cholera in nigeriaBetween January and August 2021, Nigeria experienced a surge in cholera cases with more than 31,000 “suspected cases,” 311 confirmed reports and more than 800 deaths. With close to 200,000 COVID-19 cases, a surge of cholera during the pandemic has heightened public health concerns in Nigeria. As such, addressing cholera in Nigeria is currently a top priority for the country.

What is Cholera?

According to the World Health Organization, “cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.” Despite being both preventable and treatable, cholera is very dangerous as it can kill an individual within hours without intervention. While mild cases are easily treatable with “oral rehydration solution,” more severe cases necessitate “rapid treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.” These are resources that many impoverished developing countries simply cannot afford.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number “of people who die from reported cholera remains higher in Africa than elsewhere.” The WHO emphasizes that the “provision of safe water and sanitation is critical to prevent and control the transmission of cholera.” The WHO also recommends oral cholera vaccines in areas where cholera is endemic.

The Nigerian Government’s Efforts

The Nigerian government continues to implement policies to control the spread of cholera. Promoting basic sanitation, improving hygiene practices and providing clean water are ways the government does this. In an attempt to mitigate the spread of cholera in Nigeria, the government has also supplied solar-powered boreholes with the help of the International Organization of Migration (IOM). As of 2019, the IOM has maintained 58 of these boreholes in Borno state and created 11 new boreholes. The IOM also “rehabilitated 10 and connected them to solar power.”

An important way to stop the spread of cholera is through improving the vaccination system in Nigeria. After an outbreak occurred in 2017, the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency instated cholera vaccination programs. The next step will be to increase the supply of vaccines.

The MSF’s Role in Eradicating Cholera

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders, is an independent global organization working to prevent cholera in Nigeria, among other missions. Its main focus is to provide medical aid in areas where it is most needed. Beginning in the 1980s, the MSF has responded to cholera epidemics across the world. Since then, the organization has worked to come up with new and more effective ways to eradicate cholera.

The MSF’s efforts to address cholera include supplying cholera kits, investigating outbreaks, establishing cholera treatment facilities, community education, improving access to water and sanitation and vaccinations, among other efforts. Cholera kits include “rehydration salts, antibiotics and IVs, along with buckets, boots, chlorine and plastic sheeting.” Sanitation improvements allow MSF to ensure the availability of clean water to citizens of Nigeria. Additionally, soap and clean water are provided for at-home use.

Promoting health is another major goal of the organization. At the time of an outbreak, those who work in the health field visit churches, schools and homes to help educate people on measures they can take to prevent the spread of cholera. Vaccinations are also employed to address Nigeria’s cholera outbreak. Providing vaccines is difficult, despite their ease of administration. Nonetheless, the MSF is working on vaccine campaigns. With patients receiving the proper care they need at the time they need it, the MSF states that deaths can potentially decrease from as high as 50% to as low as 2%.

The MSF’s Achievements

In 2019, the MSF supplied more than 231,000 cholera vaccine doses to endemic nations across the world. With the work of the MSF and increased government initiatives, it is possible to significantly reduce cholera in Nigeria.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

The Samburu ProjectThe Samburu are indigenous peoples located in Kenya and East Africa. The Samburu tribe is historically nomadic, traveling throughout the region to provide for its members. With close relations to the Maasai tribe, the Samburu tribe shares a similar language, both derived from the mother language Maa. The Samburu Project aims to provide clean water access to the Samburu people.

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

Kristen Kosinski founded The Samburu Project after a trip to Kenya in 2005. While meeting with female leaders in the region, Kosinski met Mariama Lekwale, known as “Mama Mussa,” a remarkable women’s rights activist and member of the Samburu tribe. Mama Mussa introduced Kosinski to many Samburu women, all of whom brought up the issue of water during shared conversations. Kosinski learned that water was the focal point of many of these women’s lives. It was the women’s responsibility to procure drinking water for the family, an extremely complicated task.

Safe drinking water was severely lacking in the region, with few available wells. The existing hand-dug wells faced contamination from waste products. Waterborne disease was rampant, causing illness and death across the region. As it is the women’s job to search for water, parents often pull daughters out of school to help with this arduous task, depriving young girls of their education. According to Water.org, globally, women and children “spend a collective 200 million hours collecting water.” This time could go toward more productive activities such as education and paid employment.

Impact in Numbers

Seeing how a lack of access to water disproportionately affects girls and women, Kosinski was inspired to work together with Mama Mussa to drill four new wells in the region before the year 2007. In 2007, Mama Mussa, unfortunately, passed away, however, her son Lucas Lekwale took over this incredible mission. Together, Lekwale and Kosinski committed to drilling an additional 75 wells in the region before the close of 2015. Since its start in 2005, The Samburu Project has built 126 wells in the region, providing more than 100,000 Kenyans with clean and safe drinking water. Over time, The Samburu Project gained many well-known partners such as Whole Foods, OPI, Chobani, Wells Fargo Advisors, Rotary International, Lyft and Forever 21, to name just a few.

