10 Letters from Kibera

Letter 6

Water collection in Kibera

The length of time waiting in the queue depends but at times we might wait there for up to three hours for just to get two jerrycans of water.

Kibera, being amongst one of the biggest slums in the world has the biggest number of slum dwellers who undergo many challenges.

One of these challenges is water collection as most shacks do not have running water.

The quality and quantity of water is a huge challenge to slum dwellers. Not long ago there was an outbreak of cholera due to the poor quality of water. Outbreaks are not that common but when they occur they have devastating consequences. This outbreak came about as the pipes bringing water to the slum passed through a number of unhealthy areas such as sewage and dumping sites and due to pipe leakage and breaks in the pipes the water became contaminated and unsafe for human use. Some thieves had punched holes in the water line so as to get water instead of queuing for hours. Unfortunately, the waste from the open sewer drain mixed with the water, the result was that a cholera outbreak broke out before people realised and so many contracted cholera and died.

Another ongoing problem is the distance from the home shacks to the water collection points. In many cases it could be up to 1k between the collection point and the shack. This forces people, mostly women and girls, to wake up at 4.00 am (it is unsafe for young girls to go out at night) and start the daily routine of fetching water. Females in the slum will often carry one or two 20 litre jerrycans on their backs as they feel its faster and less tiring than using hands and arms. That equates to a weight of 44lbs a can and of course if you are carrying two jerrycans you can double that weight. Some women can make as many as three or four trips a day since the water is needed for different chores. As so many trips have to be made the younger children who are not strong enough to carry the water, stand in the line queuing as the mother and older children rush home to deliver the water and get back for the next refill. The length of time waiting in the queue depends but at times we might wait there for up to three hours for just to get two jerrycans of water.

The water points are situated at water shops at different locations where we go and queue and pay according to the litres used. A standard rate for one 20 litre jerrycan is 5ksh (the equivalent of 4p) yet that is barely enough for one person to use and the larger the family living in Kibera the more trips required. The cost is reckoned to be more than the cost of water in New York or London yet Kibera is one of the poorest places on this planet.Of course the good water is not for washing clothes, for this we go to the streams, that pass by near the settlement, which are free. The streams are also good for bathing the children though they may rinse off with a small bowl of bought water. The fact that a lot of people in the hood do not have toilets and use the river to relieve themselves does not necessarily put people off from washing – if you don’t have the money or time to buy water there is nothing else that a poor family can do.