Serving food at Mogadishu’s central marketplace. NRC has supported a women’s project that provides clean, safe and dignified latrines for the marketplace. Photo: Amun Osman/NRC

A clean marketplace

Amun Osman|Published 25. Sep 2017
Pay-as-you-go latrines have carved out a new business model at this busy Mogadishu market.

The Hamar Weyne market, in the heart of Mogadishu, is extremely hectic. Traders hurriedly push donkeys through crowded streets. Hundreds of shoppers move from stall to stall, haggling as the hot Mogadishu sun beats down on them. The humidity makes everything – and everyone – glisten.

Although business seems to be thriving, the marketplace itself has been on the decline. Rehabilitating urban markets and keeping them clean have never been a top priority, and years of conflict and poverty have forced conditions to substandard levels.

A side business for female traders

To reverse this trend of gross neglect, the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia (BRCiS) programme, funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development, has allocated grants to a group of women running stalls at the Hamar Weyne market. With the grant, the women established six pay-as-you-go latrines, scattered strategically throughout the market. Once construction was completed in February 2017, they hired attendants to manage customer service, cleaning rosters, and maintenance of the toilet facilities. All the attendants are locals, and it’s often their only source of income.

For a price of one thousand Somali shillings (USD 1.6), customers receive a bottle of water and enjoy full privacy while using the facilities. The latrines are open seven days a week, and monthly earnings can total up to USD 750.

A matter of business

Halimo Dhoore has been a trader in the Hamar Weyne market for four years. While business was slow before, but she’s noticed a change since the launch of the latrine stations.

Before the latrines were built, the market would begin to empty as the midday prayer approached. Everyone rushed to find a place to make ablutions (the sacred ritual of washing oneself). But now, Dhoore and her fellow traders can work until the call to prayer, then use the stations. It’s made everyone’s lives easier, she says.

Dhoore notes a particular impact on the female traders. For them, the dilemma of relieving oneself was especially challenging and inconvenient – especially those who menstruating or breastfeeding their newborns.

“The men would simply pop out, relieve themselves somewhere nearby and come back without anyone noticing,” she explains. “I would have to walk all the way home [four kilometres one way] just to find a suitable bathroom. We would need to trust our business with a neighbouring stall, and the entire time we would be worried that something would happen.”

We would need to trust our business with a neighbouring stall, and the entire time we would be worried that something would happen.

A matter of hygiene

Another plus: the basic cleanliness of the market has improved. With the installation of the latrine stations, the market’s traders have a newfound inspiration to keep the grounds clean, putting more effort into the orderliness of their stall set-ups and keeping them presentable for customers. Paths are more clearly defined and the goods more accessible.

“NRC is doing something that humanitarian agencies normally do not do,” Dhoore says. “Trying to understand what our biggest challenges are, we try to find solutions together. The latrines are one example.”

Built on an old foundation, these latrines are now clean, and up and running. Photo: Amun Osman/NRC

Ripple effects

The BRCiS has also bestowed grants to the market’s traders to jumpstart their businesses. Dhoore received one in 2015. At the time, she had one small table in the market and was struggling to make ends meet. She could only buy on credit. As the sole provider for her five young children and husband, who was injured in conflict, she was often stressed.

The grant was just USD 500. But Dhoore was able to use her cunning to build her business, expanding from just small beauty products to a full line of clothes. With an additional USD 250 grant and her personal efforts, soon she pulled herself out of debt. Then she was able to buy more space for her stall. Now she’s seeing a sizable income after paying all her expenses and bills, including her children’s school fees and sending remittances to her parents in central Somalia.

And this year she was able to join the latrine initiative. Her life has seen huge improvements.

“I have a lot to look forward to now. My children are healthy and growing,” she says contentedly. And her professional is evolving: “My business is allowing me to think about new ways to improve it rather than just trying to make ends meet, and I don’t dislike my work environment any more. I really cannot complain.”

Halimo Dhoore inside her shop in Mogadishu. Photo: Amun Osman/NRC

About BRCiS: NRC is a member of BRCiS, a consortium that takes a holistic approach to supporting Somali communities by developing their capacity to resist and absorb minor shocks without undermining their ability to move out of poverty.