Attachments ( 1 file ):
  • 1 pdf file

NAIROBI: Sanitation Status

Sanitation provision in Nairobi (the capital of Kenya) is grossly deficient, as in most cities in sub-Saharan Africa: most people do not have access to a hygienic toilet; large amounts of faecal waste are discharged to the environment without adequate treatment; this is likely to have major impacts on infectious disease burden and quality of life (Hutton et al. 2007). This article briefly summarizes the current sanitation situation in Nairobi.

This page is part of the fully editable open-access reference source on the sanitation status of all major cities in sub-Saharan Africa.  The resource considers the 40 urban agglomerations in sub-Saharan Africa with a current population of 1 million or more. To read some of the other 40 country profiles, go back tothe resource Homepage

N.B These pages should be considered as incomplete provisional drafts, and contributions are actively requested from specialists with expert local knowledge of each specific city.

Table of Contents

Background information

Nairobi is an urban agglomeration with a population of about 3.4 million people (Brinkhoff 2010). It is an inland city at 1500−1900 m above sea level, flat in the lower parts but with steep slopes in the higher parts; the city is traversed by the River Nairobi and tributaries including the Mathare and the Ngong (for maps see UNEP 2007 and Climate is subtropical highland (Köppen classification Cwb; mean annual rainfall about 1000 mm). Many areas of Nairobi suffer regular heavy flooding (UNEP 2007, OCHA 2010). Pollutant industrial activity is diverse and includes chemical industries, cement manaufacture, textiles and food-processing. There is significant agricultural activity within the agglomeration (UNEP 2007). A large proportion of the population lives in low-income settlements, including very poor informal settlements (UNEP 2007).

Water resources and supply: overview

At present, water comes mostly from surface resources, notably the Tana River basin (providing most of the formal supply) and the heavily polluted Rivers Nairobi, Mathare and Ngong, on which informal peri-urban settlements are largely dependent; in future, groundwater resources are likely to be increasingly important (UNEP 2007). It is estimated that about 42% of households in Nairobi have household piped water supply, while in informal settlements most people obtain water from vendors (UNEP 2007). Extensive information on water resources and supply (including unaccounted-for water, costs to consumer, etc.) is given in UNEP 2007 and in NCWSC/AWSB 2009.

Sanitation access

UN-Habitat (2003) reports that about 10% of the population is served by sewers, while 20% have septic tanks and the remainder use latrines; however, these appear to be very crude data. Certainly the business/institutional centre and wealthy/middle-income residential districts are served by the sewerage system or septic tanks. In informal settlements (about 60% of the population), about 24% of people are estimated to have a latrine (improved or unimproved) or a flush toilet, while an estimated 68% use public toilets (mostly over-crowded low-quality latrines), and an estimated 6% resort to open defecation or defecation in plastic bags (“flying toilets”) (NCWSC/AWSB 2009).  

Sewerage system

Nairobi has a large sewerage system, though estimates of coverage differ widely: about 10% of the population according to UN-Habitat (2003), about 48% of the population according to the government estimates (ROK 2002). The system currently serves only wealthy/middle-income residential districts, not low-income settlements; in some areas the sewer mains run close to or through informal settlements, and recent reports have suggested plans to provide sewered public latrines (NCWSC/AWSB 2009; see also WUP 2001); however, to the best of our knowledge these plans have not been implemented. UNEP (2007) reports various problems with this system, including poor maintenance, and suggests that existing treatment plants do not have the capacity to deal with the sewage collected by the system.

Septage management (septage = nightsoil and/or sludge from onsite facilities)

Useful studies of sludge management in Kibera have been carried out by  Wegelin-Schuringa Kodo (1997), Bongi (2005), Eales (2005) and BPD (2008). In informal settlements, some latrines in locations close to roads are emptied by tankers and vacutugs; we have no information on where tankers dump sludge. Most latrines in informal settlements are emptied manually, preferentially in the rainy season when the emptiers can empty buckets directly to open drains (BPD 2008). As far as we are aware, there have been no serious attempts to provide any form of support or regulatory framework for manual pit emptiers, in such a way that might improve working conditions and at the same time reduce public health risks due to inappropriate sludge dumping; Eales (2005) contrasts the very poor situation in Kibera with the much better situation in Durban.   

