Nairobi, Dec 14 : It's really not a dirty business. They have adopted a simple, clean technology that turns human waste into an odourless renewable alternative to charcoal, which locals use to ignite their hearths and to keep themselves warm.
In Kenya, with over 32 million of its 48.46 million people without access to adequate sanitation -- which means open defecation is either common, or the use of unhygienic shared pits in the ground -- the urban poor are using briquettes made from fecal waste collected from nearby homes.
"We are enjoying poop heat, and it doesn't smell at all," Josephat Mbugua, a painter and resident of Kamere village in Naivasha sub-county, some 100 km north of capital Nairobi, told IANS while warming his hands on a firepot.
Kamere has a population of over 20,000 and most of them are slum dwellers, who lack access to improved sanitation and sewerage systems.
Sanivation, a start-up, is one of those that turns human faeces into a renewable energy resource in urban slums like Kamere that are ringed around the Naivasha Lake -- now turning fast into a receptacle for domestic, agricultural and industrial wastes generated within its catchment area.
Sanivation, which is harnessing the economic value of poop and ensuring that communities are kept healthy and safe, collects human waste twice a week from modern, container-based toilets installed in most of the households in slums.
"Sanivation simply works on a business model," its Government Relations Manager, Dickson Ochieng, told this visiting IANS correspondent.
He said the NGO installs the toilets in people's homes for free and charges a small monthly fee of 700 Kenya shillings ( (Dollar) 6.78/Rs 437) to collect the waste, which it turns into odourless charcoal briquettes after eliminating dangerous bacteria.
"Our sanitation service provides a hygienic place to use the bathroom and removes infectious waste from communities, helping to reduce diarrhoeal disease," he said.
"Instead of dumping the human waste, we transform it into clean burning charcoal briquettes that locals further use to cook and for heating," said Ochieng, who believes waste is not to be wasted.
The briquettes have lower particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions with a higher density for prolonged heat output and no smoke.
This protects the lungs and allows families to cook indoors.
It's economical too: Just (Dollar) 0.30 per kg, almost 60 per cent of the charcoal price.
"You see it doesn't leave an odour, it cooks well and the briquettes burn for long compared to charcoal," community health worker Samwel Mwaniki said.
She said earlier locals were sceptical about its use -- and asked a lot of questions.
"But ultimately you have to convince them."
The briquettes help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, saving 88 trees per tonne of briquettes sold and preventing the contamination of water sources, Mwaniki added.
Sanivation, with partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UN Refugee Agency, has built the first waste processing factory in Kakuma Refugee Camp and implemented a sanitation service that costs less than pit latrines.
It is also selling the briquettes in supermarkets under the Eco Flame brand.
Ochieng said the NGO is now going to start experimenting with other bio-waste products as the Naivasha Lake area is rich for cut-flower farms that daily produce thousands of tonnes of rose waste.
Sanivation, which has been in operation since 2014 and aims to reach one million people throughout East Africa by 2020 providing clean and efficient sanitation services, has partnered with the Naivasha Water Sewerage and Sanitation Company to build a factory that can process 100 tonnes of waste into 100 tonnes of briquettes per month.
Even though there are positive signs of development, 36 per cent of Kenyans still lack safe water.
About 70 per cent of the population lacks access to a toilet, says the WaterAid charity.
It says over 5,000 children under five die in a year due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation.
(Vishal Gulati was in Nairobi at the invitation of UN Environment to cover its third annual session.
He can be contacted at email@example.com)