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Can urban CLTS work?

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This week, on the SuSanA blog, Lukas Ulrich put forward the argument that CLTS cannot work and should not be used in an urban environment. His argument is as follows:

CLTS is an approach which is neither recommended for nor validated in urban areas. In cases where it had a certain impact in urban areas, it cannot really be called CLTS any more. In the following just a few reasons why CLTS is not considered suitable for urban areas:

  • Heterogeneous and transient communities
  • System perspective and integral approach needed. Building latrines alone is not enough, full service chain considerations are needed.
  • Infrastructure costs, the users can’t be expected to pay for everything without external support
  • External support is also needed knowledge-wise
  • Appropriate involvement of all stakeholders is needed and often a complex task
  • Creating disgust might worsen social exclusion of emptying workers etc.

However, as those who have been reading the CLTS blog and previously Sammy Musyoki’s diary of urban CLTS in Mathare , will know, there has been much innovation and progress with UCLTS, sometimes called Urban Citizen-led Total Sanitation in Nairobi. Below, Sammy responds to Lukas’ post:

I have read through the post by Lukas. For almost 2 years now we have been piloting CLTS in urban informal settlements in Nairobi. Even before we started we were aware that the urban context is quite different from the rural areas where CLTS has been predominantly used. The term we chose to use for this is urban CLTS and at one stage, after trying it out, I suggested in urban areas we better call it Citizen Led Total Sanitation. This is because it is about galvanizing citizen action to engage with duty bearers or institutions who had failed to meet their obligations to ensure that citizens enjoyed their right to live in a clean environment.

The fact about communities being heterogeneous is all well known by participatory development practitioners. The “myth of community”- We understood from the beginning that in urban areas people are busy and transient –however this is not to say they are not organized to address daily challenges. In Kenya we have had informal settlements engaged in struggles to oppose forced evictions and there has been big success with this. UCLTS builds on that history to make ODF and poor sanitation a priority agenda for the residents in the affected areas to engage with the mandated institutions and the landlords.

I see a misconception that CLTS is about building toilets-that is off the mark. CLTS in this case is about mobilizing and galvanizing for collective action – led by the communities to better their sanitation. The action could be a beginning of an engagement processes that will result in immediate, mid-term and long-term solutions to the sanitation situation. UCLTS does not exclude what Lucas refers to as systems perspective and integrated approach. However, once the communities are triggered and the lead in this process then the results are owned locally and can be sustained in the long-term. Externally driven integrated approaches seem to lack ownership and may not be sustained.

Regarding infrastructure costs –the users in urban areas have no problem paying for sanitation services – however UCLTS does not concern itself with the hardware solutions rather it triggers the residents to start asking the right questions to the right people. We have seen how agitated they get when they realize they are paying rent for facilities which do not meet the standards required by the tenancy laws. This way they have engaged their landlords and demanded that they provide them with sanitation facilities. We have had targeted triggering sessions for landlords who at the end of the session have decided to convert some of their units to sanitation facilities. We have seen the provincial administration decide that no landlord will rent out facilities which do not have sanitation facilities in their areas of administration.

At no point in UCLTS did we expect that after the triggering communities will be digging pits and constructing simple structures. The city bylaws do not allow it. Communities have even gone ahead and demolished some facilities that were considered to be polluting the environment and demanded that people engaged in commercial latrine business come up with environmental friendly sanitation solutions. Part of the UCLTS work is linking them with other players including private sector but at no point do we attempt to play the role of providing technical solutions. There are already ECOSAN type facilities e.g, the Umande biogas digester toilet blocks which are being run by groups who saw a business opportunity. We link them with financing opportunities, eg with the micro-finance institutions and the Water Service Trust Fund.

The point on external support in terms of knowledge is a key activity post-triggering. We have organized and convened round-table meetings between the communities and key stakeholders in urban sanitation. So CLTS does not rule out such engagements. I think again there is a case of limited understanding of CLTS as a one off activity that stops at triggering implied in Lukas’s post. To us, this will amount to bad practice that should be discouraged at all cost. We have facilitated and seen the communities take up engagement processes beyond the initial roundtable meetings we organized.

It is important to note that UCLTS was initially demand driven. We are now moving toa new era where the City Council of Nairobi, after seeing what is happening in Mathare, has requested training for their staff. They would like to scale UCLTS up in more wards in Nairobi. A simple question from us was whether they had the structures in place to manage the process post triggering. The answer was the structures are in place and they are ready to learn what else they may need to do to respond to the demand and pressure that will come with the triggering.

Disgust has not resulted in any exclusion. Shit and shit emptying in urban informal settlements is real business. The group that approached us to introduce CLTS in Mathare was a social enterprise of young people Community Cleaning Services who earn a good living from unblocking and cleaning toilets. They love their job and they have become natural leaders and excellent UCLTS facilitators in their communities. I urge you read my blog in its totality as all the issues raised here are addressed very well.


Sammy Musyoki

Date: 26 March 2012


Submitted by petra on

CLTS in cities is relatively new in the Indian context. Prior to Nanded there were only two reported cases of use of CLTS in an urban setting in India- Kalyani near Kolkata and Raigad in Maharashtra. But the Nanded experience is wider than both the earlier initiatives, as this is the first time in India that CLTS has been used on a city wide scale to cover all aspects of sanitation including: open defecation; solid waste management; drainage; water security etc.
Read more about Nanded here