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Water and adequate sanitation remain elusive dreams

Provision of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation may remain a pipe dream to developing countries, Kenya included. Reports coinciding with the just ended Earth Summit reveal.
Zachary Ochieng

Late last month, 200 countries met in Johannesburg, South Africa for the just concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). They all agreed in principle to halve the proportion of people with no access to water and proper sanitation by 2015. However, this may remain a pipe dream.

According to the UN 2002 Human Development Report, over 1 billion people had no access to safe drinking water while 2.4 billion - more than a third of the planet - lacked access to sanitation in the year 2000. But it is the poor people living in neglected and unhealthy environments of the developing world who have borne the heaviest brunt.

In Kenya, a survey jointly conducted by Strategy & Tactics, Research International East Africa (both research consultancy firms) and PriceWaterHouseCoopers, a leading management consultancy firm early this year shows that access to basic services is limited in all provinces except Nairobi. The survey, whose report titled "Kenya: State of the Nation - a report on the Baseline Survey", launched in July 2002, was conducted all over the country.

The survey's terms of reference called for the coverage of all districts in Kenya as well as a representative sample of the administrative divisions. Over 8000 interviews were conducted for the survey, with each province and district having a minimum of 500 and 100 respondents respectively. Random sampling methodology was used to select the respondents.

According to the report, only one in twenty, five per cent, respondents had a flush toilet inside their dwelling, while one in eight, 13 per cent, respondents claimed no access to any kind of sanitation. The report adds that only one in twenty respondents had access to water via a tap in their dwelling with nine per cent of respondents having a tap in their yard. A third of the respondents, 32 per cent, were getting their water from a river or dam, a worrying scenario in terms of water-borne diseases.

The report also notes that the limited access that respondents have to refuse removal services raises important health and environmental issues. Only one per cent of respondents had a local authority that removed their refuse. 35 per cent of the respondents got rid of their refuse by dumping it in the open.

The report further states that fetching water was seen as a woman's job, with 85 per cent of households identifying a female as the one responsible for this activity. Findings also showed that many households spent a larger proportion of the day looking for water. More than 22 per cent of households without a tap in their dwelling or yard spent more than two hours a day fetching water.

Yet access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are basic human rights. According to various UN charters, every individual has the right to be protected from diseases and other health hazards posed by insufficient water and poor sanitation.

In May 2002, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (UNCHS-HABITAT) and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) launched a campaign on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for all in Kenya's capital Nairobi. The WASH campaign is part of a global advocacy effort launched to mobilize political support and action around the world, as well as to raise public awareness on the need for sanitation, hygiene and safe water.

Available data shows that the low - income households, slums and informal settlements resort to buying water from private operators at high prices. Private water operators have mushroomed all over the place, with trucks hitherto used for exhauster services having been turned into water tankers. The vended water is often contaminated, posing a health hazard to consumers.

According to WASH, rapid urban growth in Kenya and other developing countries has outpaced the capacity of urban authorities to provide basic services. "The result is a lowering in the quality of life, reduced urban productivity, increased burden of health care and unmitigated environmental pollution".

The HABITAT/Government of Kenya's "Nairobi: A situation Analysis 2001" report paints even a gloomier picture. According to the report, an estimated 1.5million people in Nairobi - about 60 per cent of the city's official population of 2.5million - live in dingy hovels in slums and informal settlements. The report notes that households in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum and the largest one in East and Central Africa, pay up to five to twenty times for a litre of water than the average American citizen.

Kenya is one of the sixty countries that signed the Bonn Ministerial Declaration assigning high priority to water and sanitation as vital keys to sustainable development. Kenya is a signatory of the Rio de' Janeiro declaration making water, sanitation and hygiene a top priority for action on the continent that is seriously affected by lack of basic water and sanitation services. This, however, remains an elusive goal.

WSSCC chairman Sir Richard Jolly says: "Clean water alone leads only to minor health improvements. Sound hygiene behaviour must be addressed in its own right, with adequate sanitation and clean water as supporting components. While each of the three elements has some health benefits, it is their combined effort that has far greater impact".

According to WASH statistics, some 6000 children die every day from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. In October 1995, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) convened a meeting of top African water experts, who agreed that the dominant challenge for policy makers and planners for the next decade is the "equity issue of ensuring that everyone gets reasonable access and fair share of safe water".

UNEP also stresses on the need to conserve water for future generations. According to UNEP, for development to be sustainable, it must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.

VISION 21, an initiative of the WSSCC, offers a practical picture of a future in which the problem of sanitation is brought to an end. The initiative seeks a clean and healthy world - a world in which every person has safe and adequate water and sanitation, and lives in a hygienic environment.

Chapter 21 of Agenda 21 on "solid waste management and sewage related issues" offers an integrated strategy for waste management, which addresses both formal and informal sectors. It includes minimization of waste, promotion of waste recycling and reuse, increasing service coverage and ensuring environmentally sound disposal.

On a positive note, a regional organization, with its Kenya Chapter office in the western town of Homa Bay, has embarked on a project to improve sanitation. The East African Communities Organisation for the management of Lake Victoria and its resources (ECOVIC), in collaboration with CARE Kenya, has started erecting Ecological Sanitation (ECOSAN) toilets in Homa Bay district. The project is to extend to other districts along the Lake Victoria region namely Busia, Bondo, Siaya, Nyando, Migori, Rachuonyo and Suba.

ECOSAN toilets can be effectively used to collect urine and faeces for agricultural use. These toilets are a perfect alternative to the flush- and - discharge and drop- and-store sanitation systems. They work on the principle of sanitized reuse of human waste. The principle builds upon the re-circulation of nutrients rather than water.

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