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DEVELOPMENT-KENYA: Water Studies – But Where Are the Water Supplies?

Rosalia Omungo

NAIROBI, Jun 2 2008 (IPS) - The road leading to the informal settlement of Korogocho is narrow and winding. Here, in Nairobi's third largest slum, up to 150,000 people are crammed into an area of just over one square kilometre, their shanties made of cardboard, wood or metal.

A "hanging toilet", in Korogocho, where water supplies are inadequate for the demands of residents. Credit: APHRC

A "hanging toilet", in Korogocho, where water supplies are inadequate for the demands of residents. Credit: APHRC

Arguably of greater concern, though, is inadequate water provision in the area – and the costs this incurs for people living there.

A 2006 study by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), based in the Kenyan capital, showed that water in the Korogocho and Viwandani settlements can be far more expensive than water elsewhere in the city.

According to the report, titled '"The Place of Cool Waters": Women and Water in the Slums of Nairobi', slum dwellers pay approximately three to thirty cents for a 20 litre jerry can of water, depending on the availability of the resource. Residents of more upmarket areas pay a standard rate of 1.7 dollars for 10,000 litres of water – or less than one cent for every 20 litres. WaterAid, a non-profit headquartered in London, estimates that 20 litres of water is the minimum amount required daily for a person's basic needs.

The paper was based on data from APHRC's Information for Development initiative, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It further notes that water in the informal settlements is sold by cartels and slum dwellers themselves, who obtain supplies through illegal connections to pipes in the settlements.

Paying 30 cents for water on a day when supplies are scarce is not feasible for many in Kenya. Latest figures in the 2007/2008 'Human Development Report', issued by the United Nations, put the proportion of Kenyans living on less than a dollar a day at almost 23 percent, while just over 58 percent survive on less than two dollars daily.

"Water here is too expensive," says Jane Muthoni, a resident of Korogocho.

"One jerry can is not enough per day; you need about five. That makes it 50 shillings (about 82 cents). That is way beyond my reach," adds the single mother of two, who sells vegetables for a living.

"When the tap runs dry, I have to walk all the way to Kariobangi, up to six kilometres away. I lose so much business that way."

A similar complaint came from Jane Njeri as she tried to wash plastic packets that she would later sell, in the polluted Nairobi River, which runs nearby.

"Water here is unaffordable. To wash this large amount of plastics, I would need up to two jerry cans. That is not counting water for use in the house…That's too expensive for me," she told IPS.

This situation would be all too familiar to others in the developing world (see TANZANIA: Running Water Remains a Pipe Dream for Many).

According to the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), 1.2 billion people around the globe do not have access to potable water, most of them citizens of poor nations in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

The WSSCC, established by the United Nations, unites a wide variety of organisations and governments to improve co-operation amongst them, with a view to providing all poor people with water and sanitation services.

The council further estimates that approximately 2.2 million people in developing countries die each year from diseases associated with lack of access to clean water.

Another APHRC study – 'Health and livelihood implications of the marginalization of slum dwellers in the provision of water and sanitation services in Nairobi city' (from 2007) – suggests, in part, that there is an urgent need for mechanisms to protect slum dwellers from being exploited when they obtain water.

Yet another paper, which focuses on water contamination in the Langas slum in the western city of Eldoret, recommends the promotion of basic water treatments such as chemical disinfection using chlorine, the use of simple household filters, and boiling – this while authorities attend to the more complex task of bringing piped water to the settlement.

The 2007 study, 'Quality of Water the Slum Dwellers Use: The Case of a Kenyan Slum', was funded by the APHRC, the African Medical and Research Foundation (headquartered in Nairobi) and Moi University, in Eldoret.

Even in the face of such research, however, change is slow in coming to Kenya's slums as concerns water provision.

While 83 percent of the urban population has access to potable water, just 52 percent of this population has household connections. Nationally, the figures are 61 percent and 28 percent respectively, this according to 2004 statistics from the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation – an initiative of the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund.

APHRC executive director Alex Ezeh believes several factors underpin poor implementation of research findings.

"Governments need to see their role as users of research," he told IPS.

Researchers also needed to package their findings in a way that made them accessible to the broader community, Ezeh explained.

"Many researchers are academic orientated and do not make a conscious effort to simplify it (their work). By training, they are taught to do their research and communicate it to their peers, who are also researchers," he said.

"You may come up with all the alphas and the betas and the coefficients and significant factors, but at the end of the day what does that mean? If your grandma who did not go to school cannot understand what your research is all about, then probably its impact is likely to be minimal."

Ezeh further highlighted the need for journalists to be given the skills to report properly on research, noting that certain researchers had become wary of dealing with the media because of bad experiences with members of the press who misreported facts and figures.

Rose Oronje, communications officer at the APHRC, agrees.

"Many journalists are not trained in science writing, and with the belief that politics sells, many science stories will not see the light of day. Some journalists have in the past misrepresented research information, sensationalising instead to make it sell," she told IPS.

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