byOsman Zafar via web
The municipality of Smallingerland is since 1995 twinned with the Gobabis municipality in Namibia. Part of the friendly relation is to work on the improvement of life and living conditions of the most deprived groups in Gobabis. Both municipalities agreed in 2009 to improve sanitation in the squatter area around Gobabis. We started this in 2010. After consultation of different groups and local research we agreed to built 3- 400 dry toilets. We chose for a local well tested system; the Otji toilet. With this toilet the urine and feces are separated ( trough the design of the pot). The urine sinks into the ground and the remains are dried and can be removed manually. A clever and working system in Otjiwarongo.
After 5 years strugling and only 112 toilets built we concluded that there was no support from local goverment. And because the Gobabis municipality decided that it's not allowed to let the urine go into the ground it was no longer a dry toilet but a stinky mess. No wonder people in the area didn't want this what they called a dry toilet ( but wasn't so). Probably local decision makers listened to the national leader who promised every inhabitant a flush toilet ( but didn't tell how this should be done and who would pay for this).
After this we decided that this Otji toilet was approaced with such a negative attitude we needed to find an alternative. So we asked Wetsus ( institute for water technolicy ) and NHL ( university of applied science in Leeuwarden) to design an alternative dry toilet with the following in mind:
• Nu urine should go into the ground because of possible pollution underground water systems
• A proper collecting system for the remains without physical contact
• A proper solution for the already built (112) toilets
• Must be acceptable and affordable for the people in the squatter site
They came up with a system designed by Osman Zafar. This was improved version of the Xipoty system. Osman developed this as student from the NHL for Wetterskip Fryslan who is active in different water and sanitation projects in Mozambique. It's a kind of pit latrine in which in the urine and feces are seperated and collected. Both the urine and feces are mechanically removed. The feces are used to produce compost and for the urine Osman Zafar designed a low cost struvite machine. The struvite from the urine can be sold as fertilizer. So it is a circuliar system and it creates value for the users ( jobs and and income) . With this new system we where convinced that every body would cheer and accept it and because the need for proper sanitation is big we continued the project.
START PROJECT Together with Osman Zafar (SWS International) we made a new start in 2014. In December 2014 we did Phase 0. This was a survey amongst the population in the squatter area. The survey showed enthousiasm on the new sytem; they wanted rather today than tomorrow. We also made of map of the area where the dry toilets could come. Together with the municipality we choose an area we ware sure that there are no plans for flush toilets and a sewering system within 10 years. We also investigated which materials we needed for the new dry toilets could be purchased locally and which shoild by bought elsewhere. At last we looked whether there is a market for the struvite and compost. From Agra ( the main sale for agricultural products in Namibia) we got a written statement that they wanted to buy and sell the struvite as well as the compost. As attachment the presentation we used in Gobabis. The struvite machine we demonstrated at 3 different music & cultural festivals in Fryslan. At the festival in IJlst our minister for Foreign Trade and Development showed positive attention for it.
It seemed that the agreements we made with with staff and politicians in Gobabis could be interpreted different. This frustrated us and caused delay.
To celebrate the 20-th anniversary of the twinning between Gobabis and Smallingerland ( October 2015) a delegation of the Smallingerland council and the deputy mayor Ketelaar and alderman Krans discussed the dry toilet project ( again). After a long meeting of 4 hours which was chaired by a member of parliament we agreed that Gobabis would implement the new dry toilet system. This was also announced for large crowd who visited the festivities as part of celebration of the 20- anniversary.
Because of elections for local government we could not start immediate but we agreed to start in January 2016. Mr. Zafar travelled in January agian to Gobabis to finalise the project but the newly elected councilors of Gobabis felt not responsible for the agreement the previous council made. On behalf of our council the mayor of Smallingerland wrote a letter and gave Gobabis a month to give a go or no go for the project. Gobabis didn't respond. With the troublesome history of the project in Gobabis we already made a plan B with the coopration of the Governor of the Omaheke Region and our sponsor Aqua4All. Plan B was to install the toilets elsewhere with a great need for sanitation in the Omaheke region and to finalise the project with the already purchased materials. We could explain all the delays and got a go to continue the project with the support of Aqua4All elsewhere. After we officially ended our cooperation with Gobabis in this project we investigated with the office of the Governor of the Omaheke region other villages – Witvlei and Otjinene.
Witvlei is situated approx 50 km west of Gobabis and can be described as a typical small agricultural village in the Omaheke region.This is cattle country and meat production is the main economic activity. Witvlei used to have an abattoir that slaughtered around 27000 cows a year. They exported this meat all over the world. There are also some small copper mines in the area. Witvlei has around 15000 inhabitants and most of them live in shacks and poor houses.
We visited Witvlei in April 2016 and discussed the concept of the dry toilet system and possibilities to transfer it from Gobabis to Witvlei. After the presentation of the project to council and staff of Witvlei we made a tour trough Witvlei and saw they were busy with a sewering system in the squatter area. Therefore it was not proper to start a dry toilet system there. We regretted this because Witvlei is only 50 km away from Gobabis and not too difficult for transporting good and coordinate the project.
And after consultation with the population we got the green light to continue our quest to implement our dry toilet system with struvite and compost production in Otjinene.
