Water and sanitation crisis in Dagoretti: the nexus between landlords and private water suppliers.
Author: Nicholas Mwangi
Newsletter: Dagoretti News
On March 22, 2019, the world will commemorate the world water day. The theme for this year is ‘Leaving no one behind‘. This is in line with its vision of providing water for all human beings by 2030. It will be a reflection on the water crisis in the world and why the majority of people cannot access clean water in today’s world.
The residents of Dagoretti area – which is situated in Dagoretti North and South Constituencies – are part of this category; they are affected by water shortages and poor sanitation services. By all means on March 22, 2019, Dagoretti residents are among those in the world who will be reflected upon.
Water shortages for this informal settlement that has a big population of over 250,000 people have become more of a norm than a trend as some households have neither access to piped water nor toilets. The sight of women and children especially young girls carrying water in their backs daily Is a manifestation of the pain caused by the water crisis. Women constantly spend the better part of their day fetching water due to the long queues that they have to wait in before getting their turn to buy water sold by water dealers selling from their water tanks. This has denied them an opportunity to work and direct their energy in more income generating activities. Considering that women do household chores entirely by their own, such as cleaning of home and washing of clothes and cooking, it becomes an arduous task for them to execute these tasks due to irregular supply of water.
Young girls frequently accompany their mothers to fetch water as a lot of water is required at home for things to run smoothly. This is potentially dangerous for the girls as strangers may prey upon them and take advantage of the young vulnerable girls. Majority of the young girls are students and instead of them doing their homework after coming from school, they are compelled to fetch water so that they can take a shower and wash their uniform. The education of women in this country is critical in achieving our long term prospects as a Nation. However, this dream is greatly undermined by water shortages.
Nationwide as well as the world over several reasons responsible for the water shortage and poor sanitation have been advanced. First, poor planning of the drainage and piping systems of houses before their construction has been said to be responsible for the irregular supply of water in the city. In addition, part of the drainage and piping infrastructure was constructed during the colonial times and where broken-down or obsolete is yet to be replaced. Second, the lack of deliberate rain harvesting strategies and the wastage of water. Water that would otherwise have been harvested during the rainy season is lost due to this. In our homes wastage occurs when we leave our taps running.
While these reasons are in part responsible for the water problems in Dagoretti, more insidious developments have been overlooked in recent times.
There are landowners who construct houses for rental purposes. These rental houses are poorly constructed without proper piping of water and sewage. The construction of such houses continues under the supervision of government officials who are bribed by the landlords. Of deeper concern, is the fact that some landlords dig deep boreholes in the compounds of such rental houses and sell water, drawn from these boreholes, to their tenants. It is a common sight in the morning in most of these plots to see a landlord sitting calmly on a chair near the borehole as they proudly collect money from the water purchased by his clients who pay rent. One can’t help but imagine that fresh water, a right which should be offered by the county government of Nairobi, has been infringed upon and has been turned into a commercial enterprise through which unscrupulous landlords can gain from.
Dagoretti, an informal settlement is characterized by poor housing and overcrowding, again landlord’s lack of consideration of the safety of his residence is shown by the construction, of too many houses and few toilets and bathrooms. A small plot in Dagoretti could have a minimum of 40 houses which are served by three toilets and three bathrooms, this means that a single toilet is used by 12 houses. This would have implications as far as hygiene and health is concerned especially for children whose immune system in not as strong as the adults and thus they are the most vulnerable. These Latrines are not dug deep enough and they lack sewer line connections, so there are instances where human waste contaminates the borehole water or piped water which is consumed by people. Disease outbreaks of cholera and typhoid are quite frequent in Dagoretti as residents consume contaminated water. Children are the most affected as there are forced to skip school for a number of days due to diarrhea; this has affected the morale of these young pupils and wasted their time which should be spent at school. It is still a saddening situation when the future of our children is undermined due to very minor and basic issues such as water and sanitation.
The sanitation crisis in Dagoretti is not only due to the landlords’ lack of humanity for their tenants but also from an increase in private water companies and vendors commonly referred to as “clean water”. It’s an open secret in Dagoretti and other parts of Kenya that private companies conspire with the water county officials to sabotage the provision of regular water, in order to create an artificial need of this precious commodity which they take advantage of by providing it at a fee. In short, water has become a multimillion business for those investing in it and these investors will stop at nothing to maximize their profits. This is a major concern not only in Dagoretti but also in Kenya, for if the provision of water is left at the hands of private companies which see people as commodities chances are that shortage of water will increase and it will become a necessity for one to have money in order to get what otherwise would have been a social service and a right at that. This would lock out many residents in Dagoretti which is mainly inhabited by low-income earners
Although, Dagoretti is largely an informal settlement there are some few high-end estates which receive a full-time supply of fresh water. Residents living in flats and apartment blocks who part away with at least 30,000 shillings per month hardly experience these shortages. Women who live in these apartments don’t have to fetch water. Their children who don’t have to do the same are in apposition of privilege – their routines inside and after school are largely uninterrupted. They are not affected by sanitation issues in these areas as these houses are well constructed and have a drainage system that works. To some, the question of how piped water finds its way to apartments and yet does not to slum households is a riddle. It is crystal clear that the accessibility of regular water has become a matter of social status in society. It seems that the saying water is life and for all is only an idea that does not apply in some areas. If indeed water is life then everyone ought to have access to clean water for consumption and usage regardless of their economic status in society.
The water crisis and poor sanitation in Dagoretti is a saddening reality. The danger that the residents of Dagoretti get exposed to is alarming, the time and energy water shortage robs the community as they fetch and look for water instead of engaging in some economic activity that would increase their chances of upward mobility is unacceptable. Dagoretti residents living in slum areas must ask serious and difficult questions of why despite paying rent and water services landowners deny them their right to clean water and healthy sanitation services. Why is it that despite living in the same area with those who live in apartments they suffer discrimination in the provision of water? Why should one household have the privilege of taking a shower three times a day while another household struggle to even get that single shower a day? We must hold the national and county government accountable for the lack of supervision, inspection, and provision of water services, and their role in privatizing the provision of water. By all means, people should refuse and condemn privatization of water by the private corporate companies as this locks out many low-income households in the cold. If these issues are not addressed people of Dagoretti should take part in house rent boycotts against landlords who do not provide piped water and proper sanitation services.