You have all heard of the flying toilets of Kibera and the disgust of open defecation in urban Kenya. This has been the subject of discussion for a long time now. Our comedians have time and again cracked their audiences’ ribs depicting them on national television.
Myriad of NGO officials have made a name for themselves out of an event or another talking about the problem. A community toilet here and another one there have popped up in the informal settlements. Yet the problem of sanitation has persisted and with it a collection of infectious diseases.
But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. This human poopoo menace is once again in the throes of placing Kenya on the world map in the same way Safaricom’s Mpesa has done courtesy of a unique toilet designed and developed by a Kenyan Industrial Design engineer. Besides being targeted at people living in informal settlements, Banza toilet comes as a big relief to people and organizations caring for persons who require assisted living.
The Banza toilet is a foldable multifunctional unit designed for in-home use in places where sewer systems and proper sanitation methods do not exist. The toilet allows the users to hygienically dispose of human waste in the security and privacy of their homes. Waste is then collected in a compostable bag that can be stored odor-free in the toilet for up to 24 hours.
“The idea of Banza toilet came about as a result of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a friend of mine who is a Professor at the University of Nairobi, says Patrick Kiruki, the Chief Executive Officer of Banza Limited. Mr. Kiruki explains that the Professor was involved in an ongoing sanitation research project in Kibera at the time.
The Professor, according to the Banza CEO, was of the opinion that the project was not good enough in addressing the problem of sanitation in Kibera. He felt that there was need for a hardware solution that could help the people in a more holistic way.
“As an industrial Design engineer I thought coming up with hardware would be a great idea,” he says adding that at the time, he thought that conceptualizing the idea was a start.
Mr. Kiruki`s previous experience was in designing phones for name brand manufacturers like Samsung, adding new features here and there. But, he adds, every new design would be exciting but never quite gave him that satisfaction he was craving for. He craved to do something that would help people in a different way by impacting their lives meaningfully.
“I felt that I had throughout my career only designed consumer products that only affected 10 percent of the world’s population. I wanted to come up with something that would positively impact the lives of the other 90 percent of the worlds’ population.”
Mr. Kiruki followed his passion and completed the first design. He was so excited with it that he submitted it to an international design competition, the index award based in Europe. To his surprise, the design managed to get a nomination but was not among those that finally won the award. This nomination, he says, was to him a big achievement in spite of not getting an award.
But there were to be some dull moments. Buoyed by the nomination, Mr. Kiruki started writing proposals to various organizations for funding to execute the project. At the time, sanitation and a lack of toilets was not seen as a key factor to poor health in the developing world. The tide would later turn. There was suddenly a surge in the number of people looking for projects that would help address sanitation challenges.
Since initiating a pilot project in Mathare, we have received enquiries from people with bed-ridden relatives and dependents. “One person’s inquiry on our Facebook page was about her mother; she is eighty years old and has complications arising from a chronic disease. She cannot stand or cannot walk on her own. We are now informed that there is no one happier than her since she started using the Banza toilet,” notes Mr. Kiruki.
The Banza toilet project which incorporates waste collection services is being piloted in Mathare to test improvements in health and sanitation. An initial batch of twenty households are on the project, but will be scaled up to 90 households in coming weeks. The pilot project will run for six months. A successful project will lead to scaled-up distribution of toilets and waste collection services country wide.
The project has so far received good support from the Ministry of Health, and recently the Technology Working Group (TWG) under the Ministry of Health voted unanimously to adopt and recommend the Banza Toilet System as the countrywide standard and model for personal sanitation. There was total consensus that this solution represents a remarkable prospect for improving personal hygiene and public health throughout Kenya. Besides this, says Mr. Kiruki, Banza Limited has received requests from Haiti and Germany on possible supply of the Banza toilet system