Jump to Content or Main Navigation

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

The Source of Our Water: Kenya

Water for Africa

Africa, Kenya

by Drew Denzin, Ololulunga, Kenya

We have two sources of water: rain and the nearby river. We try to collect as much rainwater as possible through gutters and tanks by our house. There are two rainy seasons, a long one (2–3 months) and a short one (1–2 months), and during those times water is abundant. However, due to climate changes, the seasons have shortened: For six to eight months of the year, it is extremely arid. During those times we must have water brought from the river on donkeys. This water is extremely dirty and requires the use of alum, a substance that when added to water causes the dirt particles to settle to the bottom of the tank, giving us semi-clear water. The water from the river is polluted with human and cattle waste, pesticides, and general garbage. It must be cleared with alum, boiled, then filtered again. The rainwater is clearer but still requires filtering and boiling before drinking. The general availability of water is low, which affects our ability to wash clothes and bathe during the dry months.

by Kendall Rondeau, Miharati, Kenya

I live in an area rich with water. My town is called Manjohi and is located above 8,000 ft., along the western base of the Aberdare Mountains. This is a high area, rich with many flowing rivers and fertile soil. The water pours down from the Aberdares, a protected national park, and is cold, clear, and clean. Many people drink it untreated, but I always purify mine. It tastes delicious!

Many of the farmers have joined in water projects bringing piped water to most farms. Although it is expensive, this piped water greatly reduces the time it takes to fetch water from the river. I live in a health center compound. We have piped water in the clinic and in the staff housing. Those who don't have piped water must go fetch it from a nearby river.

It rains three quarters of the year. Our dry months are from December to March, during which the water table drops, but we are never without. Many people also use roof catchment systems. Rainwater flows down the sheets of tin roofs into gutters that funnel the water into storage tanks. This seems to be the most environmentally sound way of collecting water. Unfortunately, with the ever-increasing deforestation and global climate change, this area is experiencing less and less rain.

by John and Kim Shumlansky, Mount Kenya National Forest, Kenya

The village of Kangaita (pronounced kan-guy-EE-ta) is located on the southern slopes of Mount. Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa. Because of Kangaita's proximity to the mountain, it has plenty of rain and many nearby streams that run off the mountain.

The people of Kangaita, including us, obtain water from a small stream inside the Mount Kenya National Forest. In 1998 the community obtained funding from the Peace Corps to build a water collection structure and a 2-km pipeline that brings water from the forest stream to our village of 250 people.

The quality of our water is fairly good. Since the source of our water is above human settlement and animal grazing it stays relatively clean and clear. The only time the water becomes very dirty is when the forest elephants decide to bathe in the stream above our intake structure.

The water supply is more than we can use. The heavy rains and melting glacier on the top of Mount Kenya provide an uninterrupted, year-round supply of water.

by Melissa Perry, Oyugis, Kenya

In my town water is easily accessible and available because of businesses the local people have made out of water supply. There are many individuals and groups who provide this service. They go to the river or spring to fetch the water, then bring it to town to sell. The cost is about 15 shillings for two 20-gallon jugs of water. Many people also have built roof catchement water tanks by their houses. The supply of rain is fairly good, except during the very dry season (December and January).

In a typical day I use about 6 gallons of water—2 gallons for bathing using a cup and a bucket, 1 gallon for drinking, 1.5 gallons for washing dishes, 1.5 for cooking. On laundry day I use about 25 to 30 gallons of water. With my laundry water I clean the floors of my house. I catch rainwater in a bucket to water my flowers and plants. I don't have a toilet so therefore I don't use water for flushing. I have a choo (a pit latrine in an outhouse).

by Bryce Sitter, Mobile Clinic, Kajiado, Kenya

As the crow flies, my home of Kajiado is about 175 km from the largest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. The Noultouresh spring comes from that mountain and is pumped through underground pipes. This is our main source of water, but unfortunately the output here in Kajiada is very small. People, businesses, and factories in villages along the pipeline have spliced into it so much that we only get access to water for two or three hours a week, sometimes less. Recent enterprises like flower farms, chicken farms, and a cement factory exploit the water that was intended for domestic human use. When the water comes through the tap, everything is dropped and people run for buckets, bowls, and anything that holds water. It is often chaotic and fights do break out.

We try to reuse water to conserve in any means possible. I use my water from hand-washing clothes or dishes to clean the table or floor. We can't grow vegetables or even flowers. Underground estuaries lie 250 meters below ground and through bedrock, so we can't dig wells. Water is a major concern for people. I am constantly thinking about water here. If you can speak seven words in someone's language, however, they cannot deny you drinking water.

