on-the-ground actors in Faecal Sludge Management (FSM). We discussed some of the challenges they face so that we can develop a programme for building their capacity. We hosted four groups.

One of the things that came out clearly is that having adequate and sufficient tools is a very big challenge they face. One of the issues we have here is helping them to see what they do as a business rather than a social enterprise. We can’t go on supporting them forever, but it hasn’t always been easy to show them that they should aim to purchase their own equipment.

Kara_Company_ (3)

Another key issue identified was sites for dumping the waste once they have exhausted it. The way this works differs between organisations. Bigger exhausters have to go probably 20km through Nairobi jams to dump, which increases their prices and decreases their efficiency. At the level we typically engage at, they have a small site where they can dump, but they would want to be able to connect at different points in the sewer line, because transport is via a hand cart, and taking it up and down windy narrow paths over a long distance is very inconvenient.

Other issues that were raised included lack of respect for their profession, security, management of the business and obtaining a license from the relevant body.

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Faecal Sludge Management

I just stepped out of a meeting on how we will continue dealing with the complex problem of Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) in Nairobi. This is a key issue: a large number of toilets are not connected to the sewer system and space constraints often do not allow for the digging of a new toilet when the old one is full. So what is to be done with the waste so that the toilet can continue to be used?

Emptying a filled pit of faecal sludge

Emptying a filled pit of faecal sludge

The next stage in the process is generally conducted by a Community-Based Organisation (CBO) or entrepreneur, who will empty the pits and dump the waste. But too often this process will be done unhygienically, at an unaffordable cost and the waste may be dumped to a local river, rather than an appropriate location.* How is ACF dealing with this?

Well, we are working with an on-the-ground organisation called Kara, who themselves do sludge removal for clients in Kibera. In the past, ACF has supported them with equipment to enable the hygienic emptying of these pits, and we have facilitated access to the sewerage system, so that they can safely dump it. We have also sought to give them capacity-building on aspects of business management, which remains an on-going challenge.

One of the things we discussed is introducing greater competition to encourage Kara to up their game on professionalism, earning their clientele rather than relying on a monopoly market. We’ll be meeting with 3 different groups that are at different levels next week, to discuss current challenges, potential areas of collaboration and we also hope to link them to relevant service providers. As I learn bit more about FSM, I hope I’ll also be able to bring out some of those issues on this blog. In the meanwhile, I’m hoping to work on something that brings together the issues I discussed about water, so keep an eye open for that.

Using the supplied sewer entry point to safely dispose of faecal sludge.

Using the supplied sewer entry point to safely dispose of faecal sludge.

*I can testify that this is better than the alternative, which involves the toilet’s owner releasing the waste into the nearest drainage ditch at a time of heavy rains, so it will drain away, which is terrible in terms of hygiene and smell, not to mention the impact on the dignity of neighbours.

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Quantity of Water

One of the interesting things about purchase of water is that it works in a way that is counter-intuitive to anyone who buys groceries or indeed most commodities. That is, in many places in the world – particularly the ‘developing world’ – it is more expensive (per unit) to buy more water. This encourages low income consumers to meet their minimum water requirements* and also encourages water conservation.

As you’ve probably already realised if you’ve been reading this blog, the poorest are unlikely to benefit from this tariff system – though they should – due to not being able to connect to the formal water provider. Most will operate on standard market principles – paying more per unit on a smaller amount.

These cost issues have profound implications on the amount of water people use. The UN recommends that a person should not spend more than 5% of their income on water. If we think of a household of four earning 100/= (a little over $1) a day (this scenario isn’t crazy), even if they expend 10% (again plausible) of income, they may only get 10l each daily – and less during shortages. Imagine flushing your toilet once per day, and doing nothing else involving any water.** Alongside money constraints, the problem can be compounded by the issue highlighted here – time and energy spent collecting water.

So what happens when the amount of water available is pitifully small? Well, according to this paper (yes, again!), certain important or essential tasks are missed – e.g. bathing, washing clothes and cleaning the home. In bad times, usage may be reduced to drinking only. Believe me when I say a person can really find ways to cut down water usage (I’ve been there), but this is typically at the cost of hygiene – and may result in later illness.

What are we doing to help here? Well, it comes down to our work encouraging the utility to come in and provide better services than currently exist at more affordable prices. You may be bored with that message, but that is our sustainable long term vision for urban water provision, because we don’t on our own have the power to reach the whole of the informal settlements, but the mandated service provider has that capacity and the ability to do so sustainably.

We have also reached literally hundreds of thousands of people with hygiene education messages that highlight to them the importance of using well the water that they are able to obtain. This is important in ensuring that important tasks are not neglected for the sake of saving money, and to maintain the health of those we serve.


