Urban Gardens in the Slums of Djibouti: Repurposing wastewater to combat malnutrition (Updated 12/22)
By utilizing renewable energy and culturally adapted gardening methods, we will introduce urban gardening as a way to combat malnutrition.
EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA
Djibouti is a small but strategically important port country in the Horn of Africa. However, Djibouti is unable to produce food to feed its population, and relies mostly on expensive imports.
At the same time, climate change and conflict have led to migration to Djibouti City, which has resulted in massive slums on the outskirts of the city. Pastoralists, discouraged by the ever harsher climate, often migrate to the city, looking for better lives. Similarly, conflict in the neighbouring countries has contributed a consistent flow of refugees to Djibouti. Both groups often find unemployment and end up settling in the slums. In these slums, there is a lack of food, clean water and inadequate facilities, which has led to high rates of malnutrition.
Our idea is to empower the residents of the slums need to be able to meet their basic needs. The idea is to utilize treated wastewater to irrigate home gardens with solar-powered drip irrigation. As many of the slums’ residents are traditionally pastoralists, a great deal of effort needs to be put into building the capacity of the residents to be good gardeners. Therefore, the project would be implemented in three phases – 1) Pilot and demonstrate effective gardening, 2) Train and empower residents, 3) Scale-up gardens to maximize the output of the sewage treatment plants. The idea makes better use of the available resources, while empowering communities to be more self-reliant.
The residents the Balbala slums will be the beneficiaries of this idea and the number of beneficiaries will be determined by the grey water output of the five adjacent water treatment plants. The people living here are mainly native Djiboutians, but many are refugees. Approximately, half of Djibouti City's population lives in these slums, which are located in the peri-urban outskirts of the capital city of Djibouti.
HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?
Climate change is one of the primary drivers creating slums. The harsh climate and erratic rainfall make forage harder to find, and the rural areas of Djibouti can no longer sustain its people and livestock population. As the harsh conditions continue to drive people to the city, there is an ongoing transformation from a nomadic pastoralist lifestyle to a more stationary lifestyle. However, the nomadic culture of the community is still very present in the slums, and it is often the case that entire bands (smallest social unit among the main ethnic groups of Djibouti) will suddenly move to another area. These bands usually consist of 1 to 6 families, with frequent coming and going. This idea plans to cultivate community gardens that a band could manage given their lifestyle. This means fast growing crops and little equipment to transport. Women will be empowered to be leaders of the community gardens and will play a key role in the planning and implementation of the project.
The gardening idea is actually a by-product of local water treatment initiatives. The municipal government has developed small-scale water treatment systems that lie on the border between the slums and permanent housing on the outskirts of Djibouti City. These initiatives aimed to improve water sanitation in the city, and, when functional, the output of the plants is grey water that is clean enough to cultivate crops. Usually, this water is fed back into the hydrological system, but, by utilizing solar energy, we can connect the residents of the slums with the water.
Yes, for two or more years
I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
We are from the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre & Network, a multi-country network connecting civil society and academia throughout the Horn of Africa. The University of Djibouti, CERD, and Djibouti Nature are members of this Network and will be the lead implementers for this project.
IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?
Our organization has been doing similar projects for since its establishment in 2006. Throughout the Horn of Africa, we have initiatives on livelihood, food security, solar energy and waste management. For example, one of our flagship projects is a Clean Development Mechanism project that is transforming the 50 year-old landfill of Addis Ababa into a public park. One of the key components of this project was first identifying alternative livelihoods of the trash pickers working at this site, while considering the energy and environmental needs of the area. Additionally, projects on solar irrigation and permaculture are ongoing.
This idea has been discussed, but this project will be the first time to bring our experience on agriculture, solar energy, wastewater management and livelihood development together in an urban setting. Additionally, this project is innovative for Djibouti. However, the unique and constant aspect of this project will be the holistic approach that we take.
HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?
Currently, the work in the Balbala slums focuses on microfinance schemes, sanitation, and building roads to connect the slums to basic services. Our idea is unique because of the holistic landscape approach it employs. Our organization focuses on environmental governance and management, but, to do this, one must consider the interactions of ecosystems, agro-ecosystems, people’s livelihoods and the institutions that hold these components together. The idea we have put forth considers each aspect of our targeted urban landscape.
