Kenya in a Bad Shape about Open Defecation Free Goal

Even though the national law establishes the right to “reasonable standards of sanitation”, some Kenyan people are denied them. Especially in rural areas, the worst-off people face poor living conditions due to open defecation. The Government is implementing a four year strategy to fight against this scourge, but corruption, misappropriation and mismanagement risk to frustrate the efforts


by Pietro Dionisio

Degree in Political Science, International Relations

Cesare Alfieri School, University of Florence, Italy

Kenya in a Bad Shape about Open Defecation Free Goal


The Kenyan Constitution Article 43 (b) declares sanitation as a basic human right and guarantees the right of every person to “reasonable standards of sanitation.”

Despite the law, open defecation is an issue in the Country, where almost 50% of rural people still lack access to basic sanitation. Admittedly, access to sanitation has shown only a slight increase from  1990 (25%) to 2013 (32%). To make things even worse, most facilities (72%) only consist of pit latrines providing insufficient levels of safety, hygiene and privacy.

People cannot bear that situation any longer. What’s more, this context has a huge economic impact since Kenya loses KES 57 billion annually due to poor sanitation.

It has been estimated that in the Country an average 14% of total population usually practice open defecation, though the real rate could be higher.Relevantly, there are massive inequalities among counties. While in some of them the rate is about 75% of local population, in Turkana county it peaks beyond 82%.

Typically, open defecation is bound up with poverty:  more than 60% of the poorest wealth quintile practice it as against less than 1% in the wealthiest quintiles. As such, it comes as no surprise that access to sanitation facilities is higher in the lower poverty gap index counties, as compared with those counties with a higher poverty gap index.

These circumstances entail deep consequences on people’s (especially children) health. As such, it is not by chance that 35% of children in Kenya suffer from moderate to severe stunting. Childhood stunting, which can affect both educational and long-term productivity outcomes, has been linked, in fact, to poor sanitation and open defecation. Not to mention that, as a consequence of the lack of access to water and sanitation, diarrhea is second to pneumonia as a cause of death in children under five.

Adding to the burden of sickness and death, inadequate sanitation threatens to contaminate Kenya’s water sources and undermine human dignity. Access to safe water supplies throughout Kenya is only 59% currently. And while rural areas are those more plagued, cities are not performing much better. In fact, rapid urbanization has not been followed by a parallel growth of water and sanitation services. Some 15 million city dwellers lack access to a piped water supply or sanitation services, and this number continues to rise. In poor urban zones, less than 20% of the population have access to sanitation, and 80% of facilities are shallow pit latrines that add to the environment pollution while coupling with only 12% estimated sewerage coverage and a barely 5% effectively treated national sewerage.

Against this backdrop, the Kenyan Government just implemented the National Open Defecation Free Kenya 2020 Campaign Framework 2016-2020 as an attempt to make the Country open defecation free by 2020 and achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) N. 6.

So compounded, the Campaign aligns with the “Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Policy (KESHP)2016-2030” and the “Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Strategic Framework (KESSF) 2016-2020” respectively.

The overall campaign goal is to eradicate open defecation and declare all counties and Kenya Open Defecation Free by the end of 2020. The specific objectives of the campaign are to:

  • Develop capacities of key Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) stakeholders in all 47 counties by 2017.
  • Develop an effective Planning, Monitoring Evaluation and Research Unit (PM&ER) system for more effective evidence-based approaches to the campaign targets.
  • Mobilize partners and the media to support the campaign goals.
  • Facilitate and assist county governments in achieving their respective Open Defecation Free sub counties, wards and villages targets.
  • Engage and enable the private sector to respond effectively to the demand created for sanitation materials and products.
  • Mobilize and allocate adequate resources to enable county governments to achieve their Open Defecation Free sub counties, wards and villages targets.

To implement the “National Open Defecation Free Kenya 2020 Campaign” over the next four years, both national and county governments will require a large outlay of financial resources. The overall investment required over the next four years (2016/17-2019/20) to achieve 100% Open Defecation Free by 2020 across all the 47 counties in Kenya is estimated at KES 41.6 billion. Because of limited resources, earmarking of money should align as much as possible with the national and counties’ priorities. As such, an efficient monitoring and evaluation system should be put in place to improve the already working one.

Relevantly, it is fundamental to concretely fight against corruption and misappropriation. In the  Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perception Index, Kenya was listed as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, ranking 139 out of 168.

The strategy set in motion by the Kenyan government is deeply based on funding from international agencies and organizations including, among others, the World Bank, UNICEF, and AMREF. The Government should consider these funds as a starting point and use them just to implement the strategy and make it sustainable in the long run. Unfortunately, it looks like this wouldn’t be the case due to corruption, misappropriation, and mismanagement, among other bad habits.

These habits should be given up in order not to lose an opportunity to improve sanitation and make the Country free from open defecation. It makes no matter should that happen in 2020 or later, provided a step by step, policy by policy gradual improvement becomes visible. Not for money or as a clue for developed countries that their money is spent well, but for Kenyan people deserving wealthy living conditions.