Water Scarcity in Mathare During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Nyambura Kamau, Coordinator of the Maji ni Haki campaign at MSJC

On March 13th, Kenya reported the first Covid-19 case. In order to stop contracting the disease, people have been advised to wash hands regularly with running water and soap, among other ways like social distancing.  But the term running water in Mathare and entire Eastlands area is a mirage. This poses a challenge as there has been inadequate water supply in the area, the water is only available at least 3 times a week in most wards. However, this is not always the case. Bearing in mind also that the water available is contaminated and therefore not fit for human consumption or useable in anyway. The price of water has hiked from the normal 5 Kenya shillings per 20 litre jerry can to 10-20 shillings.

Water point in Mashimoni area, Mathare. There has been lack of water for a period of 12 years from this point. “Photo/ Nyambura Kamau”

Since post-election violence twelve years ago, the water service provider cut the water supply in almost all the wards in Mathare area. Therefore, the main source of water supply is private in most wards; the water vendors and cartels are involved in supplying water. Yet the plot owners who have water meters are required to pay a standing fee of 407 Kenya shillings monthly. They asked the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company to come disconnect and carry their meter as a solution, however, they were shocked to be asked to pay the standing fee despite them not having the meter. Not only is there inadequate water supply but also the water is contaminated. According to a research Maji ni Haki, Maji ni Uhai (water is life, water is a right) carried out by Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), in 2018 the water was found to be contaminated with bacteria Escherichia coli known as E Coli, which is well known to cause bacterial infections like diarrhea, fever and many more.

 

Children at Mathare 3A fetching water. Water scarcity has been a norm here during this pandemic. “Photo/ Nyambura Kamau”

Most of the Mathare residents work as casual laborers in Eastleigh, as now it is a hotspot of Covid-19 in Nairobi. Therefore, running water is a necessity as the residents require to wash their hands regularly in order to stop contracting the disease. For example, residents of Kosovo and Huruma have stayed for 4 and 13 days respectively with no water. This is really a big concern and needs to be worked on. “I have to walk to Ruaraka Constituency to fetch water,” says Salim, a resident of Kosovo. According to Alex a worker at a car wash in Kosovo, they sometimes fetch water from Nairobi River and use it to wash the cars. This is not suitable but it’s the best they can do in order for them to earn a daily wage.

“I have to walk to Kiamaiko or any other place to fetch water and carry it myself because relying on the water vendors is double the price that I do not have,” says Elizabeth, a resident of Huruma, where there has been lack of water for at least 2 weeks now. People are wondering where the leaders they elected are since they are nowhere to be seen. Various government officials and well-wishers have donated tanks and soap. This is a good gesture and people are happy, but the thing is the tanks are empty. Lack of water has been so rampant that water vendors are allowed to fetch water at the nearby Huruma Primary. In Bondeni for example, there is a borehole being drilled. But the question is whether officials are ready to test the water more frequently as the water may be susceptible to contamination?

Hence, most families in Mathare are unable to implement the new measures for the prevention of Covid-19, like washing hands or using sanitizers as most of them have lost their jobs and have no money to buy water, food or any other mandatory essential required. Not forgetting that social distancing sounds like a joke in this area. Mathare residents also have a right to clean and adequate supply of water.

 

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