‘It is our dirty little secret’: An ethnographic study of the flying toilets in Kibera slums, Nairobi

Working Paper
  • Published 08/12/11
  • ISBN: 978 1 85864 976 5

Using the case study of the Kibera slums, this paper takes a medical anthropological approach to discuss and explain the untold and common practice among the urban poor in developing countries that is informally known as the ‘Flying Toilets’. This paper seeks to inform those working within the public health sector about such practices, but also to serve as a platform that can serve health promotion strategies and approaches geared toward such practices. International and local experts working in the discipline of water and sanitation and public health continue to miss the mark toward the improvement and promotion of health because of such secret informal practices as the Flying Toilets. For progress to occur, such practices must be understood and eradicated. Specifically, it cannot be assumed that an indicator such as community and family connection to a public sewer, a septic system, simple latrine or a ventilated improved latrine, as postulated by UNICEF and WHO, automatically improves sanitation. Demographic size/patterns, behaviour, and historical factors must be considered in light of all these variables. The Flying Toilet as a public hazard will be discussed in the political, historical, and economic context affecting the residents of the Kibera slums. In the context of this paper, we will interrogate the causes, organization, and the effects of the Flying Toilets.