5.1 Location in Otijnene
Together with the Otjinene Village we selected an area or a location where to install the toilets. It was an area that already got structured by the village council; people have a demarcated erf and roads have been made. But first we needed to transport the materials ( toilets,slabs etc) from Gobabis to Otjinene. Gobabis was not pleased but couldn't withholt it any longer. In Gobabis we worked with the COSDEC ( Community Skills & Educational Centre- a kind of vocational training centre but with short courses to deliver craftsmen needed in the community ). Students from COSDEC worked as part of their training in brick laying and plastering in our project in Gobabis. Some of these students moved from Gobabis to Otjinene to built the toilets and earn a small income with it. To create support for the project we asked the inhabitants to dig their own hole to built the toilet. It was very good to see that everyone wanted this and they also supported those who where not able to dig a hole due to old age or impairments.
5.2 Fraud At this moment we constructed 100 toilets. There is a tam of skilled workers who know how to construct the toilets. The materials for the remaining 150 toilets are stored at the village offices. The struvite machine has been shipped and is also at the Otjinene village grounds. To built the toilets we need bricks. We ordered and paid for 250 toilets but we got only bricks for 100 toilets. This caused us a lot of stress and unnecessary visits. Even with the assistance of the Otjinene officials we could not get hold of the bricks. We asked legal advice to start a procedure to get the bricks or money back and to cover all the unnecessary costs. This is possible but will cost extra ( approx. N$ 25,000) and takes time. Both things we don't have at the moment. So we adviced that Otjinene will take over this fraud case and start a legal procedure to get the money and bricks so the people in the squatter area at least get a toilet in time. Meanwhile we can start collecting the urine and feces from the already accomplished toilets and produce struvite and compost. Everything is in place . We gave instructions on how to collect the urine and compost and demonstrated the struvite machine. , The compost boxes are ready and can be used. ( We donated funds to Otjinene Village to buy the pump and container to collect the waste)
• In April 2016 we contacted Otijnene and presented the project to council and staff.. • Two days after the presentation we got the green light to work with them on the project. • May 2016 the first toilet was built in Otjinene.. • March 2017 preparation for official opening en shipment of struvite machine. • April 2017 official handing over ceremony with mayor Tjeerd van Bekkum • August 2017 training collecting waste, installation struvite machine and finalizing project Otijnene
6.1 Lessons learned. Even with over 20 years of experience in working with local government in Namibia the implementation of dry toilets in Gobabis is puzzling. It's most probably a combination of factors that reinforced each other in the wrong way. Students from the University of Applied Science in Groningen ( Journalism) made a documentary on the project. The question was: why didn't it succeed in Gobabis and why did it work in Otjinene ? They did a good job and made a nice film – Alles sal reg kom ( als ons almal ons best doen ) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj4s02Y67gc Or in English : Everything will be all right ( when everybody does it best ) – an Afrikaans proverb.
The documentary is very clear in the need for toilets in the squatter area. Children die on young age and women are raped. This appeal on humanity motivated the people involved from the Netherlands very much to continue even when there were delays or Gobabis didn't do what was promised and written down in Memorandums of Understanding.
If a written promise is broken stop the project, even when it brakes your heart for the people who suffer. To do this within a twinning relation is more difficult because there are more projects and people involved.
In Namibia local government is focused on delivering services. Gobabis ( like many more municipalities ) struggled with finances due to bad management and political appointments of staff. We can't prove it but heard to many rumours of corruption. Within this atmosphere we think that implementing the dry toilet project interfered with the more sexy and with far more money involved sewering systems. In 2012 Gobabis received N$ 10,000,000 from government to improve sanitation and water. They decided to built a sewering system in the same area the (dry) Otjitoilets have been built ! This was done in 2012-2013 Up to now the system is not operational. Dry toilets are not sexy and can be done without expensive experts ( engineers from Windhoek ) to design a sewering system. Politicians and local decisionmakers have more faith in these experts who only do a technical job and don't look at the costs and affordability of the users. Engineers don't built what is needed but what technical is the common sense.
Namibia is rather centralized. Sanitation is very political. Despite their status of mid income country there are many area's where you don't find proper sanitation. This is not only in remote and agricultural area's but also in the many squatter area's near towns. ( Namibia rates very poor when it comes to sanitation ) National policy is aiming on water born systems in formal settlements and only allows dry toilets in rural area's. It could be ( part of) the explanation why Otjinene ( a more rural village ) never questioned the implementation of dry toilets but Gobabis was afraid to do this in their town. But a dry toilet can be written of in 10-20 years and after this you can built a sewering system when everyone can afford it. We had these discussion on different levels ( local and national) and all experts agreed with us that a dry toilet is for the time being the best solution for the (very) low income groups as well in towns as in rural areas. Maybe this realistic approach based on evidence is political not done. Politicians want to promise people what they see as best and that's a European of American flush toilet.
We worked very well and with satisfaction with COSDEC- a community skills and development centre. They offer short courses for practical skills that are needed in the region like carperting but also brick laying and plastering. Most of the students are school drop outs who didn't succeed in getting grade 10. These youngster loved to work with their hands and in their own neighbourhood building something very wanted and appreciated. Training these youngsters was rewarding but also cost more time. They were paid according to local tariffs. So involve students from technical schools when possible.
Were possible we bought and used local materials and constructors. In Otjinene we wanted to support a promising start up in brick making and ordered bricks for 250 toilets. Because it was a start up they couldn't finance the cement that was needed therefore we paid all in advance. This was a mistake. They only delivered bricks for 100 toilets and then went broke. This caused a lot of delay and stress. We knew the owners well and they are ( were) respected inhabitants and didn't expect this at all. Lesson learned: never pay the full amount in advance but in small tranches and let the local partners control and select the constructors in an official tender.
Last but not least. Most important is that the target group ( people with no or a self built toilet) accepts the dry toilet as a decent solution for their problems and are willing to pay a fee and assist in constructing the toilets. In Otjinene people digged their own hole and they assisted those who where not able to dig.