The Far-reaching Impacts of Access to Water

According to the United Nations, water forms “the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself.” Furthermore, water is essential for eliminating diseases and “improving the health, welfare and productivity of populations.” As such, The Samburu Project’s mission is an important one.

The Samburu Project’s mission is “to provide access to clean water and continue to support well communities with initiatives that promote health, education, women’s empowerment and general well-being.” Safe water has also played a significant part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the area. Reducing contamination and increasing access to hygiene practices like handwashing through “tippy tap” handwashing stations has dramatically reduced potential instances of infection and transmission in the region.

Eliminating the search for water gives women time to earn an income, lifting many out of poverty. It also gives young Kenyan girls time to focus on their education, with more than double the number of girls enrolled in school as a result of acquiring access to clean water. With accessible clean drinking water, health, hygiene and wellness improve and young girls can attend school instead of shouldering the burden of collecting water with their mothers. Furthermore, women can focus their energy on activities that empower them to rise out of poverty.

The Samburu Project has done incredible work in Kenya, ensuring that the fundamental right to water is upheld for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

Michelle M. Schwab
Photo: Flickr

Education in KenyaThe World Bank reported in 2015 that 36.8% of people in Kenya lived below the international poverty line, set at $1.90 per day. Estimates from April 2020 predicted that this level would continue to follow a slow downward trend to approximately 33.1% in 2020 and 32.4% in 2021. These recent statistics tend to vary across sources, however. For example, Statista reports that in 2020, 27.3% of Kenyans lived in poverty. Ultimately, sources seem to broadly agree that more than a quarter of the population in Kenya lives under the international poverty line. However, poverty rates could reduce by increasing opportunities for education in Kenya. The potential of education in Kenya reflects in the country’s successes over the years.

Poverty Reduction Progress in Kenya

Though the number of Kenyan citizens in poverty is undoubtedly high, Kenya has made great progress in reducing poverty in the last 15 years. In 2005, the World Bank found 46.8% of people living in poverty. This means that according to the World Bank statistics, poverty in Kenya has decreased by more than 10% in slightly more than 15 years. However, there is still a significant need for further poverty reduction progress in Kenya.

Eliminating poverty is crucial for a number of reasons as poverty has an irrefutable impact on other areas of life. One of these impacted areas is education. Global Citizen argues that poverty is the greatest barrier to education for children. Families living on less than $1.90 a day often cannot afford to send their children to school, whether that be due to high attendance fees, the cost of school materials or the need for the child to contribute to the family farm or business. Hence, addressing education is intertwined with addressing poverty in countries such as Kenya.

Educational Success: Free Primary School

Located in East Africa, Kenya is part of a region where harsh climate, violence and general instability lead to high poverty rates and limited access to education. Yet, in the education spectrum, the country has made great progress in recent years, showing the overall potential of education in Kenya. One successful initiative began in 2003, when the Kenyan government rolled out the Free Primary Education (FPE) program, waiving all primary school fees for students. As a result, Olympic Primary School in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi reported that enrollment nearly tripled. This growth in attendance seems to have occurred nationwide as UNICEF reports that before the COVID-19 pandemic closed many schools in early 2020, primary school enrollment in Kenya stood at 99%.

World Bank statistics show Kenya’s successes in improving education through FPE and other programs, with the most recent data from 2018 showing a literacy rate of almost 82% for people older than 15. This is up significantly from 72.16% in 2007 and 78.73% in 2014. Yet, despite these improvements in literacy and primary school enrollment rates, Kenya still struggles to provide high-quality education and see children through to secondary school. Though nearly all children in Kenya attend primary school at some point, many of them drop out to supplement the family income. In 2017, the Kenya Climate Innovation Center reported a 27% dropout rate in primary school.

Even if students complete primary school, very few of them go on to any further education. Statista reports that in 2019, 10.1 million children attended primary school in Kenya. However, only 3.26 million children enrolled in secondary school the same year and only 509,000 Kenyan students attended college in 2019. More recent data is not available due to widespread school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Potential of Education in Kenya

Getting students into primary schools was the first step to improving education in Kenya. But, while the most recent World Bank data states that, in 2018, the Kenyan government spent 5.3% of the country’s GDP on education, schools are still short on resources and teachers. In some classrooms, the teacher-to-student ratio exceeds 1:100, leaving teachers overworked and overwhelmed. The government is working hard to increase the percentage of students who transition to secondary school but requires more resources to employ enough teachers and support high-quality education for students.

