Nairobi's Kibera slum to access clean water via cutting-edge aerial engineering

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The installation of skyline water pipes has been a positive development for residents of the Kenyan capital's sprawling Kibera slum. Having to make do with contaminated water delivered to them via plastic pipes until recently, locals can now enjoy clean water that is sourced from a borehole through innovative aerial water supply engineering.

The water in Kibera has elevated levels of fluoride, much higher than the recommended 1.5 milligrammes per litre. So it is for this reason, that the new innovative water purification system uses reverse osmosis technology, after which the water is then distributed through an aerial piping system to strategic tanks and then to residents through water kiosks.

“This water has really helped us because it is cheap and has been treated. In the past, we used underground water piping and if service was interrupted we had to walk a long way to Laini saba and show ground areas to get water,” Kibera resident Ruth Atieno told RFI, referring to the previous four kilometre distance just to get water.

The mother of three says she likes the fact that the water is available 24 hours a day.

“I have five family members and I use 200 litres of water per day because I also use it for my business. I sell porridge and I use a lot of water washing utensils and cooking the porridge,” she adds.

The aerial piping system was installed by the Shining Hope for Communities NGO, a grassroots organization that has brought clean water to the residents’ door steps, completely eliminating the risk of tampering or contamination.

According to the NGO, more than 2000 people benefit from the project daily.

Token services for fresh water

A good number of the water points are digital where residents fetch water using token services. The tokens are renewed on a monthly basis, through a pay-bill number on a mobile phone.

A 20-litre jerrycan costs an affordable two Kenyan shillings (less than 2 euro cents).

“You load the money into tokens and it depends how much you have, it can be five shillings, fifty shillings or one hundred shillings - you come with it and they load it for you,” says Christine Layla, a resident of Kibera's Sarang’ombe district.

“Sometimes if you don’t have money, you talk to the attendant and they let you fetch water. They are not bad people. They are good people,’’ she adds.

According to Vivian Awuor, a water kiosk attendant, more than 1000 people fetch water from her water point every day.

“Mostly people fetch water early morning, and others in the afternoon. Businesswomen and school children mostly come here in the evening,” she says.

“The water is safe for drinking and cooking and it is very affordable. They use little money to fetch water. Less money, more water!” announces Awuor, with aplomb.

For decades, water cartels within Kibera’s informal settlements have been tampering with underground pipes, making it difficult to supply affordable water to the residents. There’s been a crackdown on preventing vandalism and theft of pipes and taps, with the new aerial pipes enabling locals to enjoy the benefits of affordable and clean water.

Businesses benefit, too

Peter Shanthe, who owns a public bathroom business adjacent to the Kibera River, says he has benefited from the water supply initiative since it was instigated in 2016.

“I’m using it and it’s helping me a lot. As you can see, I have a public shower here and I am using that water. In a day we are buying this water at two shillings and the other underground piped water costs five shillings,’’ Shanthe says.

The project has benefitted business people and residents of Kibera in ways that the government has failed, according to the non-governmental organization.

“We have been able to provide reliably water to the communities, because currently Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company, the government entity, is not supplying water in the area and the community has been previously exploited by informal water vendors or cartels who sell water at high prices,” says Jamleck Mutie, a water expert at the Shining Hope for Communities organization.

Prices are two Kenyan shillings per 20litre jerrycan, while informal water vendors charge more than 10 Kenyan shillings per jerrycan, says Mutie.

“The community is able to access water anytime of the day or night and we have actually provided solar power lighting just to make sure that women and girls are safe to get water even at odd hours,’’ he adds.

However, the project has not been a welcome change for everybody. Water vendors have had to reduce water prices to stay relevant in the water supply business. John Omondi, (not his real name), a water vendor, says he has to venture into other business to survive.

“I can say water business is now down because of the competition. You know the other water is salty but people want fresh water. I have seen parts of the overhead piping project but some people prefer to fetch water here. We have to accept the competition and we also have to refocus on other businesses to get into,” Omondi laments.

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