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Select Committee on International Development Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by James Cogan OBE and Dr M K Musaazi on behalf of the Good Earth Trust

The Role of Interlocking Stabilised Soil Block Technology in Addressing Slum Upgrading: Mathare 4A Project, Nairobi

  1.  This document is further to a submission made in October to the International Development Committee regarding their inquiry into Water and Sanitation. The submission related to the role of Appropriate Technologies in development and specifically to the potential of Interlocking Stabilised Soil Block Technology (ISSBs) to help address the Water and Sanitation needs of the poorest people.

  2.  Since October, we have regularly attended related Evidence Sessions of the Committee. One particular meeting, which has prompted this submission, was the Oral Evidence Session on the World Urban Forum III held on Tuesday 21 November.[167]166 Amongst others giving evidence was Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat. A principal theme of the session was the need for effective solutions to the increasing problems caused by rapid urbanisation in the developing world. Despite this worsening crisis, evidence offered at the session appeared singularly lacking in specific approaches or practical solutions. For this reason, we would like to draw the Committee's attention to a successful, large-scale slum up-grading project in Mathare in Nairobi, using Stabilised Soil Block (SSB) technology. The project highlights one specific, practical approach which has great potential.

  3.  Mathare is one of the largest and poorest slums in Africa. Located just a few kilometres North of the city centre, and no more than a few hundred metres downstream from Muthaiga, the city's richest residential area, it is home to half a million people. The particular project to which this paper refers was developed in an area of the slum called Mathare 4A. The area covers around 17 hectares and has a population of approximately 30,000-32,000 people (population density therefore is in the region of 2,000 people/hectare). The inhabitants generally belonged to the lowest urban income bracket with an average family income of 1980 Ks per month (c £15). The entire area had only two public toilets and due to poor maintenance only one of these was functional. Many households had no other option other than to use open drainage channels or any other available open areas. The main water supply in the area was kiosks where the cost of water was four times higher than the price charged by the Nairobi City Council.

  4.  A programme to rehabilitate Mathare 4A was initiated in 1992, following an agreement reached between the Government of Kenya, the Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi and the Government of Germany (through its donor agency KFW). The Archdiocese was entrusted to act as the Project Implementing Agency and they set up the Amani Housing Trust to implement and administer the project. The main aims were to improve housing conditions as well as water and sanitation facilities and to further to develop accessibility to the area. For the construction of all housing to the Amani Housing Trust chose to use Stabilised Soil Block Technology. It is cost-effective, simple to use and complies with all stipulations of the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

  5.  A pilot project covering approximately three hectares was initiated in 1992 and upon its successful completion a funding agreement for the main project (to cover the remaining 14 hectares) was signed on 21 January 1997. Since that time, using SSB technology, accommodation for 3,000 families has been built, 700 as a result of rent income. All tenants have Secure Tenure. A Community Centre has also been constructed with a clinic attached. Water and Sanitation facilities have been improved, 183 wetcores (communal washing/toilet areas) have been constructed and 30% of new housing units have latrines. As a result health conditions in the area have improved greatly particularly with relation to water-borne diseases including malaria and cholera. 43% of residents reported lower incidence of all diseases. The upgrading of roads, footpaths and street lighting and the introduction of solid waste collection points has also improved living conditions and security. The project was developed and implemented in consultation with members of the community and many employment opportunities were also created. During this time turn-over rates within the area have dropped from 40% per annum to 5%. An independent report on the project, funded by DFID, reached the following conclusions:

      "The programme has demonstrated the importance of participatory approaches in slum-upgrading projects and direct benefits to the target population... The key improvements and achievements of the programme are:

      —  Improved sanitation, security and environmental quality.

      —  Better standards of living.

      —  Better housing using appropriate technology.

      —  Improved infrastructure.

