Types of Low Income Areas

1. Informal Settlements

Informal Settlements:

According to the Draft National Lands Policy:

“The essence of ‘informal’ or ‘spontaneous’ or ‘squatter’ settlements is that it is without secure tenure and/or is unplanned. The problems of ‘squatters’ and ‘informal’ settlements continue to present a challenge for development in Kenya. A large proportion of Kenya’s population has no decent homes and live as ‘squatters’ or in slums and other squalid places. To deal with the ‘squatters’ and informal settlements, the Government shall:

a) Create a regime of secondary land rights as a means of improving security in informal/spontaneous settlements;

b) Recognize and protect the rights of informal land occupiers and guarantee their security of tenure; and 

c) Establish a legal framework and put in place procedures for transferring unutilized land and land belonging to absentee landlords to ‘squatters’ and landless people. (Source: Ministry of Lands, Draft National Lands Policy: 19).

Informal settlements: These are settlements without formal or official tenure rights and/or settlements that are not in compliance with the relevant physical or land use planning requirements. The essence of ‘informal’ or ‘spontaneous’ or ‘squatter’ settlements is that it is without secure tenure and/or is unplanned (Source: Ministry of Lands, Draft National Lands Policy: 57).

Informal settlements: are often referred to as “slums” or “urban slums”. Their residents are called “slum dwellers” or “squatters”. Residents often depend on a small number of house/yard connections, springs and wells. Households residing on the same plot share pit latrines and in slums (such as Kibera in Nairobi) residents resort to flying toilets.

  • Most slums are un-planned, often illegal, urban settlements with high population densities, poor service levels, and low incomes associated with lack of social cohesion

  • The land occupied by the residents of these slums is owned by the Municipality, the Government or by private individuals. In some cases, the land was allocated to the squatters. For example, in Kipsonge area in Kitale, squatters have occupied the land for a number of decades. Most houses in slum areas are constructed with what might be labelled as temporary materials. Substandard housing in slum areas is considered to be the result of high poverty levels and/or insecurity of tenure.

  • The water supply and sanitation situation in most slums is poor. As far as water supply is concerned, residents often depend on a small number of house/yard connections, springs and wells. Households residing on the same plot share pit latrines and in some slums (such as Kibera in Nairobi) residents resort to flying toilets.

  • Not surprisingly residents and local health experts mention the high incidence of water-related diseases such as typhoid.

  • Discussions with slum residents indicate that few households are able and willing to invest in house or yard connections. Most households are poor and simply lack the financial resources to invest in a house connection and to pay the monthly water bill. Others, who can afford, are not willing to invest in a house connection because of the insecurity of tenure.

  • Water kiosks are in many cases the most technically feasible and sustainable solution for these informal settlements. (Source: MajiData).

   h2 style="font-weight: normal;">2. Planned Areas with (Planned) Low Income Housing

Planned areas with (planned) low income housing:

  • Planned low income areas or estates with high population densities, dilapidated water supply and sanitation systems (e.g. Council and Government housing estates).

  • In many cities and towns there are formal (planned) low-cost housing estates which are owned by the Municipality or by other (parastal) organisations.1 The tenants occupying the flats (one estate may have up to 35 flats), either do not pay rent or the rent is deducted from the breadwinner’s salary (in case he or she works for the Municipality). Income levels of most families are very low.

  • In the past some of the estates in Kitale were supplied through water kiosks, but in most cases these kiosks were disconnected a number of years ago and the residents were told to apply for house or yard connections. This did not happen as residents (who seemed to be aware of the costs involved of acquiring a connection) lack the financial resources to pay for a connection and in most cases even lack the finances needed to pay the monthly water bill.

