Although Mbuya is located in one of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) divisions where one would expect good sanitation and hygiene, residents are so desperate for toilets that they have resorted to what is commonly known in slums as ‘flying toilets’.
Slum dwellers are known to use polythene bags (kaveera) as toilets and then dispose of their ‘flying toilets’ in either garbage collection sites or on random rooftops!
The ‘flying toilets’ are attributed to a lack of toilets and proper sewerage system. When journalists visited Mbuya, courtesy of Makerere University students under the MasterCard Foundation programme, they saw the other side of Mbuya – away from affluent residences and paved roads; a community languishing in poverty and in dire need of toilets and other sanitation facilities.
In Mbuya II Zone Six, heaps of uncollected garbage lay unattended next to water channels; nearby, more garbage burnt in a community effort to reduce the filth, even as children’s faecal matter littered all over.
A lady who only identified herself as Mama Rita said access to toilets in the area is a challenge and that during the ‘rush hours’ it is very difficult to get a toilet that is not occupied, hence the human waste in water channels and every dark alley.
She said those with young children openly dispose of the children’s waste at dumpsites.
“The toilet we have here is around 500 metres from my house; you cannot expect one to take a child’s waste that far for disposal, but that’s what we have been doing ever since [we moved here],” she said.
“We also don’t have a special place to throw [used diapers] since we have flashing toilets and not pit latrines; we don’t want to block our only toilet because it’s us who pay for maintenance costs.”
Babirye, 49, who has spent most of her life in Mbuya II said: “We have people here who are very poor and can’t afford the Shs 1,000 needed for the maintenance of the community toilet, so where do you think they go? They mostly use kaveera or basins and then pour their waste in the water channels.”
Area leaders admitted that residents throw their waste everywhere, because of the shortage of toilet facilities. Geoffrey Ojowomoko, an administrator in the area, said that lack of toilets and bathrooms in the area has forced people to improvise. His biggest fear is the increasing cases of waterborne diseases due to general poor hygiene.
“As you have seen us collecting garbage, most of those buveera are full of human waste and even if you burn them, they don’t completely burn. That smoke you see there has been there for weeks because human waste does not easily burn,” he said.
Strange that a community is okay with inhaling smoke from its burning faeces, for weeks!
Ojowomoko added: “Even the toilet we have is old and has only two cubicles so, if one is badly off, they may resort to other means, especially at night.”
Aston Karatunga, the area LC-I chairman, said the situation is so bad that people believe KCCA and the government have neglected them.
“The only toilet here was built by the community and even then, we don’t have any assistance; we make tenants to pay Shs 1,000 per month but still it’s hard to raise. This toilet also needs to be emptied every three months, but we depend on well-wishers,” he said.
“What do you expect from a community where 90 per cent are unemployed? They can’t even raise the monthly contribution. The cheaper option is to collect used polythene bags and use as toilets.”
He said there are many diseases affecting people due to poor hygiene but people are left without a choice but to treat rather than prevent; he highlighted cholera, typhoid, dysentery and malaria as some of the diseases endemic to the community.
Moses Mugisha Okwera, the LC-V chairman Nakawa division, said the ratio of toilet:person stands at about 1:300 making flying toilets an ‘acceptable’ threat to their lives.
“We need more public toilets in Giza Giza (Mbuya II zone six); there is also a challenge with garbage management. People don’t have where to put waste,” he said.
KCCA withdrew its public garbage skips years ago and contracted companies that charge communities a token fee to pick their waste. However, in communities like these where majority residents have no jobs, paying for garbage disposal feels like an unnecessary luxury. Under the cover of darkness, they throw their garbage in the roads, by neighbours’ fences, in drainage channels and bushes.
Okwera advised that as the community waits for KCCA to build more toilets, local leaders should sensitize the public about good hygiene practices.
“Our roads are narrow; sometimes the garbage tracks come but fail to reach the dumpsites. As we sort out the issues of toilets, we need to deal with garbage as a community,” he said.
Alice Amony, the division chairperson in charge of public health, blamed negligence for the residents’ plight.
“[Ideally] each home should have a toilet and be able to manage their garbage, but it seems people are very poor; also, KCCA has left the burden to Kampala Consortium [garbage collectors] who also seems overwhelmed,” she said.
Amony said KCCA has, however, identified two areas where two toilets will be built soon.
According to Isma Kayiza, the speaker of MasterCard Students Association, it is the plight of the residents that pushed students to visit and offer support.
“We are here to sensitize the public about hygiene and sanitation. Before we came, we did a survey and realized that people here don’t have latrines and also don’t know the implication of poor hygiene,” he said.
“We have over 250 students helping the community here; this is a form of giving back to the community as people who have been supported by MasterCard Foundation.”