By Millicent Mwololo
Kenyans had little to celebrate even as the World Water Day was marked two weeks ago, given that drought has been ravaging many parts of the country, which relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture.
“This is probably where we have gone wrong. A country that has been independent for more than 50 years should be having alternatives when it comes to drought mitigation,” says Mr David Mwaura, the communications officer at Africaqua Ltd, which runs a water project in Loitokitok in Kajiado County. “Resources should be pumped into sinking boreholes and irrigation schemes in different parts of the country.” says Mr Mwaura.
The theme for this year’s World Water Day is “Wastewater” and focuses on ways of reducing and reusing wastewater since more than 80 per cent of all the wastewater from homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature, polluting the environment and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials.
“This calls for innovation in water treatment and storage techniques,” says Mr Paul Owino, a water researcher and the operations director at His Healing Hand Africa, an organisation that advocates for the sustainability of safe water, latrine use, and handwashing in communities.
Sustainable Development Goal 6, Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030, includes a target of halving the volume of untreated wastewater and increasing water recycling and safe use. Initiatives like building dams and water pans for harvesting rain water will go a long way in cutting down wastage.
“But it is necessary to do our homework before setting up the schemes to avoid allocating funds to worthless projects,” argues Mr Mwaura. Mr Owino agrees, saying that the sustainability of boreholes and other water infrastructure should be addressed before the government sinks more resources into water projects: “Water projects consist of soft and hardware aspects, but in most cases the government and private organisations place emphasis on the hardware. They tend overlook the fact that the soft aspect (training, education, monitoring and evaluation) is equally important to achieve sustainability,” he says. “We cannot afford to keep appealing to the international community for relief food. It is something that no one with a sound mind can justify. It is a big shame.”
In Oloitoktok, for instance, the community has been using water from trenches, which they share with wild animals, says Mr Owino, whose organisation runs a project in the area. This exposes the community to water-borne diseases. Kajiado County is about 30 kilometres from Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain, which makes the water gradient very steep. That means that sinking boreholes in the area is very expensive. Its proximity to the mountain also ensure that it receives good rainfall which, ironically, causes flooding.
It is, therefore, important that the government invest in alternative water sources, says Mr Owino, who he is running a water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) project. Before embarking on the Oloitoktok project in January, 2016, Mr Owino conducted a needs assessment in the community.
“I engaged the local community, local health centres, and teachers. That is when I discovered that the water used in homes was drawn mainly from trenches, which were shared with wild animals,” he says. With the failed rains, these trenches dried up months ago, as did seasonal rivers.
“This means that the residents cannot achieve basic hygiene and sanitation levels,” he notes. That is why he located the WASH project in at Namelok ABC Primary and Secondary School in Namelok Village.
“Handwashing with water and soap can help reduce the chances of contracting preventable diseases by 50 per cent,” he says.
In 2015, Mr Owino conducted a research on the state of water, sanitation and hygiene as a component of free primary education (FPE) in Maseno Division, Kisumu County. He found that there were inadequate WASH facilities to support the programme. Many of the teachers interviewed felt the government did not give priority to WASH in schools, and most teachers and school administrators had inadequate knowledge of WASH.
Consequently, the study recommended that the Ministry of Education and other relevant ministries work together to increase WASH awareness and sensitisation through workshops and seminars for teachers, and to adequately train school administrators and teachers on the subject.
It also recommended that the government increase the budgetary allocation for FPE to cater for WASH and develop effective monitoring tools on how funds are used.
“The government should ensure that all schools have a functional WASH policy document and monitor the implementation at the grassroots level,” Mr Owino says.At Namelok Primary School, Mr Owino and his colleagues educate the pupils on why they need to wash hands, how to do it and why they should drink clean water.
They then sank and rehabilitated a 75-ft borehole, installed 25,000-litres storage tanks, dug gutters, installed a solar pump and safe water treatment and hand washing stations with soap.They also introduced a WASH club where learners share their experiences and why hygiene and sanitation are important. “The project is integrated and includes a permanent water source that is shared by the two schools in order to promote health and hygiene effectively,” he says.
