Many families in developing countries, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. Proper sanitation facilities are also rare, particularly in informal settlements and peri-urban areas. Despite the valiant efforts by local and national governments, international NGOs, foundations and corporations to bring clean water and sanitation facilities to sub-Saharan Africa, lower income residents often lack access to these basic needs that so many of us in the developed world take for granted.
UN Millennium Development Goal 7C stipulates that the number of people without sustainable access to water and basic sanitation be halved by 2015. The Millennium Cities Initiative recently conducted a needs assessment to explore water and sanitation in Kisumu, Kenya, one of the underserved urban areas in which we work, in an effort to assess the situation and make recommendations to help the City achieve MDG 7C.
While Kisumu has made considerable progress in recent years, problems persist. Sadly, water-borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid contribute to numerous deaths every year. Kisumu’s water production is not keeping pace with its rapid population growth, while the existing infrastructure is operating at between 85 and 93% of its design capacity.
The greatest challenges lie in the peri-urban areas and informal settlements, where the water source is often unreliable and sanitation systems are insufficient. To make matters worse, water prices in those areas tend to be beyond reach, since vendors typically charge rates 50% higher than those offered by the utility company. As a result, residents often rely on shallow wells and boreholes, where the chances of cross-contamination are high. In addition, sewer bursts and blockages – a major source of groundwater contamination, waterborne diseases and environmental pollution – are common in Kisumu.
Our research found that at a cost of approximately $17 per capita per year, Kisumu can attain the water and sanitation MDG by 2015. In our needs assessment, we suggest a number of areas for improvement, such as increasing water production and revenue collection, making it possible to provide quality water to low-income residents; rehabilitating sewers and related infrastructure; and developing recycling and other low-cost, environmentally friendly sanitation options. Recommended solutions include a simplified sewerage system for informal settlements, composting toilets for peri-urban areas, and collection and processing centers that can turn waste into biomethane and fertilizer.
Fortunately, the City of Kisumu is already taking a number of critical steps to make improvements in its water supply and sanitation systems. Several projects have been initiated in partnership with NGOs and foreign development agencies. Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD) has pledged a KShs 1.7 billion (€20 million) soft loan to improve water supply and sanitation services. The first phase of this project has been completed, leading to several improvements for the city; among them, an extension of the water network to the informal settlements, the construction of water kiosks and the rehabilitation of water treatment plants to meet their original design capacity. The second and final phase is longer-term; its objectives include building new intakes, new treatment plants and a new sewerage system. The AFD has also sponsored some smaller projects, including an effort to form public-private partnerships, to increase water and sanitation coverage in the informal settlements of Nyalenda and Manyatta, where MCI is also concentrating significant effort.
CORDAID, a Dutch NGO, has developed an “Urban Matters” program to address water and sanitation also in Manyatta, as well as other infrastructure challenges such as housing and urban transportation. This program revolves around a common action plan developed by both Dutch and Kisumu officials.
Boulder, CO, Kisumu’s “Sister City,” has committed to supporting two self-sustainable projects. The first is an effort to bring a water pump and storage tank, modern toilets and an underground pipeline to Khudo School in Obunga, an informal settlement. This joint pre-school, primary and secondary school has no functioning toilets and relies on collected rainwater from a dilapidated catchment as its only source of water for more than 1200 students. Boulder’s second project will address the Migosi Market and Trading Centre’s sanitation challenges by building a toilet and public shower facility together with a water pump and storage tank and connecting them to the city’s electrical supply and sewerage network.
These projects, all of which MCI has helped to facilitate, represent impressive commitments to the people of Kisumu. If such endeavors are successful and sustainable, perhaps they will inspire continued efforts to bring clean water and sanitation systems not only to Kisumu, but to other Millennium Cities and across sub-Saharan Africa, thereby improving tremendously the public health of this vital region and its millions of inhabitants.