Kibera residents suffer from a lack of clean piped water. However, there is a sigh of relief as aerial piped water connected to automatic dispensers comes in handy, providing a solution to some of the water setbacks.
By Henry Owino
The Kibera slum in Nairobi faces numerous challenges. Some of them are access to clean piped water and sanitation. Most of the water used in Kibera, one of the biggest slums in Africa, is bought from vendors whose sources are not trusted.
The 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census reported Kibera’s population as 170,070. However, Map Kibera Trust, an NGO which maps slums in Kenya through the creative use of digital tools for action gives an estimate of 252,500.
Officials at Map Kibera Trust explained that the difference is due to people’s migration to their rural areas during the census.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010, Article 43 (d) states that “every person has the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities and to reasonable standards”.
For Kibera residents, these rights are only on paper. Water vendors easily cause artificial water shortages by disconnecting water pipes or diverting pipes to other places.
Although vandalizing water pipes and illegal water connections are criminal offenses, no one has ever been arrested and so the problem continues with impunity.
This is also quite ironic because the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) has a branch in the Kibera constituency, just a stone’s throw from the slum. There are also three police posts within the slum.
Laxity by government
Residents accuse local authorities of laxity in taking action against the unscrupulous water vendors who are well known.
According to Maureen Anyango, Chairlady of Kisumu-Ndogo village in Kibera, the slum is largely excluded from the government water supply. Some homesteads around the slum have access to piped water from the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC), complete with water meters, but those are the minority. So, the leadership keeps on pushing for more houses to be connected.
“Lack of political goodwill by the government encourages water mafias to take control of water supply in Kibera. They can ration, slow the flow, divert it or completely disconnect water for their own selfish gains,” Anyango complained.
According to Philip Gitau, Coordinator of the Southern Region of NWSC, the Kibera slum is difficult to supply with sustainable piped water. This is because most residents don’t want meter boxes and the majority prefer water from diverted pipes without accountability.
“It is regrettable that residents of the slum aren’t willing to own water meter boxes for accountability. They would rather buy water from street vendors than having piped water with meter boxes,” Gitau said.
Trusted water source
Nonetheless, the good news is that things have been improving since 2016 by the launch of an innovative aerial piped water supply system.
This system allows piped water to flow in the air above the houses instead of the usual underground design. It was then directed to water vending kiosks. This reduced chances of water contamination because it did mix with dirty water flowing on the ground, especially sewer water.
The system became even better in 2019 when the aerial water was connected to automatic water vending machines. Consumers therefore now don’t need to use cash money whenever they need water. Instead, they only top up their account and use a small circular, plastic item with a chip. It looks like a plastic coin.
This new technology is run by Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a local non-governmental organization. However, this water supply comes from NWSC distributed by SHOFCO.
According to Eutychus Endekwa, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) Coordinator at SHOFCO, the overhead water supply system is purely designed to eradicate water adulteration by unscrupulous vendors. It is also an effort to stop illegal water connections or diversions.
Endekwa confirmed that the aim is to stop residents from drinking contaminated water. Many used to suffer from diarrhea and other stomach-related diseases but with aerial piped water, the cases have since reduced.
“So far, we have managed to achieve some of our major goals with this technology thus reducing cases of stomach ailments,” Endekwa acknowledged. The other is getting rid of unscrupulous water vendors, making water accessible, available, and affordable to Kibera residents,” Endekwa listed.
“We are currently serving approximately 400,000 residents. Over 3000 households are registered with us and are benefiting from the initiative,” the Project Manager disclosed. “We are still open for registration which is free for any residents with a national identity card to help regulate and for accountability purposes,” Endekwa said.
Marceline Ochieng, a nurse at Kibera South Health Centre (KSHC) admitted that indeed cases of stomach diseases have drastically dropped. She confirmed that several patients suffered from typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea, and sometimes cholera before the overhead piped water installation.
Ochieng said in a day, KSHC used to handle at least 5 patients which could rise up to 12 patients during drought. This is because the number of unscrupulous water vendors could double up by taking advantage of the situation to sell unclean water to residents. Currently, it is very rare to find patients with such diseases.
“Most of the residents in Kibera drink water directly from pipes without boiling, thus intensifying stomach problems. The majority is poor and always avoids the extra cost of buying paraffin or charcoal to boil that water,” Ochieng observed.
Benefits of aerial piped water sources
Residents of Kibera can now brag of accessible, available, clean, safe, and affordable water.
Zahara Ali, a SHOFCO water Vendor told RoGGKenya that customers use mobile money transactions to buy water, thus reducing the chances of contracting Covid-19 through touching money. Again, residents normally come in turns, so there are no big crowds.
The automatic water vending points are strategically located in the 9 villages of Kibera. They include Gatwekera, Soweto West, Kisumu Ndogo, Raila estate, Darajani, Silanga, Kianda, Mama Okinda and Lindi.
Magdalene Nekesa, a regular consumer said the water provision is excellent as she can fetch water at any time of the day without worrying about a long queue or distance.
Beneficiaries of the technology
Mary Muli, a resident of Gatwekera village said pre-paid water ATM dispensers have enabled her to save a lot of money. She said she could spend 30-60 minutes in a long queue and buy snacks while waiting for her turn.
She can now use that time and money to do household chores and attend to her grocery shop. In addition, Muli no longer purchases extra fuel (paraffin/charcoal) to boil drinking water but uses the saved money to buy stationaries for her children.
Samuel Okello, aged 64, has lived in the slum for more than thirty years. He attested that for the last five years, there have not been rampant cases of diarrheal diseases as they used to be.
Okello said he cannot remember the last time his family members had to go to the hospital for diarrhea treatment. However, he admitted, before the aerial piped water connection, it was routine.
“We buy water at Ksh 2 per 20 liters jerrican instead of Ksh 5 or even Ksh 10 from other vendors. I can confirm the charges and water quality is value for our money,” Okello said.
According to Vivian Awuor who is in charge of data of all the water kiosk installations, the technology minimized fraud. There is a digital audit trail that takes account of litres and cubic metres of water compared to sales, hence the vendor cannot corrupt it.
“The famous scrupulous water vendor providers within Kibera are ever hostile with SHOFCO for introducing a system that chased them out of business. Their complaints are usually based on our water prices that attract more customers compared to their expensive prices,” Awuor disclosed.
She regretted that at one point they attempted to cut the aerial pipes claiming they are killing their businesses. SHOFCO’s management was forced to employ security guards to take care of the pipes and the kiosks around.
Awuor explained some residents are not familiar with the cashless payment technology. So, it forces her to report to work every day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm to train those unfamiliar with the operations. She helps customers in topping up credit from mobile phones and cleaning the surrounding.
To date, the aerial piped water fitted with ATM vending dispenser kiosks has solved major water problems. SHOFCO plans to add more kiosks around Kibera and introduce them to other slums where they operate.
What journalists should do:
- Follow up with families to find out how much they spend on water now compared to previous years.
- Investigate if the number of unscrupulous vendors have reduced.
- Explore more from SHOFCO for any future prospects of the same in other slums it operates in.
- Find out from SHOFCO the number of people the project has employed to minimize idleness.
- Expose water cartels to the County Government to take appropriate action against them.
This story was first published on Reporting on Good Governance in Kenya on 5th November 2021