The only challenge is that the project did not receive 100 per cent support at home.
WATER HYGIENE TRAINING
“Even though we have trained and sensitised the community, without sufficient water supply, it is difficult to maintain quality hygiene and sanitation at home,” Mr Owino adds.Still, the project has realised some results.
“There has been improved health among the students, with teachers having noted an increase in class attendance, increased concentration in class and improved academic performance among pupils,” he says.Mr Daniel Saning’o, the headteacher of Namelok Primary School, says that since the installation of the storage tanks, safe water and sanitation facilities, the school environment has become more conducive to learning.
In August 2016, the government launched a Sh50 billion project to ensure that all schools in the country have safe water. The pilot projects of this ambitious undertaking have been launched in Mandera, Wajir and Garissa counties, where 50 schools are targeted.
“This will reduce water-borne diseases among school children. We have to partner with innovative safe water solutions to save lives,” said Water and Irrigation CS Eugene Wamalwa. According to Unicef about 1 million children under five might die this year from preventable water-borne diseases.
“Most of these could be saved through grassroots water hygiene training, which is why the government and the private sector have to partner to make water easily accessible,” says Mr Owino.
The water shortage in Oloitoktok can also be attributed to the high population growth; with the county bordering Nairobi, there is an influx of immigrants from the city, which has overstretched the few water resources.
Last year, Africaqua piloted its first water in Africa in Oloitoktok. Mr David Kuria, the company’s CEO, said the One Safe Drop Initiative in Oloitoktok could deliver 20,000 litres of clean drinking water per day to the residents of Kimana.
However, the residents are concerned about the pricing. A 25-litre jerrican goes for Sh50 at the Africaqua water shop, which the local pastoralists say is prohibitive.
More than 80 per cent of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. (Sato et al, 2013).
Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030 – includes a target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase water recycling and safe use.
The amount in cubic metres of annual renewable freshwater supply per capita in the country today
The amount in cubic metres of annual renewable freshwater supply expected in 2025
Access to improved safe water supply in the country
Access to improved sanitation
Per capita supply forecast to decline
KENYA IS CLASSIFIED AS a water-scarce country because it has an annual renewable freshwater supply rate of 647 cubic metres per capita, which is way below the global standard of 1,000 cubic metres.According to the WHO/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme 2014 report, access to safe water supply throughout Kenya stands at 59 per cent, and access to improved sanitation at 32 per cent.
This means there is still an unmet need for both water and sanitation.Water resources in Kenya are simultaneously scarce by natural endowment and underdeveloped in the current water supply systems. The country faces challenges in water provision, with erratic weather patterns in the past few years causing drought and water shortages.
In addition, the population growth has meant that water continues to be scarce. It is estimated that by 2025, the country’s per capita water availability will be 235 cubic metres per year, compared with the current 647 cubic metres.
Urban migration is a major contributor to challenges in sanitation, as people crowd into cities, whose growth is unregulated. For instance, in big urban centres like Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret, residents experience regular water shortages due to inadequate supply.
Due to lack of access to water and sanitation, especially in the country’s arid and semi-arid areas, diarrhoea is the second killer — after pneumonia —nof children under the age of five (excluding neo-natal mortalities). Water-, sanitation- and hygiene-related illnesses and conditions are the number one cause of hospitalisation in children below the age of five.
Meanwhile, access to clean water and sanitation contribute to time savings for women, more hours in school for girls, and fewer health costs.
Initiatives like His Healing Hand Africa and AfricAqua aim to bridge the last mile by connecting low- income communities to basic water services. This will, hopefully, improve the economic livelihoods of the communities and at the same time ensure quality, affordable and sustainable water supply.
The article appeared on Pg 30 of Daily Nation (DN2) April 3 2017 .