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The Water Sanitation Crisis: Hope for Improvement

Updated: May 19, 2021

Water, a resource that is naively thought of as being widely available in all corners of the world, is a major concern in a multitude of places around the globe, especially in countries with low-income populations. Water sanitation in Kibera is a bigger issue now than ever before. Water is more expensive in Kibera than in wealthier surrounding areas. In addition to this, even if one can afford it, there is no guarantee that it is clean, usable water. The lack of fresh water has led to declinations in the health of many Kiberan citizens, 50 percent of hospitalizations are due to preventable water-borne diseases. The absence of fresh, clean water has resulted in an inability to slow the spread of airborne illnesses, such as the coronavirus. Handwashing is vital to preventing human-to-human transmission, which is a major concern in a slum as densely populated as Kibera. The CDC recommends that everyone wash their hands with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds. Without access to fresh water, such measures are unable to be taken, resulting in a quicker spread of airborne illnesses, such as Covid-19.

The call for clean water in Kibera is being answered in a variety of ways. UN-Habitat, a non-profit based in Nairobi, is working to solve the water sanitation crisis in Kibera as per their COVID-19 Response Plan, which consists of three main initiatives: supporting local governments and community driven solutions, providing urban data, and mitigating economic impact. With 72 million dollars in funds, UN-Habitat will tackle water, sanitation, overcrowding, and the housing crisis. Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), recently implemented a creative solution to aid in providing Kiberan citizens with clean water, through an aerial water network supported by wooden poles. Even though this network is not a perfect solution as it does not deliver water directly to individual housing units, it lessens the travel time to and from the Nairobi dam, where residents had to journey to before.

Another limitation of water sanitation in Kibera, is that the slum does not have a sewage system. Instead, residents make use of latrines or the aptly named “flying toilets,” which are plastic bags used as mobile toilets and then thrown into the river. While creative, these makeshift toilets are then discarded in nearby bodies of water, which further poisons the already limited water supply. Thankfully, The Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Enterprise Model (WASHEM), founded by Kenyan NGO Majin a Ufanisi, aims to find sustainable water solutions and provide jobs. Students around the world are also generating ideas. M-Maji, meaning “mobile water,” was one of the first ideas to come out of Stanford’s Designing Liberation Technologies course. It collects the daily coordinates of water vendors, allowing residents of Kibera to consult their mobile phone instead of wandering aimlessly. Promisingly, 70 percent of Kibera’s residents own a mobile phone. While M-Maji does not actually provide clean water, it conserves time and energy. With innovative solutions working to solve the water sanitation issues in Kibera, there is hope for improvement despite the water sanitation situation issues that Kiberan citizens currently face.\



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