Sewage treatment (sewage = sewered wastes and/or septage)

Nairobi has two major sewage treatment plants: Dandora with a daily treatment capacity of 80,000 m3, and Kariobangi with a daily treatment capacity of 32,000 m3. Dandora is a lagoon-based plant, while Kariobangi is a conventional plant based on biological aerated filters (ECFA 2008). Together, the two plants discharge about  90,000 m3 per day of partially treated effluent to the Nairobi River system, about 7 km downstream and north-east of the city centre (UNEP 2003). Both plants receive wastewater from the city’s sewerage network; we do not know whether either plant has provision for reception and treatment of tanker-transported faecal waste.

Sanitation in low-income districts

About 60% of Nairobi’s population live in informal settlements, and of these about 90% are tenants (NCWSC/AWSB 2009). The best-known is Kibera, with an area of 250 hectares and an estimated population of over half a million people (UN-Habitat 2003); it is certainly the largest informal settlement in Africa. Other low-income settlements in Nairobi are listed and mapped in UNEP (2007, pp 37 and 38); see also Practical Action (2003). Kibera is notorious for its extremely poor sanitation situation: UN-Habitat (2003) reports that most people do not have toilets, and thus use very poor quality public latrines (up to 200 people per toilet) and “flying toilets”(i.e. plastic bags). A significant problem is simply lack of space for household toilets, and lack of land for public toilets; some NGO-led sanitation campaigns have negotiated local demolitions to allow construction of public toilets (BPD 2008). A detailed description of the Kibera situation, including consideration of tenure issues in settlements of this type, can be found in BPD (2008). It is worth noting that Kibera has very specific characteristics, including extremely high population density and extremely poor housing quality; somewhat similar situations are sometimes seen elsewhere (e.g. Old Fadama settlement in Accra, Ghana), but most low-income informal settlements elsewhere in Africa have much lower population densities, and very different social and sanitation situations. As noted, Nairobi is unusual among African cities in that specific guidelines have been developed for improving sanitation in informal settlements.  

see UN-Habitat Kibera Integrated Water, Sanitation and Waste Management Project 


The principal asset holding and management entity for networked water supply and sewerage infrastructure in Nairobi is the Athi Water Services Board (AWSB), which has delegated the operational mandate to the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC). As regards sanitation, sewerage is the only aspect that is formally under the responsibility of the NCWSC, while responsibility for onsite sanitation lies with households, community groups and municipal agencies (NCWSC/AWSB (2009). In fact, the recent strategic guidelines (NCWSC/AWSB (2009) suggest that NCWSC is now involved in supporting on-site sanitation and faecal sludge management in informal settlements, in coordination with Government of Kenya’s Slum Upgrading Program (KENSUP) and with community groups, NGOs, and major donors; to what extent this involvement is translating into genuine practical action remains unclear.

Sanitation masterplan?

As noted, the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company has produced a very interesting set of strategic guidelines for improving water and sanitation in Nairobi’s informal settlements (NCWSC/AWSB 2009), though this document appears to have been basically written by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), and it is not clear to what extent these guidelines reflect genuine institutional commitment.

Sanitation financing

No information at present.

Major investments and donor interventions

WSUP Gatwekera Project.

Nairobi Water and Sewerage Institutional Restructuring Project, World Bank P049618, approved 17 Jun 2004, now closed; institutional strengthening project, total amount about 15m US$; impact completion and results report ICR0000835 (World Bank 2008) judges outcome to have been satisfactory.

Water and Sanitation Service Improvement Project, World Bank P096367, approved 20 Dec 2007, active; total amount about 150m US$, mostly water supply but including about 25m US$ to be spent on rehabilitation and expansion of sewerage networks and sewage treatment facilities in Nairobi, notably construction (rehabilitation?) of the sewerage systems serving Ruiroka, Gatharani North and Gatharani South, upgrading of the Lavington and Riruta sewerage systems, rehabilitation of the Kariobangi sewage treatment plant, and reconstruction of Ngong River trunk sewers.  [A press release from the Athi Water Services Board, dated 25 Oct 2008 and not currently available online, provides further information and  indicates that the project will also undertake significant expansion of the Dandora treatment plant.] The project also includes an onsite sanitation component, but this is only a small amount of money (0.2m US$). The Project Appraisal makes no mention of household connections, so presumably this project will involve major infrastructure only. We have no information about whether this investment will benefit low-income settlements in any way (through connection of household or public toilets, or reduction of sewerage spillage, or provision for effective sludge treatment); in the absence of any specific pro-poor strategy, we must assume that it won’t (see Norman 2009).

