‘Toilet humor’ is often a source of smirks or tittering in developed nations, but a lack of sanitation and plumbing in some parts of the world is no laughing matter.
Nov. 19 marked the United Nations' World Toilet Day. According to the UN, 2.4 billion people worldwide – 1 out of 3 people – lack access to functioning toilets, leading to myriad health problems.
In Kenya, the Ministry of Health estimates that around eight million citizens are forced to defecate in the open due to a lack of plumbing.
Anadolu Agency went to the Kibera slums in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, considered to be one of the largest slums in Africa and infamous for its euphemistically titled ‘flying toilets’.
“They make a “whoosh” sound; that is when you know that they are coming,” says 35-year-old mother-of-three Lucy Njeri.
“We have no sewer system here, most of us are so poor, so what happens is most of the people defecate in a small plastic bag and throw it,” she says.
The ‘flying toilets’ get their name from the technique whereby once someone defecates in a plastic bag, they close it, then start swinging it into an arc before sling-shotting it into the air.
“Nobody ever thinks about where it will end up,” Njeri adds with a chuckle.
“When we are by the Nairobi River, washing clothes with the other women, we often hear funny stories like ‘it hit someone in the face’, or ‘it fell into someone’s pot of githeri’ (a local meal made up of beans and maize),” she adds, laughing uncontrollably.
For the slum dwellers, this mode of disposing of fecal matter is better than open defecation, John Munene, a shopkeeper, tells Anadolu Agency, adding that the mode was hygienic and cheap.
“A roll of tissue paper costs $0.3; this is also the price of 50 nylon papers which are used in flying toilets.
“I say that this is more hygienic because if you throw your toilet into the river, instead of just throwing it and hoping it doesn’t hit someone, then that way it won’t hurt anyone,” Munene argues.
Access to sanitation is an major challenge in Kibera, which lacks a proper sewerage system. Slam dwellers have built small terraces to ferry sewage from their houses to the Nairobi River.
However, this leads to the spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.
Still in the slums, a community-based cleaning service says that it has found a solution for the flying toilets – they ask people to place the plastic bags over a bucket and use it as a normal toilet would be used.
“Urine has urea; if you mix urine with the feces and leave it for a while, the waste will become sanitized, “Jackson Omondi, a worker at the community cleaning service, told Anadolu Agency.
“We then come and pick them up at a very small price of ten shillings [$0.09] a week and use the treated fecal matter as manure.
“This business has created jobs for many people, it has improved the sanitary conditions in the slums and more people are joining every day.”
Omondi and his colleagues then use the manure to grow vegetables on a portion of land in the slums; the produce will later be sold at market.
Carol Sherman, Kenya country director for children's charity Plan International told Anadolu Agency that her organization is teaching slum dwellers to building simple latrines so as to put an end to the flying toilets.
“Plan International is working with the Health Ministry to improve sanitation in the slums. We have helped more than 500 villages in Kenya to be declared open-defecation-free zones.
“I am sure we will also help the people of Kibera,” she added.