Director’s Diary: Combatting Development Chaos

by: October 26th, 2012 comments: 0

Kepha Ngito is Executive Director of Map Kibera Trust. This post is his first in a series of personal reflections on his experiences with Map Kibera.

The Accra effect

Recently I attended the ON (Omidyar Network) -Baraza together with the African Leadership Network conference in Accra, Ghana. Both events happened one after the other at the same venue, the Movenpick Hotel. Irony is that I found peace of mind to write down these thoughts while in a 5-star hotel in Accra, Ghana, and not in a tin, stick and mud shack in the heart of Kibera, Mathare or Mukuru slums in Nairobi. These last 3 locations are normally my dwelling places, not just physical dwellings but psychological dwellings and lately, professional dwellings. I was only a visitor in Ghana, a country with a lot of history.

Being in Ghana or say, the comforts of the hotel ironically provided a certain ‘peace’ of mind and quiet – a rare luxury for most people living in slums — that enabled me to reflect enough to write this article. Even though I don’t compare myself to those in prison or exile, I understood why they write better and longer articles.

For nearly 10 months now, I have been working as the Executive Director at Map Kibera Trust. I am also one of the founding Trustees of the organization. A quick attention grabber would be that we worked with the community to make the first digital map of Kibera and ‘placed’ it on the Kenyan map after decades of its depiction as a forest on the country’s official map. We have since done the same for Mathare and Mukuru.

With a team of about 45 people (15 in each location), we are a group of people who believe that mapping is the first step to affirming that a people exist somewhere, even when they have been pushed to the periphery of mainstream development and tagged as ‘informal’ or depicted as a forest, a quarry site, a swamp, an electricity reserve or a garbage dump site in official maps. For many years, over 60% of Nairobi residents who reside in the many slums in and around the city have occupied the ‘non –formal’ residential areas and built what is now known as ‘informal settlements.’ Putting them on the map physically, then socially, then economically and even politically by encouraging an information-driven culture of advocacy is what we have been working at in the last 2 and half years of our existence. In this way, we attempt to ‘formalize the informal’. It’s a pity that some people’s identities are carved for them by others and by circumstances beyond their control. Where we live or lived does not necessarily make us who we are. We believe that we are not products of our environment, we are the creators of it, we sustain its beauty or unbeauty and that’s why we must be the people to change what’s wrong about it.

‘Development’ chaos in the slums

Even as I waited eagerly to interact with other invited leaders from different parts of Africa and the world at the Accra conference, I couldn’t help but reflect at the journey we have made in Kibera, Mathare and now in Mukuru. This was a journey aimed at increasing the spaces of transparency, establishing credible information and data and making it open and accessible to people. Offering marginalized residents alternative citizen platforms to voice their own stories (see Kibera News Network or Voice of Kibera), making maps, updating them regularly and teaching people how to use them to discuss development issues at community level. Slums are like oceans with many things that cannot be discovered at a glance.

For many years, NGOs and organizations with good intentions swarmed into the slums each armed with a silver bullet – a philosophy that they strongly believed in. These projects were usually too brief to make any meaningful or sustainable effects in the community. They also had very fine points of focus with very strict statistical deliverables and timelines mostly targeting large amounts of quantitative data as the main outputs. As a result, beyond the beautiful statistics, published project reports and nice photos shared among their elite donors and ‘partners’, nothing much of substance came to or remained with the people when these projects came to an end. (Usually they tended to leave as soon as the project money ran out). This ‘development chaos’ characterized by competition for space, donor funds and the community’s goodwill led to the loss of professional integrity, lack of consistency and loss of the urge to network among like-minded initiatives. Corruption found a breeding ground and boom!, a ‘virtual slum’ was created, a slum made famous for the wrong reasons and constructed by NGOs and aid organizations whose ideas have failed to build the community and who have created idle structures that stand in the way of and frustrate new practical methods, ideas or development. And  while all this is happening, the real slums and their challenges remain in the shadows wallowing in ignorance, poverty, disease and crime, and watch every day as a new truck passes by full of visiting ‘partners’. The mama mboga sits at the same roadside mud kiosk every day and barely manages to turn away her face to avoid the camera flash glare. She probably wonders why some people are so interested in her picture. She can only complain by turning her head away.

Paper Mapping

by: July 5th, 2011 comments: 0

Paper mapping

The approaches to paper mapping are well described by Mikel in his blog post called Paper Mapping in Community Meetings. What I would like to add to his points are the reasons why we conducted the paper mapping in the first place. To name a few:

Feedback. To acquire feedback from the wider community regarding the maps and the data collected by a few community members.

Understanding the place. To understand the areas where we are mapping – more accurately, to at least trying to understand complex places like Kibera. Outsiders to communities often overlook this step, and end up conducting projects in communities that they don’t really understand and haven’t taken the time to learn much about.

Acquire more information. We wanted to collect more information and double-check the information collected, find the missing objects, listen to the stories regarding particular issues, and to identify specific problems and solutions to these problems.

