Partnering to Promote a Safe and Effective Fecal Sludge Management in Lilongwe City
Commemorating World Toilet Day in Malawi
For Pat Kauma, a toilet is more than just sanitary hardware to manage human waste; it is his line of work, his business. A business that deals with emptying toilets, safely transporting the faecal sludge, and treating it before discharging it into the environment.
Pat has been in this business for many years and regularly faces technical challenges such as ensuring the right set of equipment and expertise in his team to assess and efficiently empty a variety of toilets. He is mainly frustrated with the lack of a system to safely operate his business and provide a much-needed service to the residents of Lilongwe.
“We operate the business in isolation. There is no support in terms of coordination, and we are not recognized by any authority,” said Pat during the field assessment on faecal sludge management (FSM) in Lilongwe City.
For Kauma, who coincidentally shares the name of the only faecal sludge treatment facility in the city – Kauma Wastewater Treatment Plan – a more structured business environment would benefit their customers and the business, as they compete with manual workers who are hired to empty the septic tanks at homes and businesses. Furthermore, these individuals opt for cheaper and unsafe methods for disposing waste, such as illegal dumping. Such practices are rampant due to the lack of standards and limited supervision by city authorities.
With only 5 per cent access to sewers, the majority of Lilongwe residents rely on onsite sanitation systems (70 per cent pit latrines and 25 per cent septic tanks). However, many of these toilets are not adequately serviced as faecal sludge emptying and collection are mainly done by small‐scale private sector operators, with minimal regulation from Lilongwe City Council. The precarious sanitation situation is exacerbated by poor solid waste management (SWM) as collection service is insufficient and irregular in urban areas and city markets and completely unavailable in informal settlements.
Against this background, UNICEF and the World Bank have partnered with LCC since 2019 to establish efficient and effective faecal sludge management services in Lilongwe City. Under the umbrella of the World Bank-funded Lilongwe Water Supply and Sanitation Project (LWSP), managed by Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), technical and infrastructure development support is being provided to enhance LCC’s institutional capacity for sanitation service delivery. On the one hand, UNICEF commissioned the development of a business plan for an organized framework to deliver more affordable, reliable and sustainable sanitation services for low-income groups in the city, based on locally available market solutions. On the other hand, the LWSP is financing the construction of improved household toilets and upgrading Kauma Wastewater Treatment Plan to improve sludge disposal and treatment.
Furthermore, the LWSP is supporting trainings to enhance LCC’s systems and services to better serve Lilongwe City dwellers and businesses. Together, these interventions are expected to significantly improve access to safely managed sanitation in the city and improve the business environment.
The partnership has recently expanded with additional support from UNICEF to provide dedicated technical assistance to LCC for the rolling out of the identified business model with options to integrate solid and liquid waste management to generate secondary economies and market opportunities (for example the production and marketing of compost for agricultural use). This support is also aiming at promoting more effective and gender-inclusive waste management system and services. This intervention will be complemented by a new World Bank-financed pilot intervention in peri-urban areas of Lilongwe.
In response to the question on what a celebration of World Toilet Day would look like, Pat Kauma answers, “A safely emptiable toilet. That’s how we celebrate toilets!”