'I share toilet with 90 people'

2006-12-12 11:15
Kibera - Crispian Amolo has no electricity or running water and shares a hole-in-the-ground toilet with about 90 people, but at least he does not have to scramble for 1 000 Kenyan shillings ($14) rent every month.

Evicted before for not paying the landlord on time, the 54-year-old tailor built a one-room mud shack four months ago for his wife and seven children in Nairobi's Kibera slum - a sprawling area of shanty houses, open sewers and mud lanes.

Perched on a hillside, his new shack was similar to the other tin-roofed homes Amolo had lived in during the 30 years he had been in Kibera.

Just three metres by 3 metres (9.8 ft), the single room serves as kitchen, living-room and bedroom. Amolo and his wife sleep behind a curtain, while the children sleep on mattresses and blankets on the dirt floor.

Plastic sacks cover holes in the walls, which were held up by wooden poles. An iron sheet secured a tiny extension - covering the alley next to the neighbour's house and giving the family extra space for storing clothes and pots.

'I'd like electricity, cement floor'

Amolo said: "At least this is my own home. There is no harassment as I don't have to pay rent every month", warming himself by a small fire that served as heater and cooker.

He said: "But I would like electricity and a cement floor."

Power lines ran near Amolo's house, but he couldn't afford to hook up to the network. He would like his own toilet but again, the cost was a factor. Instead the family used over-flowing holes in the ground.

Amolo was just one of an estimated one billion slum dwellers in the world. Kibera, east Africa's largest slum, housed more than 600 000 people in a packed 3km corridor.

According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme UN-Habitat, the world's slum population was set to grow by 27 million a year between 2000-2020.

In sub-Saharan Africa, about 72% of the urban population already lived in slums, and the annual growth rate was the highest in the world at 4.53%.

Children 'more likely to die'

In many ways, the urban poor in sub-Saharan Africa were worse off than rural populations. Children living in slums were more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illnesses than rural children.

Like the hundreds who flocked each month to Kibera for its low-cost housing, Amolo arrived in the ramshackle settlement from western Kenya hoping to carve out a better life - but his dreams were soon shattered.

He said: "Life is not easy here. When it rains the water comes through and look at the problem with the latrines."

Amolo, who suffered from asthma, rented a shop with another tailor. If there were no customers, he went home, where his wife Rhoda carried out her daily chores - washing in a bucket, cooking on a fire and caring for the children.

Everyday, Rhoda, 43, trekked past mounds of rubbish and slime-green waters flowing through the foul-smelling shantytown to buy water by the bucket at a communal tap.

She then lugged it up the slippery muddy trails, past women selling neat pyramids of vegetables or baskets of clucking chickens, and barefoot children playing beside trenches clogged with sewage and buzzing with flies.

Danger of rape, exploitation

She said: "It's difficult for parents here", worrying particularly about her daughters and the danger of rape and exploitation.

According to her: "There are these boys who come give the girls money and try to lure them away."

According to the UN, the world's most deprived slums - in terms of access to basic services and adequate shelter - were in sub-Saharan Africa, where 51% of the slum population lacked two or more of the following: access to water, sanitation, durable housing and sufficient living area.

The world had promised to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. While some north African and south Asian countries had reduced slum growth in the last 15 years and invested in improving slums, sub-Saharan Africa was lagging behind.

Amolo held little hope for positive change.

He said: "There is no way any leader can come here and assist us. I have never seen a political leader give us a helping hand. They should help with security, allocate funds to help the community. They should build more public latrines and taps."

Security was a major issue in slums, where gangs often ruled and police seldom enter except to tackle major riots.

Amolo said: "People tend to walk, stand outside your house, sometimes they are armed. There can also be clashes because people come from different ethnic groups."

Rhoda wouldn't mind paying rent again if she could have a safer house. She felt exposed on the less cramped plot, where their new house stood.

She said: "I don't feel safe here."

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