In Kenyan Slum, Mobile Phones Pinpoint Better Water

Sarina A. Beges | FSI Stanford News | October 26, 2012

Single-room shacks with mud walls, metal roofs and dirt floors sleep families of eight here. Plastic bags filled with human waste are thrown into unpaved streets, earning the nickname “flying toilets." Trash piles up in front of homes and storefronts. The flies are everywhere. People struggle to survive but the appetite for change is strong.

This is Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum home to hundreds of thousands packed onto one square mile of land. Kibera's population is a matter of debate – and politics – with unofficial estimates ranging from 250,000 to 1 million.

And it is next door to some of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods. On its edge lies a golf course serving the elite, the lush green grass a stark contrast to the rusted metal roofs that clutter Kibera's skyline.

The government says those who live here are illegal squatters, and officials withhold basic public services like electricity, sewage and waste collection. Health care and education are expensive and out of reach for those struggling to find steady employment amid the rising price of food and fuel. Water is scarce here – a resource turned on and off by the government and a commodity overpriced by a handful of private dealers.