Overall, education in Kenya has seen a vast improvement in the number of students attending primary school in the last 20 years as a result of FPE and other work. Now, Kenya must look to improve in other areas of education in order to fully empower students with the tools and knowledge to rise out of poverty.

– Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

Love Is ProjectThe well-known and time-honored skill of handcrafting intricate beadwork was present before colonial rule and continues to be cherished and carried out by the women of Kenya’s Maasai tribe. Not only do their beautiful creations have significant symbolic value but the crafts also provide women with an opportunity to use their creativity to support themselves and their families financially. Women have long sold their beadwork jewelry at their local markets, where it attracts both tourists and the new generation of African women looking to express themselves and represent their culture by wearing the traditions of the past and present. In 2012, Chrissie Lam recognized the uniqueness of this tradition and created the Love Is Project to help expand the Maasai tribe’s vision and artistry to a global scale.

The Love Is Project

Chrissie Lam is the founder and CEO of the Love Is Project. Harnessing her background in the corporate fashion industry, Lam taught women from Kenya, Indonesia and Ecuador how to create and market a product that will resonate with people worldwide. She worked with artisans to “design a bracelet emblazoned with one powerful word: LOVE.” The Love Is Project website explains the reasoning behind the initiative’s name: love is “the single common thread that connects us all.” The goal of the project is to uplift “thousands of female artisans in developing countries around the world through fair wages, healthcare, education and more.” The project now covers 10 countries, empowering more than 2,000 women in Kenya, Indonesia, India, Guatemala, Bhutan, Ecuador, Vietnam, Columbia, Mexico and the Philippines to enter the workforce by becoming entrepreneurs.

How Making Bracelets Reduces Poverty

Poverty disproportionately impacts women, with women more likely to live in persistent poverty than men. About 22% of women have a persistent low income, compared with about 14% of men. As a result, it is harder for women to accrue “rainy day savings” and assets. In this way, women are at an economic disadvantage in comparison to their male counterparts.

During her trip to Kenya, Lam realized that “true empowerment is about job creation. Women need to be able to support themselves and their families.” Because of this “pay it forward” ideology, the Love Is Project has impacted thousands of lives through employment opportunities and financial freedom.

Showing solidarity during COVID-19, in 2020, the Love Is Project began the LOVE Grows Program. The program is a sustainable initiative “to empower locals to grow their own farming practices and skills so families can thrive — physically and economically.” The business also supports food gardens in Bhutan and provided a monetary donation to the ACCESS Development Services organization in India. Furthermore, the business “donated masks, sewing machines, supplies and food” to its partners in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Impact of the Love Is Project

A 28-year-old Love Is Project Kenyan artisan, Nantiyon Letaapo, started beading bracelets for the project in 2019. The income she earns allows her to support her family, enroll her four children in school and accumulate financial savings.

The Love Is Project is a business created, sustained and supported by women. It not only upholds the symbolic custom of beadwork in various countries around the world but also teaches women and girls that if they lead with love, they can achieve success.

Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in KenyaPeriod poverty in Kenya, or poor access to menstrual hygiene facilities, products and education, marginalizes women. In the year 2016, “a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” noted that about half of Kenyan girls could not openly talk about menstruation due to a negative societal response to the topic. However, organizations and initiatives aim to combat menstrual stigma and fight period poverty in Kenya.

5 Solutions to Fight Period Poverty in Kenya

  1. Increasing Access to Sanitary Products. To fight period poverty in Kenya, it is important to ensure free or affordable access to sanitary products for all young girls. Access to menstrual products can keep girls in school, which will reduce the disproportionate dropout rates between boys and girls when transitioning into high school. In May 2021, a Kenyan citizen filed a petition to have the Kenyan government provide sanitary products in schools for free.
  2. Proper Policy Implementation. The government must properly implement policies that aim to combat period poverty. In 2017, the government of Kenya passed a law that would have seen all girls receive sanitary products for free while enrolled in school, but this law was not properly implemented. In addition, the government, where possible, must allocate more state funds to ensure more girls can access sanitary products regardless of economic status.
  3. Private Sector Involvement. Procter & Gamble, the company that produces the Always menstrual brand, created the Always Keeping Girls in School program to address period poverty in African countries. Since 2008, this program has donated more than 13 million pads to more than 200,000 girls in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Similarly, Bayer employees have shown initiative by providing free menstrual cups to girls in Kenya. Involving the private sector in the fight against period poverty would also help the Kenyan government implement its policies better.
  4. More Education Initiatives. Innovative programs focused on key populations have emerged to fight period poverty in Kenya. For example, the United Nations Population Fund partnered with a grassroots organization called This-Ability Trust, which has been providing menstrual education to those with disabilities. Puberty education is also crucial. Currently, only about 50% of girls are willing to openly discuss menstrual health matters in family settings. Breaking the silence by educating pubescent teens and adolescents on the importance of menstrual health will encourage them to approach their teachers, parents and guardians for further guidance.
  5. Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Lastly, aid is needed to help Kenya recover from the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic, which had indirect effects on period poverty. Quarantine measures in Kenya meant that women and girls could not access health services that provide sanitary products for free. Economic stresses also meant girls and women could not afford sanitary products. Organizations like Plan International have been able to lend a helping hand to girls who live in slums. Plan International distributed almost 3,000 sanitary products to women in Kenya’s Kibera slum in partnership with the Kenyan organization ZanaAfrica. Since 65% of women and girls in Kenya are unable to access sanitary products due to economic reasons, these humanitarian efforts help fight period poverty in Kenya.

