Improved drinking water and sanitation brought closer to homes
By Daisy Serem
TURKANA, Kenya, 16 November 2012: It is a scenic view at Namukuse Village in Turkana Central District, in the north western part of Kenya. The sandy landscape leads to the shores of Lake Turkana, the second largest lake in the country with a surface area of 6,405 square kilometers. The lake is a source of livelihood for the Turkana fishing community that lives along its shores.
Jacinta Asinyen, a mother of six children, sits under a palm tree facing the lake. She is weaving a basket for sale, another local source of livelihood for Turkana women. Her youngest son, three year old Sunday, sits next to her intently watching his mother’s handiwork. For Jacinta and her family living near the lake has been both a blessing and a curse.
Despite the huge water resource at their doorstep, access to safe drinking water has been a problem for many years. Lake Turkana is a salt water lake with high levels of fluoride and therefore not safe for consumption. However, faced with no alternatives residents here have been forced to drink this water in order to survive.
Jacinta says, “I have been using this salty water for drinking and cooking and I realized that my children were having health problems, especially with their bones.”
Health risks of using contaminated waterAccording to the District Public Health Officer, Innocent Sifuna, the continued use of lake water causes deformities of the limbs due to the high salinity and fluoride. Three of Jacinta’s children, including young Sunday, have limb deformities such as bow legs or knocked knees. Cholera cases have also been high in the region with devastating outbreaks that have mainly affected children.
“Currently there are about 50 children from the area who are in special schools because they are deformed and handicapped and studies have showed that the conditions have been caused by use of Lake Turkana water,” says Mr. Sifuna. “The worst scenario however was an outbreak of cholera in 2009 which killed many people.”
Access to clean water and proper sanitation and hygiene practices is a major challenge for the greater Turkana County. According to the latest national statistics, improved water coverage in the county is estimated at 44% with only 37% of households using safe water sources.
Hygiene and sanitation coverage is even worse as only 5 per cent of the population use unimproved latrines while the rest defecate in the open. As such diarrhoeal diseases are a constant headache with recurrent outbreaks contributing to the high child mortality rates in Turkana.
Lifesaving WASH Project
But for communities in Lobolo, Namukuse and Longech sub-locations in Turkana Central District their water woes are now over following an intervention by UNICEF in partnership with the Government of the Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Government of Kenya and the Kenya Red Cross. A Water, Sanitation and Hygiene project has been set up to benefit 7,600 residents at a cost of USD250,000.
The project taps a natural, safe and reliable underground spring which is further filtered to provide clean water to the community. An efficient and environmentally-friendly solar pumping system ensures that the water is pumped to a reservoir closer to the community which subsequently gravitates to the beneficiary communities through a 26 km pipe line.
The Netherlands Ambassador to Kenya, His Excellency Joost Reintjes, visited the project and officially commissioned it for use and management by the community. It was a warm welcome from the community for the ambassador and other delegates, including UNICEF Kenya Representative, Marcel Rudasingwa and officials from the Government and the Kenya Red Cross.
“We were shown around by children from Namukuse Primary School and they showed us how they now wash their hands. They do it better than I do,” says Ambassador Reintjes. “They know how to use their toilets, and have been educated about hygiene and their health. I think that is very good.”
WASH in Schools
Thousands of school-going children from four schools in the area are enjoying the benefits of the water project. Gender-sensitive segregated latrines have also been constructed to address hygiene and sanitation in the schools as well as the local health dispensary that serves the three villages.
“Now we can come to this bathroom and clean ourselves and change, then go back to class and study just as any other student.”
For the young adolescent girls who have often had to stay at home during their menses due to lack of hygiene and sanitation facilities, they now have a reason to come to school and excel in their studies. Each of the girls’ latrines in the different schools have been fitted with a bathroom.
16 year old Diana Akai, a student and president of the school’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Committee says that the girls used to miss class for up to a week. This caused them to lag behind in their studies, and the boys always seemed to do better in class. The new bathroom has motivated these young girls to keep up in school.
“Now we can come to this bathroom and clean ourselves and change, then go back to class and study just as any other student,” she adds.
Community ownership and participationThe Lobolo, Namukuse and Longech WASH project has been handed over to the community to ensure efficient and transparent use of the resource. An established Water Users Association will take over operations, maintenance and book keeping for community ownership and participation.
“We are happy to see that schools, health centres and the community are benefitting from this project and our call to the community and national administration is to manage and maintain this project for sustainability,’ says UNICEF Kenya Representative Marcel Rudasingwa.
As the delegates tour Namukuse village, Jacinta is busy fetching water for her family. The local water kiosk is one of the many that have been constructed to supply water to the community. With only ten Kenyan shillings she can get 20 litres of water for her domestic use. With a smile on her face she fills up her jerrican, pays the kiosk attendant and heads home just a few minutes away, her son in tow. It’s a new dawn for this community as access to improved drinking water and sanitation makes a real difference to their lives, especially for the children.