Monitoring the accuracy of the mapping. Through community’s input we were able to monitor the accuracy of our mapping endeavor.

These were the reasons I decided I’m going to look closely into these paper/drawn maps and try to understand what the people from Kibera were telling us. I’ve done a similar exercise before with Joshua Goldstein (as a part of Map Kibera) who was at that time working for UNICEF Innovations. We – together with the rest of the Map Kibera team, of course – had created the first, and the most comprehensive Security map of Kibera. Now it was time to focus on other problematic areas, where we also involved community members who drew on our existing map to add information and new issues. For that reason, there were, and still are, some twenty or so drawn, paper maps stored safely away in cyberspace, which cover issue topics ranging from education, health, water and sanitation. To extract useful information from these maps required some Photoshop magic. The first maps I looked into were the water and sanitation maps.

So what did we ask, and what did the community tell us?

Identifying missing resources:

Is it representative?Is anything missing or mislabeled?” were some of the questions we asked to help us see the extent of the missing data. The feedback made us realize that we missed a lot, and it made us realize we need to re-do the mapping.

Missing

Identifying problem areas:

What and where are the biggest problems regarding water and sanitation in the community? Which water points and toilets would you say are the worst and why? Are there many people who use public spaces for toilets?” were the questions which helped us identify the most pressing issues and problems. Some of the major problems identified were:

Major problems/issues

  • All streams are used as toilets and dumping sites
  • There is a health hazard because the people at times use the railway as a toilet, garbage dump & a cooking point
  • Misuse of the drainage system as a dumping site

Stories behind issues:

What would you say are the largest and most direct challenges to providing quality water and sanitation? What is the biggest need regarding water, waste disposal, and sanitation in Kibera? What would you want the Government and other decision makers to know about water, waste disposal, and sanitation in Kibera?” These questions helped us collect stories that lent insight into the complex dynamics of Kibera. Some stories:

Stories connected to water and sanitation

  • Different amounts of money is required depending on which toilet you use
  • Solid waste management is poor
  • Vigilante groups demand money for the toilets which are to be constructed in their area
  • Maintenance of toilets is a big problem; toilets get polluted quickly
  • For “short calls” people use plastic tins; flying toilets (plastic bags in which people defecate and then throw out of their home) are used at night because of insecurity
  • Households use paper bags for waste collection; these bags are then picked up by individuals and groups who bring them to collection points for a certain amount

Mapping mobility:

Where do your collect water? Where do you use the toilet? Where do you dump trash? Why?” By asking these questions we were able to observe the movements connected to the water and sanitation. Some of the findings that came out of the mobility mapping were that:

Mobility connected to water and sanitation

  • People dump their trash into rivers, and the rivers serve as collectors of most of the garbage from the slums
  • There are some points of data collection within the slum where the city council collects the trash and transports it out of the slum
  • People don’t necessarily use the closest toilets and water points but look for the most affordable ones

Solutions:

How would you solve some of the problems you pointed out? In what ways can you envision using this map to improve water, waste disposal, and sanitation in Kibera?” These questions encouraged people to share their views on how to solve certain problems regarding water and sanitation:

Some of the solutions

  • Awareness and education
  • Need for weekly garbage collection
  • More dumping sites, more toilets to be constructed
  • Stakeholder involvement – coordination between stakeholders
  • Partnership involvement – CBOs, NGOs, and landlords should come on board to make sure that each plot has a sanitary facility/usable toilet
  • Triangle: Reuse, Recycle, Reduction programs needed

Paper mapping or drawing exercises proved to be a very useful feedback mechanism and also a very useful tool for planning. The community’s knowledge is priceless and only the community understands and knows all the answers. There’s no point in figuring out something new when the solutions are already available and when all you have to do is just listen!

What we learned out of this process can be best told by quoting an article: Participatory mapping and geographic information systems: Whose map? Who is empowered and who dis-empowered? Who gains and who loses? by professor Robert Chambers from the Institute of Development Studies who has been involved with participatory methodologies from the early beginnings, or at least from the first modern scientific endeavors in the field of participatory methodologies:

Before the late 1980s and early 1990s when some of us were so excited at what we were finding local people could do, much indigenous, local and participatory mapping had already taken place in different regions, countries and continents. Mapping and various forms of spatial representation by local people on their own have a long history, and very likely a prehistory!

More remarkable than what local people had already done in mapping and other forms of spatial representation was “our” educated professional ignorance of their mapping abilities.