*In Nairobi, the minimum block tariff is 10 cubic metres per month. In South Africa, it is the first 6 cubic metres. The costs of these minimum tariffs are often below production cost for social reasons.

**On the minimum block tariff, this family could get 69l each per day, without exceeding the 5%. This would be comfortably enough to meet and go beyond basic needs.

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Cost of Water

One of the big misconceptions out there is that the urban poor cannot or will not pay for their water. This is one of the reasons mandated service providers are often reluctant to expand operations into informal settlements.

Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) charges 18KSh per cubic metre, if consumption is up to 10 cubic metres of water per month (the prices rise for higher usage). However, as previously noted, it is unaffordable for most informal residents to get connected, hence they rely on informal vendors.

The vendors typically charge 3-5KSh** for a 20 litre jerry-can (bright yellow container used for carrying water) in Kibera (other areas may be cheaper), meaning the cost can be 150-250KSh for a cubic metre. This price can skyrocket up to 20KSh per jerry-can in times of shortage. In other words, the poor are paying, perhaps 8-14x as much as those with a formal connection – with peak rates at around 50x as much. Some spend 20% of income on water* (against a UN recommendation of up to 5%), and it may in cases be comparable to or even more than rent.

Persuading water companies that there is a commercial, as well as social, imperative in reaching into slum areas can be a challenge, however. Due to high NRW, there are high losses when supplying such areas. If they could bill everyone who receives water that originates from them, though, gains would be very possible – at the same time as reducing the very high costs for users – thus enabling them to access more better quality water.

And this is where we come in as ACF – bringing innovative solutions that enable the water company to receive revenue from almost all of the water entering an informal settlement (some losses are inevitable), which results in improved service at reduced costs for the residents. One such solution is the model from Kampala described here – we are currently implementing something similar in Nakuru, Kenya – our newest project area.


*Data again is from this paper. Water prices are based on experience and are variable.

**At the time of writing there are 84 Kenya Shillings to the US dollar, or 140 to the pound sterling. This means that a cubic metre of water costs a Kiberean £1.10-1.80 at the best of times – but possibly up to around £7. Based on a trawl of a few water companies, if you’re in the UK, you probably spend around £1.20-1.70.

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Inconvenience of Obtaining Water

Last week, I looked at some of the issues surrounding access to water… This week, I am seeking to highlight the inconvenience that those without a water connection go through on a daily basis in an attempt to obtain enough water for their families.

I find it’s common to hear about rural areas where children walk a long way to get water and may miss school as a result, but much less common to hear similar stories from urban informal settlements.

Residents collecting water in Kambi Muru

However, surveys in Kibera have indicated an average daily collection time of around 45 minutes each day for the urban poor – and the average rises to 55 minutes when considering those who use kiosks/vendors. This is a very significant amount of time for someone who is trying to run a small-scale business or bring up a family. In contrast, those with private connections report using less than 10% of that time (5 minutes). A more recent report paints a yet bleaker picture, stating that Kibera residents spend on average more than 2 hours a day waiting for water, which may be available for as little as 4-5 hours.

These figures are for average days. However, water is often scarce in Kibera; not all days are good. When there is a shortage, a person may have to walk a long way searching for a vendor who is open for business. Or they may know exactly where they can go (someone with a borehole, or connections to numerous pipes), but face enormous queues. This paper, talking of personal experiences suggests that the time taken on a day of shortages could be 5 hours or more – half of the working day gone. These are missed opportunities for income and can hit a family hard.

As highlighted last week, we aim to bring the water utility on board, encouraging to expand into such low-income areas as Kibera, and improve their service, including by NRW reduction, which makes rationing less necessary.

One of our kiosks in Naivasha, where queuing is less of a problem, partly due to lower population density

One of our kiosks in Naivasha, where queuing is less of a problem, partly due to lower population density

Again, in the shorter term, we have our own programme’s kiosks, which seek to make access more convenient – being open for at least around 10 hours each day, keeping queues relatively short (on any given trip, a person is unlikely to wait more than 5 minutes), and being able to supply in times of relative scarcity, due to sizeable storage tanks.

What I would like to hear more about is water access in strategic locations; it tends to be assumed that the distance someone travels to get water in an urban location is low, which it generally is. But on that day when a person is searching for water, it can be a serious issue, if they do not know of a place nearby, which will definitely be open and will not have hiked prices. This was something that struck me about the model NWSC in Kampala showed us when we visited for the WSUP Master Class (see here for more).

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Access to Water

One of the things that is increasingly important to us as our programme draws towards its end is to raise the profile of urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) – we’ve done great work over the past four and a half years, and it is key to ensure others take up the mantle.

