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Clean drinking water remains elusive for many

Wednesday March 23 2016



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One in three homes in Kenya still lacks access to a safe source of drinking water, putting their occupants at risk of disease and premature death.

As the world marks World Water Day today, water and sanitation data reviewed by Nation Newsplex showed that only 12.5 per cent, or one in eight, of rural dwellers in Kenya have access to water piped into a dwelling or plot, compared to 40 per cent, or four in 10, of urban dwellers.

Significant numbers cannot yet afford to have piped water, with nearly 40 per cent of rural dwellers spending half an hour or more in search of drinking water.

Dirty water and poor sanitation cause diarrhoea in children, which kills about 5,400 children aged under five in Kenya annually, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death in children aged under five years old worldwide and the third in Kenya, after complications related to birth and pneumonia, Unicef data also shows. Diarrhoeal diseases also rank among the top five causes of illness in Kenya, for both adults and children.


Around the world, 660 million people or a tenth of the world's population, do not have access to safe water, yet it is crucial for economic growth.

“Access to a safe and reliable water supply and sanitation services at home and the workplace, coupled with appropriate hygiene, is critical to maintaining a healthy, educated and productive workforce, said Mr Stefan Uhlenbrook, Co-ordinator of the World Water Assessment Programme.


The theme for this year's World Water Day, “Water and Jobs”, was chosen to highlight how water can create decent, paid work and contribute to a greener economy and sustainable development.

From its collection, through various uses to its ultimate return to the natural environment, water is a key factor in the development of job opportunities.

Some are directly related to its management including supply, infrastructure and wastewater treatment, while others are related to economic sectors that depend heavily on water such as agriculture, fishing, electricity generation, manufacturing and health. The farming, fisheries, and forestry sectors alone employ nearly one billion people around the world.

Investments in water-related infrastructure can be highly cost-effective, generating positive returns across different sectors of the economy. For example, in the United States, Mr Uhlenbrook says, every job invested in the water and sanitation sector generates three jobs outside the sector.

Around the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that every shilling invested in improving water supply and sanitation services yields gains of Sh4 to Sh12, depending on the type of intervention.

“Water is work. It requires workers for its safe and clean delivery. At the same it can improve the quality of the lives of workers,” said ILO Director-General and Chair of UN-Water Guy Ryder in a video message.

Fishermen depends on the quality of fresh water for their catch while farmers depend on clean water to grow crops and raise animals.

Despite their importance, workers in water-related occupations, who amount to half of all the workers in the world, remain unrecognised and unprotected. “About 1.5 billion people work in water, many of whom are not recognised for the work they do, or protected by basic labour rights,” said Mr Ryder.

A young woman in Kenya who has to walk for hours to fetch water for her home does a taxing job that is neither paid nor recognised. If the delivery of water to homes were assured, she would use the time saved to learn skills or generate an income.


In fact, nearly 40 per cent of rural households and 11 per cent of urban households in Kenya spend half an hour or longer in search of water for drinking.

Water scarcity already affects almost every continent and more than 40 per cent of the people on our planet. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Kenya is on course to be among these countries. Today, Kenya’s water towers are threatened, putting 70 per cent of Kenya’s water supply at risk.

Between 2000 and 2010 Kenya suffered a loss of 62 billion litres of water as well as a loss in aquatic biodiversity and resources accompanied by a rise in respiratory diseases and malaria. During the same decade, the country lost about 1.7 million hectares, or nearly three per cent, of its forest cover.

Kenya has 29 water towers spread across the country from the South Coast mangroves in the country’s south most tip to Loima Hills in Turkana County. According to the Kenya Water Towers Status Report that was released recently, 11 of the 29 have not been gazetted and need to be gazetted to ensure, protection, conservation and enhancement for the benefit of future generations.

Forest cover is crucial to a water tower and plays a crucial part in the water cycle by influencing the interception of rainfall, evaporation, the infiltration of water into soil and underground storage.