We get an average of 502 mm of rainfall a year. In one year and two months here, I have felt rain only seven or eight times. Rain fills pans and dams, which are used to water cows. This is 4 percent of our water supply; 27 percent of our water is now from dug boreholes or wells; 70 percent of the supply is piped. A few people try catchment but with little luck. Due to high temperatures during the day, the evaporation rate is very high. Ninety-five percent of surface water is seasonal and very unreliable.

by Barbara Hinsman, Vigeze Village, Vihiga, Kenya

Although my house in Kenya has pipes, this does not guarantee that water comes through them. I live in Western Kenya's Vihiga District, which is one of the most densely populated areas of the world, with more than 110 people per square kilometer. Therefore elements of infrastructure in Vihiga, such as piped water systems, which were built in the past, are no longer adequate to supply the exploding population. The solution? Ration water by days. Mine is supposed to come for a couple of hours on Wednesday and Friday mornings, but it rarely comes on schedule, if at all.

On a "water morning" (whether it is scheduled to come that day or not) water trickles slowly out of one tap in the backyard. Pipes leading to the kitchen and bathroom stay dry, due to low water pressure. I must remain at home these mornings and collect as much water as possible to store in plastic containers, for I have no way of knowing when it will come again. Tap water looks, smells, and tastes clean, but still I boil and filter it before drinking, just to be safe.

If the tap stays dry much longer than a week, I must resort to collecting rainwater. Luckily Vihiga is a high potential area—it rains here most months of the year. I have spent many evenings eagerly watching the sky, hoping that the rains will come to fill my basins. Rainwater that runs off the overhanging roof is noticeably dirtier than the tap water, but after boiling and filtering, it is potable.

During the dry season (December to February), both tap water and rain are difficult to come by. My plastic containers run dry. Simple tasks like cooking, and washing dishes and clothes must be postponed so that I can ration the little water I have between drinking and bathing. As a last resort, I must buy water from the mamas who fetch it at the river. This water can be used around the house, but I will not consume it. One time the water I received from the river smelled like gasoline.

by Patrick Campbell, Mombasa, Kenya

Mombasa is an island in the Indian Ocean populated by about 500,000 people. Living at almost sea level surrounded by the ocean means that the water in our water table is saline. As a result our water must be piped in from the mainland. Most of our water comes from Mzima Springs, in Tsavo National Park (about 200 km away). From there it is piped to Mazeras (about 20 km away), where it is treated at the reservoir. While the water is generally considered safe, many people, like me, take the precaution of boiling the drinking water. Water vendors offer another source of water as well. They push a cart around town selling 20 liters of water (usually tap water) for between five shillings (7 cents) and fifty shillings (67 cents), depending on how scarce the water is at the time.

I am one of the lucky Peace Corps Volunteers who have running water, although it is not as reliable as one would imagine. In fact, as I write this I have been without water for two days. This is common throughout Kenya, so people have adapted methods to compensate. The building I live in, for example, has tanks on the roof that fill when the water is working and we store it until the water is not coming through the pipes for whatever reason. These tanks are connected to the plumbing in the building and help maintain a more constant water supply. However, if the water does not come back on within a few hours the tanks are depleted and the residents of the building are left to find their own sources of water until the piped water returns. Many of the people, myself included, have plastic barrels that we fill when the water is on. We can use that when the water is off.

by David Frommell, Bagoo, Rift Valley Province, Kenya

The people of Kericho District in Kenya's Rift Valley Province enjoy an annual rainfall of 1,000 mm to 2,000 mm, the equivalent of 3.25 to 6.5 feet. In fact, rain falls every day in Kericho, usually during the afternoon. The hilly topography of the district results in continual flow of many small- and medium-sized rivers. Kericho Town draws its water from one of these local rivers. The water intake is located in the Mau Forest, one of the few remaining natural forests in Kenya. From the intake, pumps drive water to a modern treatment facility. Kericho is one of the only towns of its size in Kenya to employ such a treatment works.

My house, located near Kericho Town, is supplied with piped water from the treatment system. The water flows clear and cold and tastes pure. Despite the good water quality at my home, I boil water for drinking to ensure that all pathogens are deactivated.

Kericho District has abundant water resources. The government Ministries of Health and Water supervise development of water resources. Community water supplies throughout the district incorporate rivers, wells, springs, and rooftop rainwater collection to ensure enough clean water is available to community members.

At times, the volume of water in Kericho District causes problems. El Niño rains during 1997 contributed to the degradation of many roads within Kericho. Standing water creates explosions in the numbers of mosquitoes and subsequently, in the number of malaria cases. The people of Kericho District will continue to be challenged in future years to develop their water resources in a positive manner.

by Glenna Snider, Osorongai, Kenya

The water that I use personally is collected in a concrete tank. It is rainwater, which is directed into the tank by gutters. I filter the water, then boil it before I drink it. I use the rainwater directly from the tank just to wash dishes and clothes.

Most of the people in my location cannot afford a water catchment system (gutters and storage jar or tank), so they use the water from the rivers, streams, springs, and dams. As a result of not boiling the water before they drink it, there are many cases of waterborne diseases.

During the dry season (December through March), my tank was also dry. I had used all the water, and there were no rains to fill it. I used a wheelbarrow to transport the 20-liter containers of water from the nearby dam. I could not carry the container on my head, as the women do!

World Wise Speakers

Invite a Peace Corps volunteer into your classroom to share what it's like to live a global life by sharing stories, cultures and knowledge.