Finally, Djibouti itself is unique regarding development projects. Because of its strategic location, Djibouti is often overlooked by development organizations. We have a unique advantage in Djibouti because of our long established Network in Djibouti. This project will require a strong partnership between government, academia and civil society, and we have already identified a strong team that is willing to work on this project. This consortium, along with the strong social cohesion that exists within the slums, will give the project the backing it needs to succeed.
This compound is one of several small-scale treatment plants that border the Balbala slum. Liquid waste from residents living behind this photograph flows here and, when working, is treated. However, when we visited the plant was overflowing into the slum, which can be seen in the background.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?
The largest unknown of this project is the scale at which we will be able to implement. A parallel wastewater treatment project will provide the limiting resource of this project, which is water. Five of these plants exist, but we do not know the total grey water output and functionality of these plants. The Office National de l’Eau et de l’Assainissement de Djibouti (ONEAD) is the lead on the wastewater treatment project, and we have notified them of our idea. To better answer this question we will work closely with ONEAD and begin the project with small pilot sites.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?
Djibouti is a small country with few resources. Over the past 10 years a prolonged drought has driven pastoralists to settle in the peri-urban slums at an alarming rate. Approximately, one fourth of the population of the country now lives in these slums. The rapid population increase of the slums and lack of resources within the country have been the primary drivers of the problem of malnutrition.
Additionally, the problem itself, malnutrition, exacerbates itself, as people are less likely to be able to change their situation when they are hungry and physically tired. Finally, the slums are relatively new, and, therefore, the problems that exist there are not well known.
HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?
The feedback we received was primarily from community leaders who are the implementing partners for the project. They are enthusiastic about the idea and confident that we will be able to get buy-in from government and community leaders in the slums. However, their biggest concern regarding this idea is the risk of raising the expectations of the residents of Balbala slums. As leaders of the community and residents of the Balbala neighborhood, they strongly recommended against even bringing up the project to the community.
However, we visited the slums and spoke to a few residents, informally. We approached the topic, indirectly, by talking to residents of Balbala slum about the adjacent small-scale sewage treatment plant. Residents complained about the plant, which was recently not working and leaking raw sewage directly into the slum. Also on this field visit, it was noted that due to the household setup and layout of the land in the slum, a traditional garden would be impractical. Therefore, we thought it would be better to use a vertical garden setup.
Our partners commented that from the project onset community members will be very eager and energetic to start the project, so we need to be well prepared to implement when we first bring the project to the community. The endorsement of the community leadership will be our most important asset going into the project. The most important message from our partners was that we need to follow through with whatever we start.
We conducted the Experience Mapping exercise with representatives from Association of Djibouti Nature, University of Djibouti, and the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre. Following this exercise, we visited the field.
WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?
This project aims, first, at helping residents in the Balbala slums meet basic needs of health and nutrition. Without these basic needs being met, it is difficult for people to change their situation. The goal of this project is to empower people to change their situation – to show them that by working together, they can improve their lives.
We envision that by empowering these people, this project will change their perceptions, and end the blame game between the slum residents and government. The residents will prove that they do have the capacity to improve their lives and the status of Djibouti. At the same time they will see that they do not need to rely on assistance.
How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?
The informal and temporary structures that make up the slums have become part of the city but are not part of a formal system. With limited resources, Djibouti City administrators struggle to deliver basic services to the slums. In Balbala, for example, housing is mixed – in one area you will find permanent structures with basic services. However, across the road it is not uncommon to find slums with no services. Our idea aims to create better cohesion between these two realities.
The inability to provide basic services has resulted in a waste problem. The ONEAD initiated a project in 2014 to address the problem of liquid waste by installing five treatment plants in Balbala. The treatment systems are only connected to housing with proper plumbing, but they benefit the slums by preventing liquid waste from spilling directly into the slum. These waste treatment plants give us an obvious entry point for our pilot gardens.