MAKINDYE-LUKULI, Uganda – The darkening clouds are ominous for many in this urban neighborhood, promising rushing rainwater stinking of human waste from overflowing septic tanks.
As Africa faces a population boom unmatched anywhere in the world, millions of people are moving to fast-growing cities while decades-old public facilities crumble under the pressure.
Sewage is a scourge for residents of this community on the outskirts of Uganda's capital, Kampala. There are no public toilets for some 1,200 people.
One of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Kampala is home to at least 1.5 million people, but authorities say over 3 million pass through daily, usually for work. Yet there are fewer than 800 pay toilets and only 14 free ones, many of them dilapidated with walls often smeared with feces.
Many people rush to malls to relieve themselves. Even in the buildings of government agencies, the toilets are often kept under lock and key, apparently to discourage intruders.
Kampala's urban sewer system covers less than 10% of the population, authorities say. When pit latrines and septic tanks are not safely built, they pose a serious health risk. They leak fecal waste that contaminates swamps and Lake Victoria, the city's main water source, especially during the rainy season.
Private companies have been trying out solutions in poor, crowded neighborhoods such as Makindye-Lukuli, where trash piles up around tin-roofed homes.
A sanitation program backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on emptying septic tanks in households not easily reached by vacuum trucks, which are privately operated.
Using a tool resembling a giant syringe, men in safety suits pump fecal waste into drums that are emptied into a movable tank, for a tiny fraction of the roughly $50 that would be paid to a vacuum truck operator.