Looking to the Future

By focusing on such solutions to fight period poverty in Kenya, the Kenyan government and nonprofit organizations can empower and uplift impoverished Kenyan women. Reducing period poverty in Kenya ensures that the lives of girls and women are not disrupted simply due to the inability to afford menstrual products.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Renewable energy in KenyaWithin the continent of Africa, Kenya has become one of the fastest-growing nations. Between 2010 and 2018, the country saw annual growth of 5.9% and a GDP of $95 billion. Due to COVID-19, there have been challenges toward the attempts to continue growth. However, there is one area that continues to grow and is apparently the key to ensuring this growth prevails. This new safety net is a renewed use of renewable energy in Kenya.

Over the past decade, Kenya shifted to clean and natural energy. This change received support from the African Development Bank, the Kenyan government and European investment partners. The result has been a rise of new resources for renewable energy in Kenya and their implementation in new areas. With around 16% of the country’s population having access to electricity, the use of renewable energy has given Kenya the ability to supply it to more homes. The results have led the nation’s electrification to rise from 28% in 2013 to over 60% in 2017. Even if the issues from COVID-19 have impeded the current growth, the government still prioritizes this shift of resources. However, one of the most interesting developments is Kenya’s focus on multiple types of energy that can consistently provide electricity.

Wind

The usage of wind power had previously been prominent in Kenya and has provided a considerable amount through wind farm projects. Using wind turbines to generate electricity, this type of power has become one of the more widespread methods of obtaining renewable energy throughout the world. In Kenya, one of the most notable projects has been the Lake Turkana Wind Farm. The area of Lake Turkana was prime for this type of installation as it has consistently high wind speeds. Having 365 turbines, the farm has a power output of around 300 megawatts. The goal of the farm is to increase the electrical supply of the country by 13%. The project took 15 years to build and is the largest of its kind in Africa.

Another successful farm is the Ngong site that the company KenGen operates. Located near the city of Nairobi, the station’s output provides 5,100 kilowatts of power. Ngong was also the largest wind farm until Lake Turkana underwent construction. These projects both ensure the decreased use of fossil fuels and the growth of jobs to help maintain the farms. The Lake Turkana project alone employed over 2,500 people for its construction.

Also, the government support for these projects shows the country’s desire to have its own independent sources of power. The ability for Kenya to tap into grids and resources within its own borders provides benefits and allows for less of a need to rely on other nations for energy. While costs could be an issue, as most areas suitable for wind generation sites are far from the main grids, the benefits are tangible and the support from the government and other organizations could alleviate any financial problems concerning renewable energy in Kenya.

Hydroelectricity

Another of the most prominent types of renewable energy in Kenya is hydropower. This type of energy uses the natural flow of water to generate electricity. The amount of energy from the hydropower installations has resulted in a capacity of 743 megawatts. Due to Kenya being part of the African Great Lakes region, its potential for hydropower could reach 3,500 megawatts. The use of this energy also has a long history as small systems were present since the 1920s. The company Andritz Hydro first commissioned modern stations in 1968 with the Kindaruma Power Station. Since then, hydropower has remained a constant source of energy within Kenya.

Rural communities have consistently used hydropower. One individual who has taken advantage of this opportunity is Kenyan native John Magiro. His family raised him in a rural farming community with no electricity. As an adult, he dedicated his life to ensuring that communities like his would receive electricity and other modern advantages. This has culminated in the construction of a micro-hydropower plant along the Gondo river around 2015. The creation of plants like this, alongside support from organizations like the Kenya Environmental Trust Fund (NETFUND), shows that there is a desire in the country to easily give rural communities the benefits that renewable energy can provide.

