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Govt lied to us, Kibera residents say

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 13 – She climbs up the four flights of stairs with a 20-litre-jerrican of water on her head and another tightly held on her left hand to her new flat on the second floor.

Despite being an expectant mother and like other residents in these new 600 housing units under the Kibera slum upgrading programme, Marion (not her real name) has to walk for about a kilometer in search of water.

But this seemingly tired lady has a tale of desperation. She is not just tired of carrying this basic commodity but also of highlighting her problems and “nothing seems to change.”

“I will not talk to you. We have said about lack of water since we moved here (a month ago) and nothing has been done. I now need to go and get more water,” she quickly brushed off Capital News.

This tale of desperation is replicated in almost all the residents as I tried to secure interviews. Apart from being tired of telling the same story, others fear victimisation saying they could be told they are spoiling the good image of the project.
“Since we came here last month, we have been told day in day out that we will be connected with water but nothing happens,” complains Veronica, one of the residents.

“Sometimes it comes (water) for about five minutes and then disappears,” she says.

Ms Veronica who shares a house with another family says this has compromised on basic sanitation.

“You can smell a bad stench when you are in the sitting room or even outside here on the corridor and when you bring visitors it is not a good image,” she says.

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“We had a meeting with the leaders when we came here and we were promised there would be water and electricity but I think it was all a lie. We are now buying the water from Soweto East village where we used to live before,” she says with a twinge of annoyance.

The residents moved into the new housing units in mid September in an exercise that was officiated by Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The new houses are to serve as transitional ones as construction of others kicks off at the area where their former shanties were located.

The residents are to pay Sh1,000 for each room – Sh500 to serve as rent, Sh200 for water and Sh300 for electricity.

Ms Veronica says in a day she requires a minimum of five- 20 litre jerricans of water for use in the toilet and other household chores.

Kibera is East and Central Africa’s largest slum characterised by narrow alley ways with closely built mud and wooden shanties, indecent sanitation and the infamous ‘flying toilets’, with an estimated 750,000 people living in this slum. The upgrading programme is seen as one that will provide decent shelter and eradicate the slum while changing the face of poverty.

“It is like they (government) were in a rush to bring us to suffer here. Now we have to go all the way to the slum to get water, we have children and these toilets require a lot of water to flush,” protests Joyce another resident.

“They lied that we would have the water and electricity. They only give us water when there is a meeting (to be taught how to live in these houses) with leaders,” she adds.

She is calling on the government to keep their promise of providing water and electricity.

“You know when we were in Soweto it was much easier because we could get water from the neighbourhood. But now we have to walk far,” she says.
“They tell us to be cleaning the stairs but how do you clean them when there is no water?” she poses.

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However residents living in some blocks say they have been getting water on few occasions.

“Here in Block K water is flowing on alternate days although for just a short time. But for electricity we are told they are still in the wiring process,” says Mary Mogiti.

“They are saying they close the water because the pipes used are narrow and when water comes with a lot of pressure the pipes can burst,” she adds.

The residents are however yet to start making payment. They say there are reports that they will be given a grace period and start payment in January.

Efforts to reach the Ministry of Housing on the water and electricity issue were fruitless.

At least 1,200 families living in Soweto East village of the sprawling Kibera slums are expected to relocate to these new housing units.

“Life has changed for the better but the main problem here is water and electricity. We have been told we have to wait until January when we start paying, to be connected with electricity. Kenya Power officials sometimes come; they loiter around and then leave without doing anything,” says Lucy Faith.

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