Sources and further reading

Designing Wastewater Systems According to Local Conditions - David M Robbins 
Publication Date: Jan 2014 - ISBN - 9781780404769


Bongi S (2005) Understanding small scale providers of sanitation services: a case study of Kibera. UNDP/WSP.

BPD (2008) Sanitation partnerships: Nairobi case study.

Brinkhoff T (2010) City Population.

Eales K (2005) Bringing pit emptying out of the darkness: a comparison of approaches in Durban, South Africa, and Kibera, Kenya. BPD Sanitation Partnerships Series.

ECFA [Engineering and Consulting Firms Association] (2008) Project Formulation Study on Nairobi Metropolitan Development Planning Project.

Hutton G, Haller L & Bartram J (2007) Economic and health effects of increasing coverage of low cost household drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to countries off-track to meet MDG target 10. Geneva, Switzerland, World Health Organization.

NCWSC/AWSB (2009) Strategic Guidelines for Improving Water and Sanitation Services in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements. Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) and Athi Water Services Board (AWSB) with the support of the Water and Sanitation Program – Africa (WSP-AF).

Norman G (2009) Can sewerage be pro-poor? Lessons from Dakar. Paper presented at the West Africa Regional Sanitation and Hygiene Symposium, 3-5 Nov 2009, Accra, Ghana.

OCHA [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] (2010) Kenya: Floods Situation Report No. 3, 12 Jan 2010.

Practical Action (2003) Case study: Urban upgrading project gains momentum in Mavoko.

ROK [Republic of Kenya] (2002). Analytical Report on Housing Conditions and House Amenities for Kenya 1999. Population and Housing Census. Republic of Kenya (ROK), Nairobi. Cited in UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] (2007) City of Nairobi environment outlook.

UNEP (2003) Nairobi River Basin Phase II: Pollution Monitoring Report.

UNEP (2007) City of Nairobi environment outlook.

UNEP/GRID-Arendal (2002)  Water availability in Africa. UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library.

Wegelin-Schuringa M & Kodo T (1997) Tenancy and sanitation provision in informal settlements in Nairobi: revisiting the public latrine option. Environ Urban 9 (2) (1997), pp. 181–190.

World Bank (2007) Project Appraisal: Water and Sanitation Service Improvement Project.

WUP [Water Utility Partnership] (2001 ) Community Based Sanitation Service, Nairobi, Kenya.

Other City Profiles

1) ABIDJAN (Côte d’Ivoire) 3

2) ACCRA (Ghana) 3

3) ADDIS ABABA (Ethiopia) 3

4) ANTANANARIVO (Madagascar) 3

5) BAMAKO (Mali) 3

6) BENIN CITY (Nigeria) 3

7) BRAZZAVILLE (Republic of Congo) 3

8) CAPE TOWN (South Africa) 3

9) CONAKRY (Guinea) 3

10) COTONOU (Benin) 3

11) DAKAR (Senegal) 3

12) DAR ES SALAAM (Tanzania) 3

13) DOUALA (Cameroon) 3

14) DURBAN THEKWINI (South Africa) 3

15) FREETOWN (Sierra Leone) 3

16) HARARE (Zimbabwe) 3

17) IBADAN (Nigeria) 3


19) KADUNA (Nigeria) 3

20) KAMPALA (Uganda) 3

21) KANO (Nigeria) 3

22) KHARTOUM (Sudan) 3

23) KINSHASA (Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC) 3

24) KUMASI (Ghana) 3

25) LAGOS (Nigeria) 3

26) LUANDA (Angola) 3

27) LUBUMBASHI (Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC) 3

28) LUSAKA (Zambia) 3

29) MAIDUGURI (Nigeria) 3

30) MAPUTO (Mozambique) 3

31) MBUJI-MAYI (Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC) 3

32) MOGADISHU (Somalia) 3

33) MONROVIA (Liberia) 3

34) NAIROBI (Kenya) 3

35) OUGADOUGOU (Burkina Faso) 3

36) PORT ELIZABETH (South Africa) 3

37) PORT HARCOURT (Nigeria) 3

38) PRETORIA TSHWANE (South Africa) 3

39) YAOUNDÉ (Cameroon) 3

40) ZARIA (Nigeria) 3

WaterWiki Newsletter

Share the WaterWiki

Share the WaterWiki!

Add this button to your site to share the WaterWiki with your users. Just copy and paste the HTML code below into your website.