So, over the next few weeks I hope to highlight some issues* that make urban WASH a vital, fascinating and challenging area of work – and highlight the issues that informal settlement residents face. I’m intending to tackle water first in a series of posts. If you find something particularly interesting or shocking, please do share it. If you have any questions about the post, or urban WASH in general, please comment.

The first issue to address is access. We can say everyone is accessing water somehow or other, but we take an MDG approach to access – improved water sources, implying safety and convenience, beyond merely obtaining something called water.

Non-Revenue Water reduction in Nairobi

Non-Revenue Water reduction in Nairobi

You might assume that access is ensured in urban areas and there is no reason not to connect. However, a connection charge of 5,000KSh to the utility is unattainable for most households in low income areas, such as Kibera (average household income around 3,000KSh/month**).

This means that these residents generally do not have what we could call improved access to water. An estimated 85% of Kibera residents rely on water vendors to obtain their water**. These vendors may charge high prices (post coming), whilst giving poorer services, because the vendors are unregulated.

There is another problem as well. Some vendors create illegal connections, leading to very high Non-Revenue Water (NRW) in low-income settlements (read about some of what we’ve done to combat this here). This in turn can make a utility reluctant to expand into such areas, so that even a household that can afford the connection fee may not be able to get a connection. This is a chicken-and-egg type problem, as the fewer people who are supplied formally, the more vendors and therefore higher losses expected and more reluctance to supply, even as the areas continue to expand rapidly.

One of our roles then, is demonstrating how to effectively reduce NRW in such areas, so as to convince a water utility that the area does not need to make heavy losses, but can indeed expand operations so that the entire city can gain access.

Alongside this, we also demonstrate models involving water kiosks – whereby those who cannot obtain a water connection are able to at least have access to a more reliable supply.

Accessing more reliable water in Kibera

Accessing more reliable water in Kibera

*Most of my examples will probably come from Kibera, Nairobi. There are very many other slums even in Nairobi alone, and it is not my view that Kibera should be given all the attention it receives while other areas are relatively neglected. However, it is an area I know better than any other, and it’s easier to get data, because of its high profile.

**Data comes from this paper.

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Building sustainability into the project in Kumasi, Ghana

As highlighted in the post on the 4th ACF Annual Report (Kumasi update), Operation and Maintenance (O&M) is a hugely important aspect of any sustainable project. It is increasingly recognised as vital, though it hasn’t acquired the appeal of ‘digging a new well’.

However, new wells can quickly become useless – according to this RWSN data from 20 African countries, 36% of hand-pumps aren’t working. I did my own calculations with their data, and I reckon those non-working pumps from 20 countries could serve 20,000,000 people – that’s 80% of Ghanaians that could be served by nailing O&M. And those pumps may have cost $750m-1bn (I’m NOT an expert on borehole/pump costing – but used figures here to estimate).

Storage tower in the project area, Kotei. This ensures water is available even in dry times, bringing convenience

Storage tower in the project area, Kotei. This ensures water is available even in dry times, bringing convenience

Now, that’s rural, and ACF is urban and works in different ways; we remain in contact with our beneficiaries long after initial installation, but programmes do end (ours will in September) – sometimes, as in the case of our Bamako project, unexpectedly – so it is key to ensure communities involved continue to realise the benefits of our work long after we are gone.

A helpful document on sustainability in the sector is WaterAid’s ‘Sustainability Framework‘. It mentions many factors, including demand, which we addressed here. Several other factors they list are inbuilt in our project in Kumasi, Ghana, including effective community-based management, external technical support, monitoring systems and appropriate tariff structure.

Some of the key things we are doing in line with those aims are:

The Kotei toilet facility.

The Kotei toilet facility.

  • A Community Management Committee (CMC) was established in the first year to enable dialogue between the community and the water utility, GWCL. This model enables community participation.
  • In the last year, work has been done on the communication between the CMC and GWCL and GWCL has committed to conducting major maintenance works. This technical support is valuable as the water utility is expected to have longevity.
  • For more minor O&M, the community have been trained, as less reliance on external parties is the ideal situation, ensuring community-based management is at the forefront.
  • From the project’s outset, facility designs have been discussed with the community, to ensure that they are culturally appropriate, as well as meeting the needs of the most vulnerable – unwanted facilities quickly stop working.
  • Clean-up campaigns have been key in gaining support from the community, as well as passing on key hygiene messages to continue raising demand.
  • The sanitation block built by the project conducts other businesses at the same time, which brings more revenues and brings more people to the toilet. This is another mechanism of raising demand.
  • Tariffs were revised based on the need for cost recovery. Full O&M cost recovery was achieved and there is even an excess which was re-invested for a borehole, which has improved the toilet block’s capacity to cope when the utility is not providing water.
  • In one way and another, the toilet block seems to have earned the community’s respect; throughout Year 4, the number of users per month increased from 5,333 to 8,650.
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