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]

Livelihoods and the Kibera Economy – Part 1

by: January 29th, 2011 comments: 0

By far the most striking thing for me about Kibera – the most unexpected and most challenging – has been working in what I consider to be an artificially-constructed economy.

That is to say, there are no simple volunteer projects in Kibera. At least, none founded by outsiders.

This has been an evolving thread through our work and has upended some of our original thinking on open-source or simply, development projects. You might say we were merely naive. Why on earth would anyone living in dirt-poor conditions want to “volunteer” just for the good of their community? Have you met a lot of jobless people in America or Europe who can barely feed their children, wear threadbare clothes and shoes, and have to pay to use a dirty latrine piping up to volunteer on raising awareness on HIV?

It’s an unfair comparison, I know. The fact of the matter is that in the slums one might volunteer to clean up the latrines or build a new one, simply because no one else is going to do it for them. And someone with HIV or whose family members are affected might well wish to spread the word about prevention. And certainly there are many, many true volunteers – they just tend to be starting things themselves from within Kibera, and hoping things will turn around soon.

We hoped that the value of the trainings we were offering would be in and of themselves enough. We also hoped that motivation would come from a desire to improve Kibera, the kind of community motivation that would be a matter of pride and would perhaps stem from a sense of the systemic injustice represented by a slum. Personally, I probably had thoughts of working in Latin America, where indigenous communities have often self-organized and pushed very hard on social justice issues, where poverty itself is seen as a justice and human rights issue, and there is a long legacy of social thought and philosophy underpinning most community-based organizations.

What we found, instead, is a community so influenced economically by years of “interventions” by various international development organizations that a full shadow economy has developed. It’s not the black market – it’s the shadow aid market. Ask any Kibera resident about jobs they’ve held in the past and most will mention some volunteering with aid agencies or small NGOs in the community. And by “volunteering” they mean getting paid to do a job. It’s evidence of the perversion of donor dollar influx that the very term Volunteer connotes something completely different here than it does anywhere else. What has happened is that well-meaning organizations have set up projects in Kibera (thousands of them) and thereby actually created a “market” for participants in those programs. There are so many NGOs here that the demand is actually for Kiberans to take part, rather than the other way around. Of course, we felt that our project was different, and perhaps it is – a kind of meta-project created to make public all of the information that these hundreds of organizations were collecting, to allow direct self-mediation (non-mediation?) of information, news and stories, to hopefully drill a hole through the cacaphony of aid-speak about Kibera and allow a few actual people to speak through and tell the truth.

This was – and still is – our vision. But the economic conundrum remains. Kibera residents have learned that these NGOs need them – that they’re getting paid and raising a great deal of funds in order to develop programs and fill their presentations, events, workshops, and trainings with bodies. Kiberans have wised up to the fact that sometimes they’re being “sold” by agencies to donors even if the project hasn’t really made them better off – after all, who asked them? – and there have even been a few oft-repeated tales of random small children being photographed in Kibera with a white person who then used the photos to raise funds for their own pocket. (Of course, this is why we’re trying to create platforms of transparency – ways for people to disclose what’s happening in the community and expose the gaps). Kiberans whisper about ending up on billboards in America without a penny to show for it. Whether true or not – it’s probably happened, and then rumor made it sound like the norm – this shows the distrust that has developed under the welcoming Kibera surface. We’ve had arguments with participants to convince them that no, most white people don’t come to Kibera to get rich! This also explains why tourists shouldn’t simply wander through with their big cameras and photograph people, as they so often do. It hints at a much deeper recognition of the complicated, often contradictory relationship between the thousands of well-meaning white people who find their way to Kibera and those who live there every day, and the lack of any meaningful way for Kiberans to guide those relationships – coupled with their frequent dependency on them. There is an unwillingness to challenge openly a system that might one day prove to supply one of the few real jobs that are at hand – the coveted NGO position. (For me, this was frustrating since we set out to co-develop a project not fill it with employees – see part 2).

Eventually, there emerged an expectation of a “sitting fee” to attend someone’s meeting – yes, organizations paying people just to fill the seats in their events. This complicated our initial attempts to hold community meetings around the issue-based maps. The first one was organized by Regynnah, a mapper, on the topic of health. It was held in Raila, her own village. There were a good 30 people and it was a great success. However, we only gave out sodas to participants, no money or phone airtime. Regynnah came to us afterward and said now her contacts were mad at her because they expected to be paid for this 1-2 hour discussion of health – even though most of them were health practitioners and ostensibly interested in the topic. We hoped instead they’d be able to make use of the information – not demand a sitting fee.

