A quick google search for the word ‘faeces’ brings up the following acronyms: Excrement, bodily waste, waste matter, ordure, dung, excreta, stools, droppings, dirt, filth, muck, mess, night, soil. In short, there seems to be nothing good about feaces.
But this is before you meet Mr Isaac Turinawe, 34, who moves door- to- door in the crowded slums of Kampala collecting human faeces.
“I started this a year ago, I have to move door-to-door to get business and leave my contact for future opportunities,” Mr Turinawe says.
By collecting faecal matter and enabling its safe disposal, Mr Turinawe contributes to improving the water quality of Kampala City, which various reports have in the past indicated is compromised by faeces.
Predictably, Mr Turinawe does not look appealing when on duty. One would easily mistake him for a vagabond when you meet him in his overalls. He will scream: “My job is pit-latrine emptying, give me job…” He often gets the pit-latrine emptying jobs because it is much cheaper to engage him than to hire emptying truck.
The advantages for the Primary Five dropout to make money are immense since unlike in villages where there is room to open a new pit.
latrine when the old one gets full, there is no such space in urban areas, requiring urban dwellers to empty pit latrines whenever they fill up.
That is where Mr Turinawe is cashing in.
“Most of the latrines are shallow because Kampala is surrounded by many wetlands so they get full easily,” he said.
To empty a latrine, Mr Turinawe uses rudimentary tools including a hook to scoops out matters and a drum where he pours the sludge from the latrine using a jerrican-like bucket.
Each drum full of sludge costs Shs30, 000 and normally, a pit latrine has more than 10 drums.
That is a job worth Shs300, 000 and it takes him and his two colleagues six hours to finish depending on the distance of a latrine to a NWSC designated dumping sites.
There are two types of latrines in Kampala, Mr Turinawe says, one which is lined with bricks and concrete, which he says is strong and easy to empty, and the other which is not lined.
If the sludge is thick, Mr Turinawe pours water into the pit latrine to agitate it for easy scooping and he uses paraffin to kill off bacteria and bad smell. Gloves and gumboots here are handy to prevent direct contact with faeces.
Mr Turinawe is not the only one in sewer business, which is described by Ms Cate Zziwa Nimanya, the country executive director of Water for People, a nonprofit organisation and a player in the safe water and sanitation sector, as more profitable than “most house rental businesses in Kampala’’.
At Sanitation Solutions group in Bukoto, a Kampala suburb, over 10 men do the same work with a little more advanced technology than Mr Turinawe’s.
Mr Henry Kayondo, a design engineer at the group, says using a gulper, a long PVC stainless steel hand pump that works like a borehole to empty pit- latrines, they are able to empty a latrine in less than two hours.
Mr Kayondo says they charge Shs30, 000 to carry 180 litres (one drum) of sewer from one’s home to different dumping stations set up by the NWSC.
NWSC currently runs two major sewerage plants in Kampala – Bugolobi Sewage Treatment Plant and the one in Lubigi. The Lubigi plant has the capacity to treat 5,400m3 (5.4 million) wastewater a day, while the Bugolobi plant, which was constructed in the 1940s and upgraded in 1970, has capacity to treat 33,000m3 of wastewater a day.
There are other satellite waste stabilisation ponds in Bugolobi, Naalya Estates and Ntinda Ministers’ Village, in Kampala.
To dump 3,000 liters of sewer at Lubigi, NWSC charges Shs10, 000. From 3,000-7,000 liters, one is charged Shs14,000, while for anything above 7,000 liters one is charged Shs 25, 000.
Statistics from Kampala Capital City Authority, the institution mandated to plan for the city, indicate that only 10 percent of Kampala homesteads are connected to the NWSC sewer line.
The 10 percent homesteads, according to available statistics, is mainly in the Central Business District and the colonial buildings, leaving much of the slums, home to hundreds of thousands of people, to resort to either latrines or sceptic tanks for their sanitation needs.
And every day Kampala’s population is increasing. The 2014 Housing and Population Census report put the number of households in Kampala to 516,210.
Of the said households, only 51,621 are connected to sewer line. The said census also put the population of Kampala at more than 1.5 million, an indication that hundreds of tonnes of waste end up into the environment due to poor sanitation.
Mr Kayondo and Mr Turinawe argue that few people know about cheap and highly important methods of onset sanitation and in the end especially during rainy season, they release sewege onto the environment.
“We will be having a lot of business but there is limited information about our work,” Mr Kayondo says.
The more companies and individuals venture into the not-so-appealing appealing business, Ms Nimanya says, the better sanitation Kampala residents will have but also reduce the unemployment crisis in the country.
Ms Namanya says: “Let young people look at businesses along the feacal chain like pit emptying.”
“The use of collected faecal matter for many other things like briquette, fertilizers saves the environment but creates employment for many youth,” she added.
The National Planning Authority (NPA) recently released figures on unemployment which showed that out of 700,000 people who join the job market every year, only 90,000 find employment, and of these, 20 per cent are underemployed.
Mr Kayondo says in addition to the information gap among would be customers, the other challenge are the people who release sewer when it rains, which affects their customer base.
“The biggest problem is most pit latrines in low-laying areas have holes on them… when it rains people just open the holes and all the sewer goes with rain water,” Mr Kayondo says. This is common practice in Kampala shanties like Bwaise, Kalerwe , Kinawattaka.
Dr Najib Lukooya, the KCCA environment manager, says they have developed minimum standards for all latrines and sceptic tanks to be constructed in Kampala.
For a latrine to be approved in the city, Dr Lukooya says, it must be made in such a way that it “can be cleanable, safe to the user but prevent feacal matter from being released into the environment”
“A latrine should be sealed so that feacal material is not in contact with ground water as minimum. Once you seal it, it means you can easily empty it and cannot easily collapse,” Dr Lukooya says.
Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a general practitioner at Friends Polyclinic in Kampala, says pit-latrine emptiers need to beware the obvious health hazards involved in their business, however, which may range from diarrhoea and typhoid to even more serious complications.
“And the paraffin they are using is not known to kill those parasites. If it was, then people would be using it as a disinfectant,” Dr Karuhanga says.
Mr Turinawe in particular, uses old gloves and gumboots while plying his trade. He dreads the possibility of having no job if he left this business, and he notes that it is much more lucrative than most menial jobs he would be involved in.
People like Mr Turinawe play an important gap-filling role in a situation where KCCA, for instance, has only five trucks that collect 65,000l per trip but have been prioritised for public health centres, public primary schools and public markets.
Dr Lukooya says: “In every Division we have put up a sanitation coordination office. These offices will, among other functions, provide technical support to communities, local leaders to access these services.
We are also working on call centres that will link the community, private sector and KCCA such that we get feedback on illegal dumping and sewer spills.”
He says at the moment they are working with partners to develop innovative emptier technologies that do not necessarily need trucks. The technology, he says, is called gulper. Whereas one can use a truk to move the waste, Dr Lukooya says, they can also use easier means like boda boda.
Ms Jacinta Nekesa, the head of Programmes at WaterAid, says private players will be the solution to improving sanitation in Kampala.
“NWSC or KCCA have no capacity to collect sewer or sludge from homes but private individuals, because of profit motives, will do it,” Ms Nekesa says.
“What KCCA needs to do is to regulate prices such that even those who are very poor can access these services,” she adds.
Uganda continues to suffer poor sanitation-related diseases such as cholera and typhoid. For instance, in 2015, in a space of only two months, more than 400 suspected typhoid cases plagued Kampala and cost the victims and government millions of shillings.
Mr Turinawe’s little efforts, guided by the pursuit of profit, can help change this.