More than half of Nairobi’s population – some 2 million people – live in slums and informal settlements. Crammed into makeshift shacks on just 1 per cent of the city’s land, they live without access to water, hospitals, schools and other essential public services, and under the constant threat of forced eviction.
This deprivation hits women and girls particularly hard. They need greater privacy than men when using toilets and taking baths. Many women have to walk long distances to reach these facilities, which after dark becomes especially dangerous. Violence against women is widespread in Nairobi’s slums and settlements where ineffective policing results in rape and other violence against women going largely unpunished. Gender-based violence drives women into poverty and prevents them from escaping poverty.
Most slum residents use pit latrines, shared between 50 to 150 people. There are some community toilets in slums for public use, but they usually charge a fee and are closed at night. It can take 10 minutes to walk to a toilet – a journey so dangerous that most women and girls don’t dare leave their homes after dark. As a result, many resort to “flying toilets” – throwing a plastic bag of human waste into the open.
The muddy alleys are covered in litter and bags of excrement. Brown streams of water contaminated by sewage run across the pathways. In these conditions, there is a high incidence of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, especially among children.
The residents of Nairobi’s slums live in constant fear. Fear of forced eviction and destitution. Fear of violence. Fear of disease. Fear that they will be trapped forever in festering slums because their voices are never heard and because they are excluded from the routes out of poverty.
The denial of their human right to adequate housing is the direct consequence of government policies and official indifference to the urban poor. The proliferating informal settlements have been excluded from Nairobi’s planning and budgeting processes, effectively treating them as if they didn’t exist.
State provision of decent low-cost housing has been sacrificed in the pursuit of greater profits in more up-market housing. The resultant dire shortage of affordable housing has left millions of people in Nairobi denied their rights.