However, as of late, there has been a consistent issue with the reliability of hydropower in Kenya. Over the past few years, there have been consistent droughts and a lack of rain. This has reduced the water going through dams and less overall production from plants. Between December 2016 and January 2017, production of energy declined from 299 million kilowatts per hour to 252 kilowatts per hour. While this does not spell doom for the future of this energy since weather is unpredictable and rain patterns could go back to their prior state, events like this show the necessity of investing in multiple types of energy. If one energy declines, another that supplies at a more consistent rate will be available. In particular, there has been one source of energy that has grown in importance in the wake of declining water in Kenya.

Geothermal

Accompanying the slight decline of hydropower has been the advancement of geothermal energy. This energy relies on the natural steam from rifts within the earth and, unlike other resources, outside influences such as weather or other natural occurrences, do not affect it. In 2017, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that at least 274 million kilowatts per hour come from thermal sources monthly. Through its application, geothermal energy has managed to create 32% of the overall electricity that people consumed in Kenya.

The construction of new plants has shown abundant results and higher energy outputs. In 2015, two new plants in Kenya’s rift valley, Olkaria, helped the national energy increase by 51%. The World Bank Group has backed Kenya in financing the use of this energy through its Internal Development Association (IDA). This has resulted in the region of Olkaria turning into one of the largest sources of geothermal energy in the world and one of the most prominent energy suppliers in the country. These efforts have helped geothermal energy rise up as one of the most prominent types of renewable energy in Kenya. At the moment, geothermal energy looks to be the most important source to the current efforts of change within Kenya due to the advantages it offers in output and availability.

Why This Matters

The rise of renewable energy in Kenya is important as it represents a lot for the country. The creation of new advancements represents a drive to modernize and connect Kenya to a larger global scene. Many people dedicate their lives to ensuring that those living in rural areas have opportunities that are common in other countries. In general, this is what renewable energy represents for Kenya. Not only does it supply a lot for the nation, but it also brings new innovations. They can connect electricity to places that have never had it before and all could reap the benefits of a revitalized Kenya. It may take some time, but a better future is on the horizon not just for Kenya, but also for all countries focusing on new ways to improve themselves.

– John Dunkerley
Photo: Flickr

Food insecurity in Kenya
One of the most devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya has been the significant increase in food insecurity. Food insecurity in Kenya was already a notable problem prior to the pandemic. In February 2020, 1.3 million people were classified as in crisis, emergency or catastrophe, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). A year later, in the midst of the pandemic, that number rose by 15% to an estimated 1.4 million people. Furthermore, 542,000 children aged between six to 59 months are acutely malnourished to the extent that they need treatment.

With the number of people experiencing food insecurity in Kenya continuing to increase, it is more imperative than ever that solutions are implemented. Fortunately, major nonprofit organizations and agencies have enacted policies to significantly reduce food insecurity in Kenya. Here are three innovations that are having a positive impact on the country.

UNICEF Cash Transfers

In coordination with the governments of Finland, Italy, Sweden and the U.K., UNICEF has instituted a cash transfer program for 12,500 families across Kenya. The program grants these families 2,000 shillings bimonthly. This is on top of the 2,000 shillings they receive every month from the national safety net program. The program identified recipient families as the most vulnerable based on existing beneficiary lists for COVID-19 stimulus recovery. The lump-sum transfers have been pivotal in improving food security and child malnourishment. For many families impacted by the pandemic, food security would not be possible without this direct support.

PlantVillage

PlantVillage is a project consisting of a website, mobile app and on-the-ground team helping African farmers diagnose crop diseases, monitor pests and crowdsource answers to crop questions. The project has been instrumental in improving food security in Kenya. It helped manage Kenya’s worst locust swarm in 75 years, which exacerbated the nation’s food insecurity problem that was originally ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic. The main goal of the project is to help farmers by providing them with affordable technology and agricultural knowledge. Additionally, the project encourages citizen reporting of the locust situation and food insecurity in general.

The widespread impact of PlantVillage has been immense. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the project protected the food security of 36.6 million people. The project also helped avoid a $1.56 billion loss in cereal and milk production. Melodine Jeptoo, a field coordinator in Kenya for PlantVillage, stated that the organization’s efforts “saved Kenya in terms of food security.”

Agricultural Technology

Another solution that is instrumental in improving food insecurity in Kenya is the innovative agricultural technology initiatives from major organizations and small startups. The two most significant organizations involved are the U.N. Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) and the World Bank.

CSTD has coordinated with the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and the CropWatch Program to create an online workshop for Kenyans. The workshop helps farmers understand and utilize an improved crop monitoring system with better agricultural productivity. Meanwhile, the World Bank is in ongoing partnerships with 15 AgTech startups to utilize digital technologies to improve the delivery of inputs, soil testing and crop insurance to enable farmers to overcome restrictions related to COVID-19. In addition, farmers will have better targeted and more effective service delivery, particularly within remote areas.