      —  Capacity building among residents in maintenance of programme facilities, education and discussions on social matters, conflict resolution and others."[168]

  6.  As referred to above, one outstanding success of the project has been its level of community participation. From the outset, the programme ensured that the needs and aspirations of the community were identified and prioritised even if complete accord was sometimes difficult to achieve. The community were also closely involved in the implementation of the project as well as its development. An important part of this was the training of community members, both men and women, in the use and application of SSB technology enabling them to contribute actively to the improvement of existing structures and the construction of new houses and infrastructure. It is the simplicity and utility of SSB technology that made this possible.

  7.  The programme in Mathare 4A has been generally deemed a successful prototype and is included in the Kenya Dossier of Good Practices, 2000 funded by UNCHS. Invariably however, the focus of the reviews has been on the sociological and political implications of the project. Little attention has been paid to practical aspects and to the technology used. Recent site visits and discussions with the Amani Housing Trust indicate overall satisfaction with the project outcomes. Grace Kambo, the General Manager of the Amani Housing Trust, with long experience in this field, has stated her belief that the technology was "a crucial part of the project's success" and is "ideal" for slum-upgrading projects. That said, quality of construction over the whole site is uneven. All constructions built during the initial stage of the project are of a high standard and are still in excellent condition. Sections of lesser quality have been attributed to inadequate training and supervision during certain phases of the project. Future projects should contain procedures to ensure comprehensive training and supervision throughout the programme to maintain quality-control. Provided that this is taken into account, the technology has great potential for further projects.

  8.  It is also very important to note that this project was carried out, before the modifications to the technology (described in detail in the previous submission) were effected. The improvements that have since been made can only make the technology more relevant. Increased compaction has made the blocks stronger and the introduction of the interlocking design reduces the costs of construction further because much less mortar is required. It also makes the actual process of construction faster and more straightforward. Speed of construction is extremely important in slum scenarios because in such densely populated areas it is necessary to demolish existing dwellings simply to create space for new constructions. This means the inevitable displacement of people and for obvious reasons it is desirable to be able to construct the new housing as quickly as is possible. The size and transportability of the machines makes them accessible to all areas. Simplified construction techniques mean that training is more straightforward and community participation further facilitated. The success of the technology in providing affordable constructions that can be built by local people could now be repeated with greater ease and reliability.

  9.   Perhaps the most important development of all however, is the introduction of a mould which produces a curved block. This offers a genuine breakthrough in water storage and sanitation technology. Using curved blocks, a self-standing water tank with a 10,000 litre capacity can be constructed by a small team in just two days at a dramatically reduced cost compared to alternatives. Tanks such as these, can be used to collect and store water "harvested" from roof tops (the great concentration of which in a densely populated area such as a slum makes it ideally suited) A 10,000 litre tank attached to one or several housing structures could easily serve four families (taking into account the WHO recommendations of 25 litres per person per day and an average family size in Mathare of 3.2 persons per household). The potential of the technology to construct community water assets has been widely tested and documented across Eastern Uganda. The technology is obviously equally suited to the construction of pit latrines and septic tanks. The curved blocks are ideal for lining the walls of pit latrines from a radius of one metre up to much larger containers. The technology can transform the potential of the even the poorest people to address the problems of water and sanitation and its relevance to slum scenarios is clear. The Amani Housing Trust has since been introduced to the changes to the technology and is very keen to test its potential with further practical projects.

  10.  However, it is important to note that the original project was not without other problems, many of which are relevant to all slum-upgrading scenarios. Many of these have been caused by disaffected former landlords who felt that the land should have been allocated to them rather than to the Amani Trust Fund. They have also complained that compensation payments have been insufficient. If the project was to ensure Secure Tenure for all residents of Mathare 4A, it was necessary that the land was re-allocated to the Amani Trust Fund to ensure that rents were stable and to avoid enforced evictions. Nevertheless, the discontent of the former "owners", many of whom had risen to positions of considerable influence, was inevitable. Further to this, there were complaints made by some of the residents of Mathare 4A, the intended beneficiaries of the project. There was some lobbying for lower rents and higher levels of service. At certain points the problems became so serious that the project had to be halted. Much of this can be attributed to the high expectations of the tenants, many of whom felt that the land should have been transferred directly to their ownership and that rent payments of any kind, should not have been required. However, the allocation of the land to an institution in trust for residents had clear advantages over immediate redistribution which effectively would have recreated the previous, problematic ownership structure. There was also a need for the project to be able to generate funds to ensure its long-term sustainability. It seems, at the outset at least, that for a number of reasons many of the residents were unwilling or unable to take these issues into consideration. Indeed, many of their grievances are entirely understandable and present challenges which future slum-upgrading projects must address. Despite these difficulties however, the project now has been able to complete the improvement of housing and infrastructure across 90% of the planned coverage area.

