What student wouldn’t want to work on a graduation project that helps thousands of slum residents to clean drinking water? If all goes well, Ricardo García Castañeda’s recommendations for a new water and sanitation facility in Kenya will help the project become a success.
The student of Operations Management & Logistics at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands made suggestions that are currently being implemented in Kibera (Nairobi), one of the largest slums in Africa.
It’s a pilot project of the Human Needs Project, a US NGO, García Castañeda explains. “With the help of multinational Procter & Gamble they’ve built a Town Center in the Kenyan slum of Kibera. The Town Center is a place where people can buy water, take a shower, or use the launderette. If the project turns out to be successful, they want to set up many more similar facilities.”
In his project, García Castañeda estimated the number of people that would use the Town Center, and subsequently how many registers, taps, bathrooms, and washing machines the facility needed. He had the people living nearby interviewed to determine the general level of interest, timed how long it took people to shower and use the bathroom at similar facilities, and then calculated the best interior design for the Town Center using a mathematical approach known as queuing theory.
“Upon entering the center, people pay for what they need, ranging from a jerry can of water to a shower. That’s where the lines start. If they get too long, people will go elsewhere and settle for water that may be contaminated – whereas the Town Center has its own water source and a special water treatment system,” García Castañeda says.
His recommendations have been implemented in the Town Center, which opened last month. “The Human Needs Project wanted to install three registers initially, but according to my calculations that would result in extremely long lines. Even with four cash registers there’d be some two hundred people waiting. I’ve recommended five, since that would reduce the lines to a little over twenty people.”
Installing five cash registers would prevent many people from leaving the facility without being served. So many, in fact, that the extra revenue would pay for eight extra employees – an example that illustrates the importance of an accurate visitor estimate. The Town Center now has fifteen taps installed, instead of eight, for the estimated ten thousand jerry cans of water that will be purchased every day.
Should the suggestions made by the TU/e student result in a successful Town Center, he will have contributed to making available clean drinking water to more people, reducing cases of infectious diseases and child mortality – the goal of the Human Needs Project. “It’s amazing to have been able to make such a tangible contribution,” García Castañeda says.