During the same period of time, two notable startup companies have also been pivotal in mitigating food insecurity in Kenya. The first is Taimba, which is an online platform that has connected rural small-scale farmers to urban retailers. This enables farmers to access markets more easily in the midst of constraints related to COVID-19. The other startup is Solar Freeze, which provides smallholder farmers solar-powered cold storage to store temperature-sensitive fresh agricultural produce in a simpler manner.

Proposed Recommendations for Further Action

The IPC, in cooperation with the European Commission, has proposed numerous recommendations for what could be done to improve food insecurity in Kenya in the long run. In response to acute food insecurity, the IPC has recommended the following:

  • Utilize farm inputs and pest and disease control to ensure long-term post-harvest management.
  • Ensure the extension and maintenance of water structures and systems and promote further rain harvesting.
  • Improve infrastructure in existing schools and expand school meals programs.

By taking these actions, Kenya can hopefully reduce its high levels of food insecurity. Moving forward, it is essential that humanitarian organizations continue to make this issue a priority, coming up with new innovations that have the potential to improve the lives of millions.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

clean cooking initiativesFor most people, their day starts with tea or coffee followed by a light breakfast, available with minimum effort. For those less fortunate, this simple morning routine requires hours of backbreaking labor. Solid cooking fuels like wood and coal are necessities in much of the world, but in addition to contributing to climate change, they perpetuate poverty. This is partly because those who depend on this type of energy risk health problems from Household Air Pollution (HAP) and partly because solid cooking fuels can be labor-intensive to acquire and use. Over the past two decades, an overwhelming body of research has cited clean cooking as a primary target for policy reform. It furthers all eight of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals and five of its Sustainability Development Goals. Several exemplary clean cooking initiatives are making a difference today.

More Access to Energy, Less Poverty

Several studies attempt to quantify the damage caused by solid fuel. Lost productivity resulting from resource collection prevents an estimated 2.6 billion people from escaping poverty, disproportionately affecting women. Children’s school attendance also decreases when they must spend large amounts of time gathering fuel, hampering their education. People’s health also suffers from solid fuel. Indoor pollution from dirty energy — six times deadlier than outdoor — creates an estimated $10.6 billion in healthcare costs yearly in rural China alone. Not to mention, HAP reduces lifespans in affected populations by 20 years. It causes between 1.6 and four million premature deaths annually, second only to unsafe water in deaths caused. “Dirty” cooking fuels also produce an estimated 2% of carbon emissions, roughly equivalent to the pollution from all global air travel.

Clean Energy and Poverty Reduction

A widely cited 2004 paper argued that clean cooking protocols had high potential for poverty reduction and encouraged the creation of federal and intergovernmental agencies to manage a 10- to 15-year plan to implement them. Nonetheless, 15 years later, a Draft Energy Policy commissioned by the Indian government concluded that “clean cooking fuel has been the biggest casualty of lack of coordination between different energy Ministries.

“Not only India but also the international community has failed to leverage a low-cost opportunity with enormous benefits. The global cost of clean fuels for those lacking them totals only $50 billion per year or roughly 0.2% of a developed nation’s GDP. Diverse clean cooking initiatives at all levels are not only essential to poverty reduction, they are achievable.

Clean Cooking in Haiti

World Central Kitchen (WCK) originated during relief efforts following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake and continues providing meals to vulnerable populations. Most recently, Founder and Chef José Andrés closed several restaurants to feed low-income people during the pandemic. But WCK has evolved beyond catastrophe response to become a global leader in culinary activism, including clean cooking.

Following the initial work in Haiti, the organization created the #HaitiBreathes campaign to improve school lunch programs. Observing that “children who eat during the day do better in school,” the campaign has helped 140 schools convert their kitchens to use liquid propane, benefitting 65,000 students and school cooks. Preventing child labor associated with solid fuels is fundamental to poverty reduction. The campaign’s culinary education component and infrastructure upgrades also offer long-term socioeconomic and health benefits by improving sanitation and food safety.

Clean Cooking in Kenya

An estimated 15,700 premature deaths per year in Kenya are attributable to HAP. These deaths are preventable as 75% of households know of clean cooking subsidies and programs, yet 70% remain unable to buy a clean cookstove because of the high prices. Of those who make the relatively expensive upgrade, 60% say the fuel cost for their preferred cookstove is too high, and they are forced to endure the enormous health and productivity effects of purportedly “cheaper” alternatives.