  11.  Issues relating to the crises of Water and Sanitation, particularly in the context of rapid urbanisation, emerged consistently throughout the World Urban Forum III session. As populations in slums continue to increase in terms of both numbers and density, the problems and challenges of providing all people with adequate water and sanitation facilities intensify, particularly as water resources in many developing countries continue to dwindle. (Indeed, this is often a prime motivation behind mass migrations to urban centres). Issues of Rapid Urbanisation and Water and Sanitation are at the top of the development agenda and are clearly inter-related in many ways. The subject was revisited once again at the Third Evidence Session on 12 December, particularly relating to Sanitation. Dr Darren Saywell of the International Water Association stated his own belief that Water and Sanitation solutions have even greater urgency in urban contexts and that appropriate responses must be found. Upon further questioning he suggested that the most effective responses would be found through the "refined concept of a whole range of technical options" and "combinations of different technologies". In the scenarios to which Dr Saywell was referring, alternative, low-level solutions such as ISSB technology do indeed have a disproportionately low profile.

  12.  There are many other reasons why ISSBs and other similar "low-level" technologies are more appropriate then ever before to slum-upgrading and other development projects across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Perhaps the most important of these, particularly in the context of rapid urbanisation, is that they are environmentally-sustainable. Unlike many other building materials used including fired bricks and hollow concrete blocks (which were used in the Mathare 4A project to construct the wetcores), ISSBs do not require kiln-firing and as blocks are made on-site, the further environmental pollution of transportation is eliminated.

  13.  Climate change is already affecting Africa. Extreme weather events, drought and desertification are increasing and have forced many to flee their homes. Between 1975 and 1995, Africa experienced a 2.8 times decrease in water availability and resources are expected to become even more scarce. Africa is particularly susceptible to these changes because so many people rely on subsistence farming for both their livelihood and survival. Large-scale population movements already occur, and this is of course, a major cause of the rapid urbanisation that we are now witnessing. It is urgently important that solutions to this crisis do not cause further environmental degradation or contribute to climate change and thus effectively worsen the problems that they are being used to address in the long-term, rather than helping to solve them. If ISSB technology was adopted on a large scale, there would be a dramatic decrease in deforestation and subsequent carbon emissions. Indeed, a project is currently underway in Northern Uganda, funded by Climate Care, to investigate the potential of the technology for large-scale carbon off-setting programmes.

  14.  Given the relevance of the Technology to many of the issues which have been under scrutiny, we would urge the Committee once again to review our previous submission and to consider the merits of ISSBs and indeed other Appropriate Technologies when addressing issues such as Urbanisation and Water and Sanitation. ISSBs themselves do not provide a complete solution. But it is our contention that they are—like other Appropriate Technologies—currently neglected and have a low profile among development agencies which are too attached to sophisticated and often inappropriate Western solutions. What is indeed required is a "refined concept of a whole range of technical options". Appropriate Technologies such as ISSBs have great potential and are relevant to many of today's most urgent poverty scenarios. They should be considered as an integral part of the debate on the best way forward.

December 2006

167   166 Joint evidence session with Communities and Local Government Committee, Tuesday 21 November 2006, HC 48. Back

168   Assessment of Mathare 4A Development Programme Against the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach: Working Paper 4-Hannah Waruguru Kamau & Jobson Ngari, November 2002. Back

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