We tackled this by making sure people knew in advance that no one would be paid for such discussions – meaning they might attract fewer people, but ones who are more intrinsically motivated to participate – and in fact, sometimes only 4 or 5 people showed up.

It was a challenge to us as well. We had to make these activities really worth their while, and create a working relationship based on trust that could lead to improvements in the sector in question. A lot more thinking went in to producing projects that would really engage communities and be driven by them as well as for them. We continue to unravel the idea of how to support people to share information in such a way that it changes the status quo in Kibera – how to complete the feedback loop and help people use technology to achieve their goals. The shadow economy, though, pulls people in different directions and in some cases fosters splintering of organizations and groups.

I do believe strongly that there needs to be a more equal exchange between any outsider and the Kibera people. This has informed a lot of our work trying to consolidate information in an open system rather than constantly requesting Kibera residents to answer surveys and participate in focus groups that will never have visible benefits to them (much less reports back on the findings). I’ve been appalled by many NGOs’ and  researchers’ total disregard for the worth of each person’s time and energy – perhaps a sitting fee should apply when research is done in this traditional, extractive way. One problem is that too often Kiberans profess excitement over any new project and pin their livelihood (and other) hopes on it, encouraging absolutely everyone that whatever hair-brained idea they came to Kibera is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Not to say this happened to us ;)

More on livelihoods and working with our Trust team in Part 2…

This post is part of a series exploring the ideas and issues that have emerged in our research project with Institute of Development Studies, supported by DFID. All posts from the Map Kibera team, the researchers from IDS, our trainers and colleagues are collected here. As always, we are eager to discuss this work, so we hope to hear your comments.

2010 World Disasters Report: Focus on urban risk

by: September 21st, 2010 comments: 0

2010 World Disasters Report

2010 World Disasters Report

The The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) today launched the World Disasters Report (WDR) in Nairobi, Kenya. This marks the first time in its 20 years of publication that the WDR launch has taken place outside of Geneva.  The theme of the 2010 report is urban risk.

The WDR 2010 explores the following topics:

  • Avoiding the urbanization of disasters
  • Urban disaster trends
  • Starting over: community rights and post-disaster response
  • Urban violence (and inequity)
  • Urban risk to health
  • Urbanization and climate change risk
  • Urban governance and disaster risk reduction

The launch focused (and rightly so) on vulnerable urban communities, their risks and their efforts to mitigate those risks. Map Kibera was invited by the IFRC to participate in the launch and showcase the work of young Kibera residents in making their communities visible by literally putting them on the map, and by telling their stories through Voice of Kibera and Kibera News Network. The Kibera News Network (KNN) team worked together with Markham Nolan of Storyful to produce a short documentary about some of the many risks Kibera residents face on a daily basis – namely, infectious diseases, train accidents and fire. Keep your eyes out for the video on the KNN Youtube channel and also on the Storyful blog in the next couple of days.

Speaking during the panel discussion, Dr. James Kisia of the Kenya Red Cross highlighted the need for local community involvement in disaster risk reduction and disaster response. For example, the Red Cross responds to approximately 144 fires per month however their responders are not necessarily familiar with the areas they work in, particularly the informal settlements (or slums), in which these fires occur. The team thus needs guidance and support by the local community in order to access affected areas. Local communities are integral for the success of their response efforts, but are also involved in designing localized disaster risk reduction strategies.

Matthius Schmale from the IFRC reiterated the need for community involvement when he discussed the importance of urbanization to the development of a country. He emphasized that countries shouldn’t aim to stifle growth in urban areas, but instead put people at the forefront of the development and planning of their own communities.

Hon. Robinson Njeru Githae, Minister of Nairobi Metropolitan Development acknowledged the one of the challenge of working in informal settlements is the legal status of residents. He said that this is the first time the government has recognized the existance of slum residents and that this is the 1st step in improving the conditions in slums, including providing government services such as clean water, schools and health care.

The Kibera teams were highly engaged and interested in the feedback from the media houses, panelists and audience at the launch of the World Disasters Report today. I was personally very excited to hear that Daniel von Rege, the field coordinator for MSF Belgium’s Kibera project has the Voice of Kibera site bookmarked on his computer and checks it every few days to find out what’s happening around Kibera!

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