Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, recently finished her week-long visit to Kenya, where she observed the status of the population’s water.
Although access to water is a constitutionally protected right in Kenya, Albuquerque commented that the conditions in the nation are “not only an absolute denial of the right to sanitation, but also a serious threat to public health and the security of women and girls who have to walk into the bush at night. These women and girls are exposed to daily risks due to the lack of proper sanitation.”
She expressed her concern that 30 percent of all Kenyans are still in need of improved sanitation, with 13 percent still defecating in public. Kenya loses the equivalent of $330 million every year “due to premature death, health care costs and productivity losses resulting from the lack of access to adequate sanitation,” she continued.
One solution that has been in the works for years is the use of chlorine dispensers, which disinfect water without posing additional health risks.
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) has granted the project $4 million in the hope of aiding four million people by the end of 2014. The DIV could potentially fund the project further as it progresses. The newest design for a public dispenser, created by U.S. based researchers and the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), will help five times as many people—many of whom could not afford the individual chlorine bottles previously used. The communal dispensers reduce the cost of chlorine per bottle, and increase public awareness on the issue. Per household usage has jumped anywhere from 36 to 55 percent.
The Kenyan government, along with international donors, has typically focused on practical methods of providing access to water in arid regions, but have lacked the resources to ensure the quality of this water. Many women and children allocate a third of their day to retrieving water from sources several miles away, often with polluted containers.
Overpopulation has further strained the water system, as the annual population growth in Kenya has risen to 2.6 percent. In urban areas, the poor are forced to crowd in slums without clean water or sanitation. Living in such close contact facilitates water-borne diseases among the population.
The chlorine dispenser project comes in the midst of 26 months of drought in Northern Kenya, which has threatened food security. In the majority of the country, 25 percent of children are acutely malnourished, while certain areas have overall malnutrition rates of approximately 20 percent. The World Food Programme designates 15 percent overall malnutrition rates as a critical emergency.
Chlorine dispensers for the safe water project have already received 100 grants, and reached 18 million people as of April. The head of the DIV, Jill Boezwinkle, hopes the program will eventually sustain itself with funds from other sources, but believes in the project, saying, “it’s really, really important to make sure that we are using dollars very responsibly.”
– Erica Lignell