Source of Sanitation Crisis Becomes Sustainable Power Solution in Africa's Largest Slum

kibera nairobi kenya slum street scene photo

Street scene in Kibera, Kenya. Photo: Stefan Magdalinski / Creative Commons.

In the impoverished Nairobi neighborhood of Kibera, often called "Africa's biggest slum," the lack of toilets and sewer systems leaves hundreds of thousands of people vulnerable to the diseases that thrive amid poor sanitation. But an innovative program is helping turn one of the area's biggest health problems into a solution to one of the community's most crucial economic -- and environmental -- concerns.Poor households in Kibera are struggling to meet rising costs for kerosene, paraffin, charcoal, firewood, and other fuel sources, many of which also contribute to indoor air pollution and the myriad ailments that go along with it, IPS News reports.

Energy Out Of Excrement
At the Katwekera Tosha Bio Centre set up with the help of the Umande Trust, however, Kibera residents can safely and cheaply cook food using biogas generated from the center's toilets:

The centre has toilets and bathrooms on the ground floor -- the toilets are connected to a bio-digester, with a dome-shaped holding tank in which biogas is produced. Raw human waste from the toilets flows in, and bacteria break it down, releasing methane gas which collects at the top of the domed tank.

"A pipe is then plumbed into these toilets and connected to the first floor, which is where the cooking area is located," says [center manager David] Kihara. The gas is piped to collective stoves one floor up -- and is usually sufficient for community members to cook on throughout the day.

The idea may sound a bit icky, but it's perfectly safe, helping solve sanitation problems while providing green energy at the same time. Though residents only pay a small fee to use the cooking facilities, the center has become so popular it's even turning a profit -- money that benefits locals who have registered with the community-based organization, IPS writes.

"They are not just community kitchens but also meeting places where people can leisurely while away the evening after a long day's work," Paul Muchire, the Umande Trust's communications manager told the news service.

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