  • In Kitale and Naivasha many residents of such estates have to walk relatively long distances and fetch water at a relatively high price (KSh 3.00/20-litre container).2

  • Only improving water supply would leave the problem of the dilapidated ablution blocks unaddressed. In many estates these ablution blocks are equipped with flush toilets linked to the sewer. In many cases these toilets are still being used (the sewer still flows) and the water for flushing is fetched from nearby springs or taps. In the rainy season rainwater is used for the same purpose. (Source: MajiData).

Informal housing in planned residential areas:

  • Informal housing in planned urban areas where plot owners have title deeds. Sometimes the plots with informal housing constitute small pockets which are surrounded by properly constructed homes or commercial properties.

  • In many cities and towns, low-income informal housing can be found in planned areas where individuals or organisations hold title deeds to land or where land is owned by the Government. Officially land has to be developed in accordance with the plans and bylaws of the Municipality. As the political will to enforce these bylaws is often lacking, many landlords have taken the opportunity to ignore existing housing guidelines and standards and to develop cheap sub-standard housing for families with low incomes. In most cases landlords have invested in compounds that consist of flats which are rented out. Many houses are made of clay and other temporary building materials.3

  • Sub-standard/informal housing is found in almost all sections of cities and towns like Mombasa, Kitale, Webuye and Bungoma. Most flats are occupied by low-income households.4

  • The non-enforcement of bylaws and building requirements and regulations explains why proper housing structures (homes, flats, etc.) are often surrounded by sub-standard housing and why small-scale industries are found in residential areas. In other words, there often exists a discrepancy between the existing development plans and what can be found “on the ground”5. In these areas the pattern of social and economic differentiation is marked: Poor households live amidst wealthier residents. Poverty is not confined to specific areas.

  • Water supply in the compounds (plots) varies. Some landlords have invested in yard taps and VIPs and even in indoor plumbing. A significant proportion of landlords, however, lack the financial resources or are unwilling to invest in proper water supply and sanitation for their tenants.

  • Some yard connections are equipped with a water meter but many connections remain unmetered.

  • In many compounds tenants have to share a single yard tap. Access to the yard tap is in most cases restricted to the tenants. Some landlords do not want to operate their yard tap as a kind of informal water kiosk as they already face difficulties ensuring that their tenants pay their rent (which includes the water bill).

  • In Kitale there are estates where water is rationed by most landlords.6 A considerable number of un-metered yard taps have been disconnected by the Company due to non-payment of water bills.

  • The sale of water to neighbours mainly occurs at un-metered yard taps.7 WSPs, therefore, should consider supplying these areas, especially where there are large numbers of low-income compounds, through water kiosks. (Source: MajiData).


3. Urban Sub-Centre

Urban Sub-Centres:

  • An urban sub-centre can be defined as a relatively small urban centre, which is situated at some distance from the main town.

  • Most sub-centres and large rural centres have a small commercial centre and socio-economic infrastructure (health centre, one or more schools, a market).

  • Most sub-centres and many large rural centres are linked to the electricity grid and many sub centres are found along main tarmac roads (for example, Bukembe which is situated along the Webuye – Bungoma road).

  • The water supply situation in many sub-centres is not good8 since they may not be connected to existing piped systems. Some of these sub-centres are potential kiosk areas. It should be noted, however, that some centres are not yet connected to the supply network. (Source: MajiData).

4. Large Rural Centres with Urban Characteristics and Low Income Housing

Large Rural Centres with Urban Characteristics and Low Income Housing:

  • A large rural centre can be defined as a large settlement located in a rural setting. The size of the population and the population density render urban water supply solutions (hand pumps etc. are not suitable).

  • In large rural centres, the majority of the population derive their income from farming activities. Some residents may work as casual labourers at nearby commercial farms or large farming estates (e.g. large tea or sugar cane estates). Some of these centres are unplanned and the high population density is often explained by the lack of land for extension.

  • Water supply and sanitation service levels are often poor and residents often use sources such as hand pumps, boreholes, protected and unprotected wells and springs. Some of these centres even lack the land required for the provision of basic social and economic services. (Source: MajiData).

