Irony of Kenya's water crisis
Water problem, for the country with a population of 30 million people in general and 10 million in particular for those residing in urban centres, remains a nightmare urbanites have learnt to live with!
That is why though it is five o'clock at dawn in Eldoret town, 50-year-old Mary Kamau and her three daughters have ventured out in search of water, which has become a rare commodity.
The trio from the sprawling Kamukunji slums of the town will trek for 5 kilometers where they will draw water from the filthy Sisiani River. If they don't rise up early, they say, they will find a long queue and when their turn comes, the water would have been dirtier. However, whatever they will fetch could not even be enough for the family that consumes about 120 litters of water daily.
This is the kind of life many Kenyans living in urban centres have to endure, with little hope of a change for the better. Paradoxically, the crisis is no respecter of riches, for the wealthy too have not been spared.
So rife is the water crisis in our municipalities that it has caused untold anguish to the society. Many deaths have been caused by this sorry state of affairs emanating mainly from carelessness and poor planning.
When you finish reading this article, about two children will have died from waterborne diseases. According to Hydro Watch, an Eldoret -based Non-Governmental Organization dealing with water and sanitation at the town's slums, ten people die every day as a result of contaminated water consumption in the country.
This is as a result of poor or lack of treatment by the water departments. The water being consumed is raw and contaminated, not to mention the perennial water rationing. In some low -income areas, taps went dry a few years back and pipes got vandalized. " This is the cause of typhoid, dysentery and cholera so prevalent in towns ," says Dr. Joram Mwangi of Eldoret's Moi teaching and referral hospital.
"Bathing and washing is a problem. We go even for three days without having a shower, because water is expensive. In fact, more expensive than food," reveals Selina Ajega from the Manyatta Village in Kisumu, a newly created city on the shores of lake Victoria.
Children have been occasionally spotted drawing water from leaking sewages, oblivious of the dangers they are exposed to. The water load carried every day is heavy and has caused chest complications to many residents especially those with low incomes. In Busia, a town bordering Uganda to the west, some children have dropped out of school to trade in water.
In Nairobi, the country's city, the crisis bites harder. Water trades at exorbitant rates of 20 shillings for a 20-litre jerry- can. This is too high considering that most families live below the poverty line. In fact the water crisis in the city has made it a lucrative business for those who sell water. Some enterprising people have gone ahead by drilling deep boreholes from where they draw water and haul it in transport in trucks.
Fighting and quarrels at water points are so rampant as women battle for the little water available. And for those who stay out late, there is the danger of being raped.
Feuds in municipalities as a result of disagreements and lack of managerial knowledge are the causes of this sorry state of affairs. Councils in most cases delay their workers' pay, resulting in strikes or go- slows, which paralyze the whole system. "There is also inefficiency and lack of enough well trained personnel. In most cases a pipe could be leaking and nobody bothers to repair it. They even go ahead purchasing expired or poor quality treatment chemicals resulting to the mess," says John Mburu, the managing director of Hydro Watch.
In March this year when he opened a four-day national Conference on water resource management at a Nairobi college President Daniel arap Moi expressed his anger over the wastage of water in the city. He complained that funds have been wasted due to negligence, as over 50 percent of water goes to waste due to leakages.
Complaints also abound in other municipalities where water dealers collude with the municipal water department to create a crisis so that they (dealers) could find somewhere to sell their water.
In the year 2000, the whole country was plunged into days of darkness, as there was little water in the dams to generate electricity. The blackouts saw many people loose business as others lost their jobs in companies.
But the future probably looks brighter as Kenyans wait for parliament to debate the Water Bill. The Water Bill, 2002 proposes the establishment of an authority - Water Resource Management Authority-which will develop principles, guidelines and procedures on the use of water resources.
"It shall be the duty of the minister to promote the investigation, conservation and proper use of water resources throughout Kenya," a section of the Bill says.