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Around the world, some 3.5 billion people are living without safe toilets, and close to 1,000 children under five die every day due to a lack of sanitation facilities. Ahead of World Toilet Day this Sunday, we take a look at a system in Kenya that not only disposes of waste, but also provides sustainable forms of energy.

Originally published in November, 2022, this article was updated on 17 November, 2023.

More than 10 million people live in informal settlements in Kenya, including 3 million in Nairobi. More than two-thirds of the population does not have access to safe sanitation facilities, and people are sometimes forced to defecate in the open air, posing serious public health issues. 

In Kibera, East Africa’s largest informal settlement, two "bio-centers" or sanitary facilities, are now transforming feces into biogas. 

Multipurpose sanitary facilities 

Two such bio-centers were inaugurated in Kibera on November 18, in partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation, the NGO Umande Trust and Athi Water Works. The bio-centers are sanitary facilities consisting of toilets with separate areas for women and men. 

The organic waste generated by these facilities is transformed into biogas thanks to a “digester” (a sealed underground compartment). The gas produced provides energy to a small ground-level kitchen. The facilities use a minimum amount of water - just one liter compared to five or six for standard toilets, so energy is not only produced, but water is economized. 

“The people who live and work in this informal settlement do not have toilets, so this project will really help the community,” says Francis Omondi, who works at the site. “This new bio-center will provide real support at an affordable cost.”

Fees help to maintain the facilities, with toilets costing 5 shillings (€0.04), and hot water 15 shillings (€0.12). The project aims to build a total of ten bio-centers in informal settlements, five of which are completed or due for delivery in the near future. 

“I was impressed by this innovation which enables the inhabitants of low-income areas to gain access not only to latrines, but also to a source of renewable energy and a multi-purpose room,” Arnaud Suquet, French Ambassador to Kenya, said at the inauguration. 

See also: Improving access to water and sanitation for 3.6 million people in Ethiopia

AFD Provides Long-term Support in this Sector  

AFD has been working hand in hand with the Kenyan Government for more than 20 years to address the issue of access to water and sanitation in the country. First of all, AFD granted a €20-million loan to Kisumu in 2003, to provide the city with access to drinking water and sanitation. This was followed in 2005 by the funding of another project in Nairobi with similar aims, and lastly Mombasa in 2008. Over the last ten years, AFD has granted additional loans to these three cities, amounting to a total commitment of €350 million. 

The bio-centers inaugurated today were built as part of a broader project aimed at improving water supply and sanitation in Nairobi. The total amount of funding provided by AFD for this project stands at €100 million, of which €600,000 is allocated to these centers.

“The inclusion of this element demonstrates AFD’s commitment to covering almost systematically the informal settlements which are severely lacking in facilities,” said Bertrand Willocquet, the director of AFD in Kenya. 

Elsewhere, AFD also lent its support to the NGO SANERGY, in the form of a €1-million subsidy. This organization provides sanitation products and facilities to ensure safe waste collection and a decent experience. It currently serves 170,000 people daily in informal settlements and collects and eliminates 18,000 tons of waste per year.