In conjunction with the Clean Cookstove Association of Kenya, native chef and Clean Cooking Alliance Ambassador Susan Kamau educates underserved communities on solid fuel issues. The #CookCleanForKenya program transitions individuals to sustainable fuels; its Facebook page details success stories and explains the nefarious consequences of open fire cooking. By marketing innovative products like the Cookswell Energy Efficient Charcoal Oven, the initiative connects consumers to various clean cooking options. Local figures like Kamau understand local impediments better than a foreign NGO does, making partnerships like this one especially effective.

Clean Cooking in Cambodia

Twenty percent of Cambodians live in poverty, and for them, alternatives to solid fuel are unattainable. People rely mainly on wood for fuel, causing a decline in forest cover from 73% in 1965 to 59% in 2006. Low-cost and temporary clean cooking options are the best way to create meaningful change. One study found that simply introducing flues, though it did not decrease carbon emissions, caused a 75% reduction in negative HAP health outcomes.

The Neang Kongrey Cookstove Initiative produces high-efficiency stoves that cost only $1.50 and reduce fuel consumption by 60%. This female-staffed company enables clean cooking at a grassroots level while also promoting sustainable economic growth. It makes up a mere 5% of the national cookstove market, but the project represents a 700,000-ton decrease in harvested wood and a 500,000-ton decrease in carbon emissions yearly. Although financed through international agencies, this dynamic business creates local change.

Clean cooking initiatives like those led by the WCK in Haiti, the Clean Cookstove Association of Kenya and the Neang Kongrey Cookstove Initiative in Cambodia are vital to creating clean energy, aiding low-income families and making progress in alleviating global poverty. With continued efforts from nonprofits and individuals alike, the international community takes one step toward reducing global poverty through clean cooking initiatives.

– Kit Krajeski
Photo: Flickr

Kounkuey Design InitiativeKounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a nonprofit founded in 2006 by Harvard graduates who sought to combat “poverty, environmental degradation and social isolation.” The inquiry directed the focus of the graduates to Nairobi, Kenya, the birthplace of KDI co-founder, Arthur Adeya. Working with residents of an informal settlement called the Kibera slum, the graduates had an opportunity to put their skills to use in a community impacted by poverty, environmental destruction and social inequalities. While engaging with the realities of the slum, KDI was able to create a community model where the voices of Kibera residents contribute to the design process. By involving the voices of the community, KDI brought the definition of Kounkuey to life. After all, the Thai concept of Kounkuey means “to get to know something intimately.” KDI looked to address the common problem of flooding in Kibera, among other issues.

Flooding in Kibera Slum

According to UN-Habitat, Kenya’s Kibera slum is the second-largest informal settlement in Africa. The estimated population in the almost 555 acres of informal housing ranges from 350,000 to one million people. The high population density coupled with “unplanned and crowded” housing as well as inadequate infrastructure makes the Kibera slum extremely vulnerable to flooding as a result of drainage issues.

The World Bank Group reports that Kenya is highly vulnerable to “climate hazards” such as drought and floods, “which cause economic losses estimated at 3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).” Poverty and poor infrastructure are the major reasons why floods are extremely devastating in the Kibera slum. Since women and children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty, flooding in the Kibera slum impacts them significantly by destroying women’s kiosks and exposing children to water-borne diseases.

The poverty in the Kibera slum makes it more difficult for the dwellers to cope with flooding. Most of the residents survive on just $1 a day. The high unemployment rate in Nairobi makes it difficult for those trying to secure jobs in order to survive. According to a 2012 survey, 50% of the population experienced unemployment. Floods have major economic consequences, and for people already living in poverty, the impacts of floods exacerbate poor living conditions.

A survey conducted in the Kibera slum highlighted that half of the respondents’ homes were flooded in the 2015 rainy season. In May 2021, four people died near the Kibera slum due to flooding. The flooding has become increasingly dangerous, but for residents of the dense Kibera slum, moving to higher ground is easier said than done.

The Kibera Public Space Projects and Floods

The Kounkuey Design Initiative started the Kibera Public Space Projects in 2006, aiming to build spaces that could meet the residents’ social and economic needs. There are about 12 projects, including a project that involves constructing bridges over rivers prone to flooding. Not only are the 12 projects vital for protecting people from the impacts of flooding but the projects also protect the socio-economic well-being of the residents of Kibera.

The Kibera Public Space Projects hope to reduce the fatal impacts of flooding, among other goals. The projects involve a series of goals that aim to bring the community together, create efficient drainage and improve social conditions. For instance, some public spaces incorporate “gardens and playgrounds with sanitary blocks, laundry spaces and educational facilities.”