[Cross-posted from Mapping: No Big Deal]

Why Map Open Drainage? And How?

by: April 4th, 2011 comments: 3

Open Drainage

I believe that the reasons to map open drainage in the slums are well known and are obvious to most people. Everyone who’s ever been to the slums knows that open drainage presents a huge health hazard to the people living around it. In combination with poor or non-existent water and sanitation systems, open drainage presents a recipe for disaster which is always present and can erupt at any time and wreak havoc amongst the populations. If I quote a few experts on the dangers that open drainage poses:

“Potholes in the streets, pools of stagnant water, and waste gushing from bathrooms and kitchens provide breeding sites for malarial mosquitoes and other spreaders of disease.” (Nwaka, Geoffrey I. “The Urban informal Sector in Nigeria”)

“Most slum households must fetch their water from a standpipe and deposit their waste in open drains. The rate of infection is high; therefore there is constant risk of epidemic.” (Gulis et. Al. “Health status of people of slums in Nairobi, Kenya”)

“In slum areas, a minor flood is not just inconvenient. It is life-threatening. With open drains and overflowing latrines even a small flood means that children have to wade through raw sewage.” (Willem Alexander, HRH, Chair of UNSGAB. “World Water Day Op Ed”)

In an article on the health status of people of slums in Nairobi, Kenya the authors conclude that: “Environmental conditions can have major influences on health status. Therefore, environmental improvements are important in the improvement of health status.” (Gulis et. Al. “Health status of people of slums in Nairobi, Kenya”)

As my friend Simon, a long-time resident of Mathare and our Map Mathare Coordinator, put it on the Mathare Valley blog: “One does not need to be a scientist to know what would happen in case of disease outbreak. The improvement of proper water distribution and repairing the broken water pipes coupled with constructing good drainage system is the key to fighting common illness in the slums.”

What I can add to all of this is that in order to improve or at least start improving living conditions, you need to first know and understand the situation on the ground. By mapping open drainage areas, our mappers are providing the first detailed geographical information about how open drainage is distributed throughout Kibera and Mathare, thus providing necessary information to anyone hoping to solve the problem.

This I believe answers the question of why and brings me to the next question: How?

Obviously open drainage creates “appalling living conditions,” but maybe not so obviously, it creates appalling mapping conditions too! Open drainage winds and curves between houses, often sinks below them, intersects, flows, stands, overflows, merges with the content of broken sewage lines (sewage lines burst and sewage comes above ground, mixing with the content of open drainage), and creates pools of standing water. Open drainage is the main collector of garbage: garbage in open drainage areas often clogs drainage systems, thus creating floods during rains. All of this mesh slowly flows downwards, usually towards rivers that pick it up and carry it further downstream, polluting the environment sometimes hundreds of kilometers away.

In order to understand the scale of the problem in Mathare and Kibera we went on an investigative – or, if I put it in army terms, reconnaissance – mission with our teams to see the problem first hand. Our participants surveyed the problem, and their input helped us to better understand what we’re up against. We walked through the slum evaluating different drainage lines and problems we faced in mapping them, Sebastien (our new volunteer) and I then facilitated the mappers to decide on which points of interest we should collect and in what order.

Investigating the problem

Findings from the field regarding open drainage include:

  • Open drainage has many sources and it forms for many reasons (resulting from topography and from human actions)
  • It comes in many forms regarding the content and structure (garbage, water, sewage, earth trench, concrete trench, etc.)
  • It has main channels with many tributaries

We came to realize that drainage systems in slums (Kibera, Mathare) basically work as micro river systems! This made us understand that it has to have an outlet, and both Kibera and Mathare have outlets in the form of rivers that run through them.

All of this helped us made our action plan:

  • All the drainage flows towards the rivers, so we started collecting data along the rivers.
  • The next step is to collect data for the main channels, which lie along the main paths.
  • After this, we focused on the smaller paths in the slum, collecting points of interest along the way. This includes the start and end points for “following” a drainage line, intersections of different lines, man-holes (along sewage lines), and broken sewage lines. At intersections, we’re collecting the directions of different intersecting lines
  • Throughout this process, the use of building extraction (when possible) helps us sketch the drainage lines

After the extensive data collection we’ll use the satellite imagery and building extraction to help us determine the exact positions of drainage lines.

Mapping Open Drainage

So, what’s next?

Just knowing and understanding the situation will not make it better. This means that our process cannot end with mapping, but will take the map and the information we collect a step further to actually make the information useful and create an impact. The next step is bringing together community members, stakeholders, NGOs, local administration and government representatives and expose the problem with a method I like to call: “A punch in the face” – where we present the problem, with maps and other media, in all its vastness, and hopefully get some heads thinking and acting upon the information which is presented. The map lets stakeholders present problems to responsible actors in a comprehensive and difficult to ignore manner, making the issues more concrete than just words by providing detailed geographical representations of their scope and characteristics.

In order for this last step to be successful, local ownership, insights, and understandings of both the issues at hand and how mapping and presenting information can help bring change, is crucial. Creating this local ownership amongst key stakeholders – namely the local Map Mathare and Map Kibera teams – has to start from the very beginning of the process. We are working hard to create this local ownership from the beginning in Mathare and to bring a greater sense of ownership to the Kibera teams.

Map Kibera and Map Mathare are currently involved in vast mapping operations regarding Water and Sanitation in both Mathare and Kibera, two of the biggest slums in Nairobi. These projects are big as the issues they are trying to address and will present test whether exposing vast quantities of information about a particular issue truly has the ability to influence change. As I often say: Collecting data, as complicated and hard as it may be, is the easiest part here.

[More of the same on Mapping: No Big Deal]

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