Where taking a bath is a luxury

February 24, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 24 – Most people would cringe at the thought of not having a bath for a whole week. But for the residents of Mathare slum in Nairobi, skipping a bath is, at the moment, not something to lose sleep over.

They have not had running water for four weeks, meaning bathing has become a luxurious venture.

Water vendors have cashed in on the grim situation, selling a 20-litre jerrycan at 10 shillings. For many households here, the commodity is only enough for cooking.
Nite, who has been living in Mathare since she was born, says the ongoing water shortage has become an unbearable financial burden.

“Life has become very hard because getting that Sh10 is not easy. Even when you manage to buy the water is for cooking, wash dishes and do everything else so we have to shower once per week and the children can go up to two weeks without bathing,” says Nite.

Many residents in the settlement have, therefore, had to revise their budgets.

Before the shortage took effect, residents would get the precious commodity from water points set up in the slum, with the help of the Water Services Trust Fund, for only two shillings per 20 litre jerrycan.

Nite says that she has also been forced to cut her children’s school attendance in an attempt to deal with the water shortage.

“Sometimes my children don’t go to school because of the lack of water. The schools themselves are in a horrible state because the classrooms and sanitation facilities are not washed so other health risks come up,” explains the 25-year-old.

Meanwhile, 35-year-old Timothy runs a water point in the slum’s Kosovo area but he says his water tap has run dry. Timothy has also been forced to close down his business…at least until the situation is resolved.

He explains that his clients have to walk long distances in search of water. Those who want their water delivered at their doorstep have to part with more money.

“People have to walk for about one-and-a-half kilometers to get water. They walk from here to a place called number 10, near the Moi Forces Airbase on Juja road, where they get the water,” he says.

Timothy also notes that the shortage has seen an increase in the number of illegal water connections.

He explains that some individuals drill holes in the main water pipes underground and set up temporary taps above the ground through which they illegally draw water.

“We can’t live without water so those illegal water connections are, in the mean time, our salvation. Some hand cart pushers who used to bring water have also been forced to close their businesses,” he says.

Last year the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC), with the help of the Trust Fund and development partners, commissioned four water kiosks in the area. Thirty four metered water connections were also created. The water kiosks charge Sh2 per 20 litre container. 

The company blames the water shortage on the construction of the super highway on Thika road.

NWSC Informal Settlements Development Manager Nahashon Muguna says the ongoing construction works have destroyed underground water pipes thereby interrupting water supply.

Mr Muguna adds that the water company is working towards restoring supply, and that the company has started supplying water to the resident through water bowsers.

“We are working to restore a line which was snapped by the contractor along Utalii area so that they get their supply. And in fact any time there is that interruption of water we normally provide them with water bowsers which power water in the tanks installed in the water kiosks,” he says. 

Nite however refutes this statement saying the council has not provided any water to the residents since the shortage started.

“The water that we get belongs to private individuals and I don’t know how it gets here; we just see water and it costs Sh10 per 20 litre jerrycan. If we had the water from the company life would be better but there’s no such thing,” she quips.

The Trust Fund’s Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline Musyoki also says she is not aware that there has been a water shortage in the slum.

She adds that the Nairobi Water company ensures a steady water supply in the settlement in order to reduce the number of illegal connections.

“If there’s no water, the regulator requires the Nairobi Water company to announce it but we have been assured by the company that the people in Mathare will get their water,” she says.

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