Before her community had public toilets, Esther Munyiva, a Kenyan mother, worried about her two daughters. In her informal slum community in Kenya, Munyiva’s daughters had to walk long distances just to complete a simple task that many take for granted: using the bathroom.
Today, things are different. Munyiva, a community leader, rallied to bring two new sanitation facilities to the informal settlement where she lives. No longer does waste flow through the streets, and her daughters no longer have to walk long distances to use the bathroom.
Munyiva is one of many women who have benefited from improved access to sanitation in Kenya’s sprawling informal settlements.
Worldwide, it’s estimated that 2.4 billion people lack access to hygienic sanitation, but one company is trying to change that. Called Sanergy, the organization was founded in 2013 with the mission of bringing improved sanitation to Kenya’s informal settlements.
Since then, it’s installed more than 1,000 toilets that are used by more than 50,000 people each day, in 11 informal settlements. By working with local community leaders, and ensuring that waste is safely collected and reused, Sanergy hopes to harness waste and turn it into a public good.
“Unsafe sanitation is the root cause for so many challenges,” Sanergy co-founder David Auerbach told Globl Citizen. “It pollutes our clean water, it kills about a million children every year, due to diarrhea and other sanitation diseases, and has a profound economic consequence too.”
Auerbach and his work as a leading social entpreneur are being honored by Cadillac, in a concert event on Aug. 29 at the Cadillac House in New York City with Charlie Puth where he will receive the Global Citizen Accelerator Award. The award comes with a $10,000 grant.
In Kenya, particularly, where about 8 million people live in slums without access to proper hygienic facilities, many people resort to the practice of using “flying toilets,” which involves defecating into plastic bags and throwing them into the streets.
According to Sanergy, an estimated 4 million tons of fecal sludge enter the country’s waterways each year because of this, which can lead to illnesses such as diarrhea — a preventable disease that nonetheless kills thousands of children every day worldwide.
“Sanitation has a huge impact on kids,” Auerbach said. “In fact, kids are the ones who are the most at risk and most vulnerable to sanitation diseases because their immune systems haven’t been fully developed yet.”
This is especially true for young girls, who often miss out on an education because of the stigma associated with menstruation and the lack of public hygienic facilities at schools.
Along with the health benefits of installing proper hygienic facilities, Sanergy’s model is also supporting local farmers and improving crop yields by 30%, according to Auerbach.
Sanergy works by creating a network of local Fresh Life Operators (FLOs), who buy and operate sanitation facilities. These FLOs are responsible for collecting waste and converting it to organic fertilizer, insect-based animal feed, and renewable energy, which can then be reinvested in local communities.
Roughly three in five Sanergy employees themselves live in the informal settlements where the toilets are installed.
Although improper sanitation remains a huge problem worldwide, the amount of people who have access to these facilities is slowly increasing.
Programs around the world have helped to bring sanitary facilities to millions of people in the past two decades. In 1990, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 54% of people worldwide had access to improved sanitation facilities. By 2015, that number had risen to 68%.
The Millennial Development Goals enshrine access to clean water and sanitation for all as one of 17 requisites for eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. Getting there won’t be easy, and innovative methods for addressing these seemingly must become the norm.
“Changing the status quo is extremely difficult,” Auerbach said. “Even if you have a great idea, it’s going to require just a ton of time, energy grit optimism and determination.”
“We as a global community are all in this together,” he added. “We need to work together to solve the biggest challenges that we face on this planet.”