SANITATION

Slum dwellers decry poor water access as COVID-19 pushes for hand-washing culture

This at a time when hand-washing is a key practice required to safeguard individuals from contracting the virus

In Summary

•Before the pandemic hit, water in the slum retailed at Sh5-10 depending on the size of the jerrycans

•Since last week, when Kenya reported its first coronavirus case, water prices have increased to Sh20-30

A child jumps across raw sewage in Nairobi’s Kibera slums.
A child jumps across raw sewage in Nairobi’s Kibera slums.
Image: FILE

Poor infrastructure and sanitation systems has raised concerns among slum dwellers amid the coronavirus outbreak as water prices continue to soar. 

This at a time when hand-washing is a key practice required to safeguard individuals from contracting the virus. 

Speaking to the star, John* who lives in Kibera- Kenya's largest slum- said they already spend hours locating a water vendor due to its scarcity making it expensive. 

"Sometimes we are not sure we will even find water," he said.

He added that most of the water pipes are plastic and run above the ground, and sometimes they crack either from accidental foot traffic or intentional tampering from a competing distributors. 

This in turn results into raw sewage seeping in, contaminating the already low water supply. 

Before the pandemic hit, water in the slum retailed at Sh5-10 depending on the size of the jerrycans.

Since last week, when Kenya reported its first coronavirus case, water prices have increased to Sh20-30.

“Life has now become even harder because we rarely afford all the three meals and now we have to buy enough water to wash hands but our environment already is hard to keep clean because there is sewage all over.” Ismael Amani said.

The country is currently faced with rapid deterioration of living conditions in human settlement areas with 48 per cent of 5.2 million people in the urban areas without access to water and proper sanitisation.

About 48 per cent use shared facilities, including public toilets while 18 per cent of urban dwellers use unimproved facilities and three per cent still practice open defecation.

While access to sanitation became a basic human right under the Constitution, most urban areas still lack proper sanitation.

According to the WHO, the provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 outbreak.

A few of the residents who spoke to the Star have alternatively chosen to remain ignorant despite seven cases being confirmed in the country and WHO declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic. 

The Kibera residents claim that coronavirus is a rumor being circulated adding that they will continue with their normal day to day activities.

“I have decided to continue searching for ways to survive because I need to pay rent, look for food, water and pay electricity bills as well. There is no way I’ll die of hunger in the name of buying sanitiser. It not possible.” Joseph Kamau said.

A joint monitoring programme between the World Health Organization (WHO)and UNICEF estimates only 31 per cent of urban residents have access to improved sanitary facilities.

"Ensuring good and consistently applied wash and waste management practices in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces and health care facilities will further help to prevent human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus," the report noted.