Less than 50 percent of Kenya’s population has access to basic sanitation services. In Nairobi, the government has not invested in facilities in more than 30 years. Existing public toilets are inaccessible or are overcrowded, unhygienic and poorly lit, and lack privacy and security.
Instead, many residents throw plastic bags, or “flying toilets,” into the street at night. Or they may pay to use unhygienic pit latrines, shallow holes that can overflow during periods of heavy rain or flooding.
The elevated exposure to waterborne diseases that results poses a major threat to public health. Diarrheal disease alone is a top cause of death in Kenyan children under the age of five.
Ecotact is a Nairobi-based company established in 2008 to improve the urban landscape for low-income communities through environmentally responsible projects in sanitation and housing. Under the Ikotoilet project, Ecotact builds and operates high-quality, public pay-per-use toilet and shower facilities. Customers pay five shillings ($0.06 USD) to use a facility.
Through a Build-Operate-Transfer model of public-private partnership, Ecotact enters into long-term contracts with municipalities to use public land. In return the company bears all construction costs and operates the facilities for five years. But it relinquishes ultimate ownership of the facilities to the municipalities, which can decide whether to extend their contracts with Ecotact.
The company hires staff to operate and clean the units after each use, and offers other revenue-generating services and products such as advertising, shoe shining and soft drinks and newspapers.
Ecotact has 34 units operating across 12 municipalities, including two in the slums of Mathare and Kawangare, Its facilities see more than six million uses per year. Ecotact is defining a new standard of hygiene in target communities, reducing urban pollution from human waste, generating employment opportunities for low-income individuals, and restoring dignity to the provision of sanitation services.
In 2009, The Schwab Foundation named David Kuria, Ecotact’s founder, the Africa Regional Entrepreneur of the Year. His concept has stimulated demand across East Africa and new programs will be launched in Tanzania and Uganda.