5. Urban IDP Camps/Settlements

Urban IDP Camps/Settlements:

  • In some towns, such as Kitale in Western Kenya, there are a number of well-established internally displaced persons (IDP) settlements. These settlements are characterised by high population densities and informal housing (houses and huts constructed with branches, plastics and other available materials). Income levels in these settlements are usually very low and the WSS situation is often very poor. (Source: MajiData).

6. Peri-Urban Areas

Peri-Urban areas: Many peri urban areas in Kenya share the following characteristics:

  • Low population densities (average distances between dwellings usually range between 30 and 200 metres).

  • Farming is the main economic activity.

  • Housing patterns: Farms, high-cost housing (villas) and compounds/plots with flats.

  • Residents fetch water at springs, protected wells, unprotected wells and hand pumps.

  • Most residents own their house.

  • In most cases water is fetched free of charge.

  • Water supply is not really considered to be a problem.

  • Residents use pit latrines and VIPs.

  • Income levels are relatively high (when compared with informal settlements).

  • In many ways it would be more appropriate to label these areas as semi-rural areas.

  • Water kiosks should, therefore, not be considered as appropriate water supply options for many peri-urban areas. Peri-urban residents either prefer house connections (especially residents living in high-cost housing) or tend to be relatively satisfied with the water sources they currently use. Kiosks would be the wrong solution for the peri-urban areas because there is insufficient demand for kiosk water to render the kiosks sustainable. In peri-urban areas water kiosks do not contribute to the revenue base of the Company and only increase overall maintenance costs. It is unlikely that kiosk operators, who are willing to operate isolated kiosks without customers, can be found. (Source: MajiData).

7. “Villages”


An urban “village” is often a part of a larger urban informal settlement. For example “Kosovo” is just one of the villages found within the larger Mathare slum in Nairobi. In most cases “villages” have their own boundaries and social organisation. Many community-based organisations are organised at village level. (Source: MajiData).


1 Many of these estates have centrally located ablution blocks linked to septic tanks.

2Many residents in Kitale would prefer to have their old and abandoned kiosks rehabilitated and re-commissioned. According to residents, paying for water on a daily basis is preferred by households with low and/or irregular incomes. Even if kiosk water is more expensive, the fact that the household can pay a relatively small amount, just to satisfy the needs of that particular day or the next day, provides the household the much needed flexibility.

3 All plots (even after a sub-division exercise) have been surveyed and are usually accessible as all roads and pathways are owned by the Municipality.

4 Housing cannot always be used as a poverty indicator. Some urban residents living in informal housing prefer to invest their income in their house in the village and in their farming enterprise. When working in town, they do not bother to look for proper accommodation. Strong ties with the rural areas and lack of land in the urban areas, may also explain why only few households living in informal structures located in planned urban areas are engaged in urban gardening.

5 According to the Town Clerk of Webuye there is no proper coordination between developers, landlords and the Municipal Council.  

6 One landlord in Sango, an area in Webuye, closed (December 2006) his yard tap at 08.00hrs not opening it before 17.00hrs. In other areas the rationing system introduced by the Water Service Provider (NZOWASCO) assisted landlords in the management of their yard tap.

7 A targeted metering programme is, therefore, likely to have an impact upon the water supply situation of households which lack direct access to a yard tap.

8 Matete (near Webuye), for example, used to be supplied by the Webuye distribution network, but was disconnected a number of years ago. In response to the poor water supply situation, households and institutions have managed to develop alternatives. Some schools have invested in rainwater harvesting installations or hand pumps, health centres have sunk boreholes and households depend on springs, as well as on protected and unprotected wells. Most (if not all) sub-centres along the main tarmac roads are supplied by the WSP (NZOWASCO). The number of domestic connections is, however, relatively low. Residents of the sub-centres along the Webuye-Bungoma road, who do consume water from the Matisi waterworks, complained (2006) about the poor quality of their piped water.