Biocentres in informal settlements

The process of building a biocentre

Building a biocentre in an informal settlement is a complex matter. There are a lot of people involved and each group with their individual interests. This makes working in these volatile environments difficult, flexibility is a required skill for success. This article is going through the process of building a biocentre in a community in an informal settlement.

The first step in the process is for a group to come to Umande trust to apply for the building of a biocentre. They have to be in possession of land to build the biocentre on and willing to donate that piece of land for free for building of the biocentre. This application will be reviewed by Umande trust and if approved by Umande, an application at the government has to be made for the construction of a new facility. With the approval of the government the next step in the process can begin.

Following the approval is the start of the construction process. Firstly the characteristics of the building site have to be determined. Together with the area-residents Umande comes up with a design that fits the area and the needs of the community. Characteristics that should be taken into account are for example: the slope, the shape of the building and the design of the top floor. Secondly, the community has to be informed on the coming activities. This is done via a meeting with the community who owns the land on which the biocentre will be built. This community meeting is an important part of the process, because residents can ask their questions about the construction and operation of the facility. These meetings are mandatory to ensure the consent of the community in building a biocentre in their neighbourhood.

After the preparation activities are finished the construction can start. This is phase is scheduled to take approximately 6 months. During this time the community members have to use a washroom elsewhere. The first step in the construction phase is the cleaning of the lot and then levelling the area. This is necessary to make the site ready for building activities. Next a hole has to be dug for the placement of the biodigester. The design of the building is made as such that the waste is dropped into the biodigester in the ground. This creates biogas for the community to utilize as an energy source. On the ground floor the toilets are positioned in a circular way and the first floor a room is created which can be used for varying public purposes.

The picture illustrates how a biodigester looks like. This part of the structure is built first and the ground and first floor are built on top of the this dome. The stove will eventually be connected through a pipe running up in the middle of the building.

The building has a circular shape and the toilets are placed in a similar manner in between the inner and outer wall. One side for the men and one side for the women. Sometimes, depending on the biocentre, showers are also installed, which can be used with cold water or water heated by the generated biogas. The first floor can serve a variety of purposes, such as churches, living space or (in)formal community gatherings.

Once the biocentre is finished, the operation of the biocentre is taken up by trusted community members. Tasks include maintaining the cleanliness standard of the facility and the collection of money. In the end the biocentre should generate income from biogas, sanitation usage and rental of the common space on the first floor. This way the residents of the neighbourhood have access to better sanitation and energy supply.

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