No shit! Human excrements in Nairobi’s informal settlements

Today’s topic might feel uncomfortable reading about! Still, it is an issue that urgently needs to be addressed given the side effects it entails for the population of Nairobi’s informal settlements: human excrements!

As indicated in the blog on water pollution, human excrements are one reason for the persistence of particular diseases and infections in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Not imaginable for us, inhabitants of Nairobi’s informal settlements cannot afford to go to the toilet, do not have access to a toilet, or are afraid of safety issues when going to the toilet. The result of that: ‘flying toilets’, also called ‘scud missiles’. Flying toilets, a term that I have often heard in my research. People use plastic bags as a toilet which they dispose of anywhere, mostly by throwing them onto the street, the railway, or into the river. Amongst women, this way of doing their business is particularly popular as it prevents them from going to the toilet at night.

Although flying toilets play an important public health role, the ones that burst open again and again cause cholera and other diarrhoea, especially among children playing in the street dirt: Even the rainwater collected from the roofs of the huts is often contaminated by the bursting manure bombs. In informal settlements, dozens of people fall victim to infectious diseases every year. The government therefore regularly calls for so-called ODF actions: The informal settlements are to be made “Open Defecation Free”.

The video below illustrates ‘flying toilets’ in Kibera.

Lamba (1993) refutes the widespread belief that the urban poor cause their own environmental damage and argues that it is “not that slum residents are irresponsible, but that the City is irresponsible in not providing proper sanitation services” (p. 35). In this sense, although Nairobi City Council is obliged to provide solid waste management services to everyone, it focuses on residential areas. This exclusionary provision of services exacerbates the already deplorable environmental conditions of Nairobi’s urban poor (Njeru, 2006). The inhabitants of Nairobi’s informal settlements are therefore exposed to environmental pollution of immeasurable proportions. This constitutes an environmental severe injustice.

The following blog post will focus on how human excrements are becoming part of Nairobi’s circular economy. You can look forward to reading about some solutions you have probably not heard of before. Until then, stay well!

394 words


Lamba, D., 1993. Environment: the prevailing situation. In: Karuga, G.J. (Ed.), Actions towards a Better Nairobi: Report and Recommenda- tions of the Nairobi City Convention: ‘The Nairobi We Want.’ City Hall, July 27-9. Nairobi City Council, Nairobi, pp. 33–41.

Njeru, J. (2006). The urban political ecology of plastic bag waste problem in Nairobi, Kenya. Geoforum37(6), 1046-1058.


Featured image: Trocaire (2012). A young boy sits over an open sewer in Kibera. Retrieved from,_Nairobi.jpg

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