Youth: urban sanitation game changers in Kasama district in Zambia

SNV empty wash

A new service provider joins the urban sanitation service industry in the Zambian district of Kasama. Formed in 2019 with the support of SNV, Chambeshi Water and Sanitation Company (ChWSC) and Kasama Municipal Council (KMC), the Northern Emptier Plumbing and Sanitation Association (NEPSA) is increasing Kasama district’s access to safer and more affordable sanitation services.

NEPSA is an association composed of a youthful team of thirteen skilled and self-motivated individuals. The association's mission is ‘To improve quality of life through the provision of professional WASH services in Zambia.’

The association’s service package includes septic tank and pit latrine emptying, plumbing services and septic tank construction. Between November 2019 and May 2020, NEPSA has desludged 22 containments (equivalent to a total of 50,000 litres),[1] and septic tanks and pit latrines in almost 15 households in Kasama.

NEPSA fills an emptying service gap in Kasama

As a service provider, NEPSA is providing a safer and more affordable emptying service for households and organisations with on-site sanitation facilities, specifically for those that mainly have unlined pits and septic tanks. Based on a 2018 Rapid Technical Assessment Study conducted by SNV in the peri-urban and urban settlements of Kasama, the team found that cost (affordability) and availability of emptying services in Kasama served as key deterrents to sanitation access.

On-site emptying of septic tanks are services offered primarily by a private entity that charges between K 1,800 and K 5,400 (US$ 100 and US$ 300). A price too high to pay for the majority of Kasama’s population, which has led to some consumers engaging the cheaper services of informal emptiers.

Besides the private entity's steep charges, the company does not offer pit latrine emptying services. Due to these factors, many households and organisations have opted to practise pit abandonment – when pit latrines fill up, they are buried, and a new one is dug in the premises; a practice that the SNV study found is increasingly becoming unsustainable due to shrinking spaces within urban areas, coupled with high population density.

SNV Evac Kasama

Septic tank emptying with Evac at a market in Kasama

SNV Evac Kasama

Septic tank emptying with Evac at a market in Kasama

NEPSA: a role model of the Chambeshi-Lukanga Urban Sanitation programme

NEPSA emerged against the backdrop of SNV’s urban sanitation partnership with ChWSC and KMC, under the Chambeshi-Lukanga Urban Sanitation Programme, which receives support from the Government of the Netherlands-funded multi-country WASH SDG Programme.[2]

My children, thank you very much for coming to my rescue. I am very happy with the way you have emptied my pit latrine. I didn’t know that pit latrines can be emptied, until today. You are a very smart and efficient team. I will definitely tell my neighbours about you. – A satisfied customer from the Jazz compound

Formally registered as a company, the young men and women workers of NEPSA received technical, safety and management skills training in mechanical emptying (with the use of an Evac machine),[3] and/or manual pit emptying (with the use of modified garden tools).[4][5] In compliance with OHS standards, all of NEPSA’s members received vaccination against Hepatitis B and Tetanus. Today, all NEPSA workers are outfitted with the appropriate protective gear (Personal Protective Equipment, PPE) whenever they provide a service.

NEPSA is now known in Kasama as a professional youth-led sanitation service provider, whose clientele is growing by the day. Together, the men and women of NEPSA are challenging traditional perceptions and narratives about the sanitation business. Through their professionalism and the services that they offer – skills and know-how imparted to them by SNV and its partners – NEPSA is showing that the engagement in the sanitation business:

  • is a dignified profession (not a degrading one),

  • is a viable livelihood opportunity for young people (and not a job only for old people), and

  • is not exclusive for men (thereby challenging the gender divide in work).

Prepared by: Emily Banda, Business Development Advisor, SNV in Zambia

Photos by: SNV/Emily Banda

[1] Clients include the MUSA Farm Institute, Kasama College of Education, Mapalo Lodge, Eco-Petroleum Fueling station, Shoprite Checkers, Zambeef, Northern Coffee Corporation Limited in Kateshi, and the Baptist Church in Mungwi.
[2] In Zambia it’s the Chambeshi Lukanga Urban Sanitation programme involving ChWSC, LgWSC and local authorities of Kabwe, Kasama, Mbala, Mpulungu and Nakonde
[3] With support from Partners In Development (PID), emptiers were taught how to work with an Evac, a simple, portable vacuum pumping machine used for emptying septic tanks and pit latrines.
[4] Led by the Water and Sanitation Association of Zambia (WASAZA). Emptiers' know-how in a range of service aspects, such as  OHS for FSM, record keeping, administration, customer service, entrepreneurship and Business Development Skills, were also strengthened.
[5] As part of the training, both PID and WASAZA developed and provided Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the operation of the E-vac and for manual emptying. In compliance with OHS standards, all emptiers were vaccinated against Hepatitis B and Tetanus.