Harnessing GIS mapping and social media for better sanitation & hygiene in informal settlements

17 October 2011

I know it is close to two months since I blogged last. To be precise it was just after the AfricaSan3 either early or Mid August. Since my last post quite a number of things have happened including sharing with my peers from the Region of Eastern and Southern Africa about the CLTS work Plan International has been doing in Kenya and the region. Since AfricaSan3 I have been to South Africa with Petra to introduce CLTS – a successful mission it was amidst huge challenges-but that will be subject for a separate posting.

In this blog I will highlight progress made in the UCLTS front in Mathare and link with what is happening here in Mumbai where I have joined with other practitioners in the WSSCC Global Forum on Sanitation Hygiene. I came here with a very loaded agenda to make three inputs. First a debate on CLTS and other approaches; second – Can CLTS work in Urban Environments? (Mathare 10 experiences); and Third the use of mobile phones, participatory GIS and social media in sanitation. The first two are done and the last one will be tomorrow. This blog will focus on a very successful round table we had on the 20th September 2011 in Kenya and the next one will focus on the WSSC Global Forum.

Stakeholder’s Roundtable on Urban Sanitation in Nairobi

Picture this. I am in Plan International Kenya board room with a few of my colleagues, Frank, Philip and Aggrey and John our Country Director. The mission is to facilitate a stakeholder’s roundtable meeting between representatives from Mathare community and key actors in the urban sanitation sector. Key among them is the City Council of Nairobi, Excloosive, Ecotat/Iko, Athi Water Service board, Community Cleaning services, MSF, KWAHO, Plan Kenya, Internews and Dignitas.

Making sense of the maps and data collected in Mathare

It is the first round table to make sense of the data and information emerging from the participatory GIS and social media work we have been doing with the youth in Mathare. Since December 2010, the Youth in Mathare have engaged in a journey of learning, using handheld devices to collect spatial, audio and visual data. Within the first 16 days of this initiative they were able to come up with a complete general map or base map (as Primoz our lead trainer would call it ) of Mathare: 750 points of interest, 41.3Km of roads and paths, 24 villages, and 138 buildings. In the second phase of the initiative (January-April 2011), the youth embarked on detailed mapping of water and sanitation – capturing water points, toilets, Open Defecation Areas (ODA) and sewer lines in 5 villages of Mathare 10 area namely; Thayu, Mashimoni, Mambatini, Gumba and Nyangau. To make the map and all the data collected meaningful, the youth then learned how to tell their stories, gaining skills in using social media tools such as flip video cameras, editing short movies, writing short stories and taking powerful pictures. They also learned the skill of blogging. They have uploaded real stories from real people on the Mathare Valley Blog and their videos have brought to life all that they have been engaging in for the past 10 months.

The round table meetings sought to share the progress made, the data and the emerging issues and gauge whether the stakeholders found it relevant for their work. The turnout was really good: We had invited about 30 participants from agencies whom we consider key to responding to these questions and 28 came.

The participatory GIS Mapping and Social Media Initiative came as a supportive activity to the Urban CLTS project in Mathare 10. Its purpose is to trigger residents to engage with different stakeholder to improve sanitation and hygiene in their community. During the community ground work the residents of Mathare were clear that data and information collected through this initiative would be used to strengthen their struggle towards better sanitation and hygiene. The roundtable was a moment to put that to test.

Usefulness of data

Jamie, Simon and Primoz did a great job of walking the participants through the entire process. They had printed the maps on A3 paper but also included them in the slide show. They were able to present the data and give it meaning through examples and stories. A journey through the Mathare Valley Blog and the video clips brought the message home. The Q&A was basically an appreciation and affirmation of a job well done and the relevance of the data. At the end we divided the participants into three groups: a) City Council of Nairobi and government agencies; b) Private sector and social entrepreneurs; and c) NGOs including Plan International Kenya. We then asked them to respond to the following questions:

  • How would you use the data presented today? Is there any additional data or information you would need?
  • What commitments would you like to make to address the issues identified?
  • Would you like to continue to be involved with us to carry this initiative forward? How?

Nairobi City Council and government agencies

The City Council of Nairobi and other GOK agencies said they would use the data/information to present facts (e.g. Length of open drains, toilets not connected to sewer lines, number of stalled public toilets and number of water points) to the top management for decision making and designing interventions to improve sanitation in Mathare 10. They would also use the data for comparison and harmonization with existing data such as that collected by Athi Water Service Board. Additional information they indicated they might require is an inventory of other stakeholders (e.g. Community Based Organizations, Faith Based Organizations and NGOs) and what they do as this would be of value for collaboration and building partnerships. The team committed to continue working with the community towards ensuring that there was improved sanitation and hygiene. As those present could not make firm commitments they promised to organize another meeting at City Hall to have a re-run of the same presentation with the top management. They also indicted that the City Council of Nairobi had expressed interest to scale-up CLTS in 4 divisions in Nairobi and they asked whether Plan could support them through training.

Private sector

The private sector group said the data was useful for analysis of the current situation to make a business case for sanitation services. Using the data it is possible to authenticate population and determine if there are enough clients to be served through the commercial toilets. They made a commitment to start piloting with mobile toilets and learn if the business is viable. They requested that Community Cleaning Services (CCS) and the leaders in Mathare 10 organize a meeting with land lords/structure owners and the residents so that they can discuss modalities for starting mobile toilet services and home urinals for experimentation. They committed to continue being committed members of the partnership and to work towards strengthening the governance structures of the Kenya Alliance of toilet operators.


Finally the NGOs thought the data would be useful for policy influencing and mobilizing communities for collective action. They also saw the initiative as a good tool for highlighting community resources, pointing at how the resources could be utilized to improve well-being of the community, sharing information across the world for others to learn, empathize and join or contribute to their struggles. They also thought the data could enhance understanding and appreciation of challenges and opportunities for improving the situation. They felt there was need to scale-up the thematic mapping to other areas of Mathare and neighbouring informal settlement as this would make the data more representative and credible. The team also felt mapping education and health would add more value. The NGOs committed to continuing to create spaces for engagement and using the data for evidence-based advocacy to influence key stakeholders to respond to the issues identified. The response would include short-term, medium term and long-term solutions. It was agreed that a targeted meeting would be planned to engage with the CCN top management as well as Athi Water Service Board and Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company.

Digital mapping- a movement that brings hope for the future of Nairobi’s informal settlements

From all three groups there was general agreement that there was a need for further mapping to capture statistics on population density, health and education and also to expand the sanitation mapping to the entire Mathare Valley informal settlement. No doubt a new movement of a young digital community in Nairobi’s informal settlements is growing. It started in Map Kibera, got improved in Mathare, back to Kibera and Mathare and I hear Mukuru is slowly joining in. Maybe we are up to bigger and better opportunities where citizens in the informal settlements will find means with which to express their voices louder in the hope that someone will hear and respond appropriately. Watch the space!