The Kounkuey Design Initiatives addresses flooding in Kibera slum while fostering social inclusion. Using creative design-oriented solutions, KDI addresses issues impacting impoverished areas. The innovative efforts of KDI contribute to overall poverty reduction in Kenya.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Flickr

Water Crisis in Kenya’s SlumsKenya, a country in East Africa, has a population of more than 50 million, with about 4.4 million people residing in the capital city of Nairobi. The combination of a dry climate and a rapidly growing population has caused a water crisis in Kenya’s slums, where citizens in poverty live in informal settlements without water infrastructure.

Origins of the Crisis

Urbanization plays a large role in the water crisis. While 90% of urban residents had clean water in 1990, this figure fell to 50% in Nairobi as the city’s population nearly quadrupled. The city began rationing water in 2017. The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company estimates that supply still falls 25% short of demand. Informal settlements lack piped water and the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that water from vendors or surface sources often contains contaminants.

The Kenyan government struggles to address the water crisis in Kenya’s slums due to the informal nature of the urban settlements. Aid organizations and private nonprofits also fail to provide long-term relief, with more than 60% of water projects failing in their first year.

Well Aware Executive Director Kareece Sacco told The Borgen Project that “There’s the first water crisis that everyone is aware about that’s left people lacking access to reliable clean water. But the second one, as we have termed it, is the failure of the system.” Well Aware is a nonprofit with more than 70 successful water projects in East Africa.

In 2021, the organization plans to complete a new water project for the Ingrid Education Center in the Kayole-Soweto slum in Nairobi. Speaking on the systemic failures that perpetuate the water crisis, Sacco explained that “a lot of organizations doing similar work don’t have these long term relationships with these communities and they’re just not being empowered in the correct way to help maintain them [water systems].” Strengthening local partnerships with aid organizations empowers Kenyans in poverty to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums.

The Challenges

Without connections to a water source, residents of the Kayole-Soweto slum often trek long distances to provide water for their families. This chore falls mostly on women and girls, which worsens gender inequalities in the area. The World Bank interviewed residents of Kayole-Soweto, with many respondents reporting that they often resort to purchasing water at high costs from vendors who take advantage of this need. The vendors also sell water of questionable quality to slum dwellers for discounted rates, which causes health and sanitation issues throughout Kayole-Soweto.

The Impact of Local Partnerships

Aid and non-governmental organizations that effectively engage in local partnerships directly address these issues. For example, Well Aware maximizes its impact by partnering with local schools to drill wells, which increases education rates overall by 34% and increases education rates for girls by 58% on average.

Sacco told The Borgen Project that “if we do a drill at a school, most of the time, we’ll set up a kiosk at the road for the community to be able to come too.” This is how water projects with local partnership components make a larger impact. By engaging directly with local partners, projects to solve the water crisis in Kenya’s slums are more responsive to the needs of those in poverty.

Slums also struggle with incorporating traditional connections to water sources. Piped water requires large initial investments that individual households in slums cannot bear, and this has adverse health and sanitation effects. As a result, the decision to implement piped water systems in the slums of Kayole-Soweto and other locations favors landlords who pool money from multiple sources. This poses additional barriers to clean water for slum-dwellers in poverty.

Water projects that provide innovative solutions to the water crisis in Kenya’s slums circumvent traditional barriers to water access. For example, Stanford University water projects in Kenyan slums recognize the fact that around 70% of urban Kenyans own cellphones. Bearing this in mind, Stanford innovates apps and mobile services that help slum dwellers pinpoint water locations. Similar ideas come from courses at Stanford University that prioritizes local partnerships and requires in-person meetings in Kenya with local leaders. This demonstrates how local partnerships foster innovative solutions that accurately meet the needs of locals in poverty.

The Future of the Water Crisis in Kenya’s Slums

The water crisis in Kenya’s slums becomes more urgent as infrastructure fails to keep up with population growth. USAID reported that the Kenyan government drastically increased spending on the water sector as sufficient progress requires $14 billion in the next 15 years.

As a result, the Kenyan government needs international aid and private assistance from humanitarian organizations to bridge the gap. Current water project financing in the country consists of 64% donor funds. This creates an opportunity for donors to find new methods of delivering water access apart from traditional government-provided public goods.

Rapid urbanization in Kenya exacerbates the existing water crisis in the country. With many new arrivals to Kenya’s cities ending up in slums, inequality and failures of traditional water systems to adequately serve the needs of citizens in poverty have further worsened the water crisis. As donors continue to drive the financing of the water sector in Kenya, opportunity grows for innovative partnerships with local actors in Kenya’s slums. Kayole-Soweto exemplifies this by using conventional and unconventional tools for water access, including building wells on school land and incorporating cellphone technology. Local partnerships empower residents of Kenya’s slums to find the best solution to the water crisis for themselves.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Unsplash