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Access to clean water still a mirage in Kenyan slums

Xinhua, March 23, 2015 Adjust font size:

The muscular hand cart operators were on Sunday morning racing against time as they negotiated a sharp corner to deliver jerry cans full of water to their clients in a working-class suburb located on the fringes of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

A morning chill and minimal vehicular traffic provided a perfect work environment for the casual laborers who are a prized asset among urban dwellers averse to hard labor.

During a conversation with Xinhua, the hand cart operators revealed they had a busy week as demand for water spiked when taps in several neighborhoods dried up.

"The last six days have been quite hectic as families made orders for clean water. The taps in many estates have been dry the entire week due to ongoing repair on leaking pipes," said Lawrence Ndegwa, a hand cart operator in his mid 30s.

The father of three has worked in the informal sector his entire adult life and has defied stereotypes to embrace a profession that is regarded as degrading by the mainstream society.

Water scarcity in many Nairobi suburbs has become the norm despite assurances from authorities that adequate investments have been earmarked to tackle the crises.

To casual laborers like Ndegwa, dry taps herald a brisk business as households make frantic orders to quench thirst.

Ndegwa and his colleagues obtain water at a reasonable fee from a borehole drilled by a charity organization. They sell the commodity to households in low-income settlements.

Ndegwa revealed to Xinhua that on a good day, he fetches 15 dollars after supplying clean water to households.

"Water trucking is big business and will remain so in the densely populated suburbs until the county government fulfills the promise to expand infrastructure," Ndegwa remarked.

The scramble for the precious liquid by impatient clients triggered an urge by Ndegwa and his colleagues to up the ante. Dry taps denied residents of the working class Nairobi suburb and neighboring shanties a long awaited Sunday morning bliss.

Those who spoke to Xinhua decried erratic water supply that not only denied them comfort but also ate into their savings.

"In theory, every home in Nairobi is supposed to be connected to piped water but the reality is different. We are accustomed to dry taps and even frequent protests have gone unheeded," said Alice Mutunga, a housewife.

She disclosed that severe water rationing has compelled her to explore alternatives like drilling a borehole.

As Kenyans marked the World Water Day on Sunday, there was little to cheer as access to the commodity remains a mirage in the poor urban settlements and rural villages.

Senior government officials went on a charm offensive by stating that adequate resources have been earmarked to achieve universal access to safe drinking water.

Judi Wakhungu, cabinet secretary for environment, water and natural resources, said the government has tripled budgetary allocation to accelerate the attainment of millennium targets on clean water and sanitation.

"Many households are now connected to piped water after the treasury made a threefold budget increase to the water sector. We have prioritized pro-poor investments to expand access to clean water in the informal settlements and rural areas," said Wakhungu.

The urban shanties are embodiment of policy disconnect as residents endure days without a drop of water, a scenario that exposes them save to grave health threats.

Along the narrow paths leading to the sprawling Korogocho slums in Nairobi, a sea of humanity milled around water kiosks to obtain a scarce but expensive commodity.

Women and children were denied a much deserved rest on Sunday morning to queue for water in kiosks run by a local charity. Residents of Korogocho slums have remained in the margins due to abject poverty that is made worse by lack of access to basic amenities like clean water and basic sanitation.

Mike Omoto, a middle-aged shopkeeper, told Xinhua that cartels have taken advantage of lax policing to pilfer water from the mains and sell it at exorbitant price to the poor.

"Majority of us obtain water from vendors who sell the commodity three times higher than the county government. We spend half of the day's savings on water," said Omoto.

Water trucking has created a thriving informal economy in Korogocho and other informal settlements in Nairobi.

Omoto and his neighbors regretted that illegal connections denied them a commodity that is crucial to their well-being.

"There have been attempts to expand water supply infrastructure here but criminal elements have opposed this noble objective since it will deny them a steady revenue stream. The criminals are behind illegal connections that divert water to other uses including car wash and irrigation," said Omoto.


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