Residents of Nairobi Slums Face Daily Water Challenges

Alex Pena

World Water Day is being marked in Kenya by events and awareness campaigns across the country, but in many Nairobi slums, today’s focus on water is the same as yesterday's -- and every other day's.

When the water tap threatens to run dry in this Nairobi slum, tensions rise.

Women, waiting for their turn to fill their 20-liter containers of water, fight as they fear not being able to fill hers, one woman jumps the line, and chaos ensues.

They’re fighting over the most essential resource of life, water, something this slum has little of.

Everyone here is looking for a clean tap.  

In another Nairobi slum - Kibera -Peter Njeru owns one of those taps. It is a lifeline for residents. “Once somebody does not have water, you cannot cook, you can not wash, you can not do anything without water. Water is life,” he said.

With a severe drought recently affecting the country, water shortages are on the rise. Peter gets his water from international NGO’s. He charges the equivalent of four U.S. cents to fill a 20-liter container, but when his water runs low, he’s forced to charge more.

People living here can spend nearly 30 percent of their monthly income on water alone.  So when prices rise, they often go the cheaper route, to local pipes.  

“The local pipes, they usually use the plastic pipes, and when they normally use the plastic pipes, they get damaged,” Njeru explained.

And when they’re damaged, dirty sewage seeps into the water. Residents who drink from those pipes are at risk of diarrhea, typhoid or even cholera.

“It’s dangerous, it’s easier to get disease from pipes which are normally broken pipes,” Njeru added.

One local youth football team bought its own pipes, and built its own tap. That way, members can watch their water, make sure it’s clean, and help supply their neighbors.

"We decided to bring this water here so that we can help the local residents," Team chairman John Mang said. "Because there are shortage of water, and to sell to them at a cheaper price. The youths here saw that they had nothing to do, so they decided they can gather themselves, then they started project, and it can give them a source of income."

While small projects like this one have been beneficial, the water crisis in Kenya is far from solved.

Dan Mogusu from the Kenyan Ministry of Water and Irrigation hopes that World Water Day will bring the issue to light.

“If you look at the international slogan, it’s water and food security, and that is very key, because in this horn of Africa, we’ve been having droughts, and we’ve been having hunger. So we really need to come out and address the issue of food, and without water, we cannot address the issue of food,” he said.

The government wants to begin harvesting rain water, storing it for re-use.  

It will be demonstrating water harvesting in the drought-affected regions of northern Kenya, but back in the city slums, there is no harvest, and the struggle for water continues.

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