Graffiti in Mukuru. Photo: Tom Ogol / SEI.


The settlements that make up Mukuru cover around 650 acres, packed in between factories in an industrial zone in south-eastern Nairobi, Kenya. They are home to an estimated 100 000 families, generally poor and marginalized.

Because Mukuru has grown up informally, infrastructure and basic services are patchy at best. When it comes to sanitation, toilets are mostly public or shared between 10 or more households in a yard. Only a few are connected to a sewer line. Others have to rely on collection services. Despite the high level of poverty in Mukuru, both public toilets and collection services are more expensive than in other parts of Nairobi. In addition, access to public toilets is restricted at night.

Gender and more – Measuring the complexity of WASH insecurity

While this makes it plain that sanitation services are already inadequate in Mukuru, past experiences with WASH interventions suggest that differences in WASH access are influenced by more than hardware. Inequalities exist within communities, even within households, due to a range of factors – such as gender, socio-economic status or education level – and many of these factors interact.

Despite these differences, who benefits from WASH services is most commonly measured and monitored by looking at the facilities themselves, rather than considering factors that affect differing user experiences. The result is that interventions aimed at improving access often leave these inequalities in place.

Last year, Mukuru was declared a special planning area by Nairobi City Council. That means a two-year moratorium on new development while a comprehensive development plan is drawn up, intended to upgrade the settlements and give the residents a better, safer environment.

Any new development plan must of course aim to improve the WASH situation in the settlement. That was why we chose to develop and test a new tool, the WASH Insecurity Scale in Mukuru.

The WASH Insecurity Scale aims to quickly give a picture of disparities in who benefits from water and sanitation services – down to the individual level. It uses a comprehensive but concise set of questions, including on availability, accessibility, affordability and adequacy of water, sanitation and hygiene services, with a focus on the previous four weeks. These results are summed to generate a WASH insecurity score.

A scene from Mukuru informal settlement. Photo: William Apondo / SEI.

What we learned about WASH inequality in Mukuru

To apply the WASH Insecurity Scale, in April this year our team – comprising researchers from SEI Africa and SEI Stockholm – conducted a survey of 108 male and 194 female residents spread across three communities in the Mukuru informal settlement.

Overall, women in Mukuru reported greater WASH insecurity than men. This likely reflects discriminatory social norms related to water and sanitation that many women face, such as greater responsibility for unpaid water collection work or personal security concerns in accessing a shared toilet facility.

Furthermore, respondents living in households headed by a single female below the age of 18 scored highest for WASH insecurity than those living in other household types, such as those headed by one or two adults.

Another important factor was income. Residents in the lowest income group – less than 5000 Kenyan shillings (US$49) per household per month – reported greater WASH insecurity than those higher incomes. Given that residents in Mukuru already pay a lot for water and sanitation services this is of significant concern because it shows that the poorest are more vulnerable to increasing or variable tariffs, regardless of how many taps and toilets are in the vicinity. Both decision-makers and service providers should take into consideration how to ensure services are affordable for all.

A brighter future?

Our study in Mukuru demonstrated that the WASH Insecurity Scale can identify detailed patterns of WASH challenges in far more detail than by simply “counting taps and toilets”. This information could be used in development initiatives, such as the Mukuru special planning area action plans, to ensure no-one is left behind in realizing the human rights to water and sanitation for all, regardless of gender, socio-economic status or other factors.

Being able to benefit from WASH services profoundly affects health, education opportunities, livelihoods and opportunities to escape poverty. Our hope is that the WASH Insecurity Scale can help policy-makers and others to address WASH inequalities, and achieve WASH security – and a good life – for all.

The study was supported by the SEI Gender and Social Equity Programme.