For numerous families in rural Kenya without piped water, buying water from private vendors can cost a huge proportion of their meager household income, causing families to resort to untreated water from wells, rivers, and streams. However, the situation is different in Kanyone – one of the rural villages in northern Kenya.
Residents of Kanyoni village have a reason to smile because for them, access to clean and affordable water is not a problem.
One such happy resident is Joyce Wanjiku, a mother of two. Wanjiku, in her early twenties is popularly known as Mama Charity, a name after one of her daughters. Kanyoni is located in Nanyuki, at the foot of Mt Kenya, over 200 Km, north of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Kanyoni means “small bird” in Gikuyu language. The village derived the name from a Whiteman from Europe who was a wheat farmer known as Canyon. Due to local language interference, many community members could not pronounce the name Canyon; they decided to get an easier alternative – Kanyoni. Like some of the 650 residents of Kanyoni, Wanjiku used to trek for long distances looking for clean and safe water, or alternatively draw it from the nearby River Nanyuki, which flows from Mt Kenya. However, now they have piped water flowing from their taps. Wanjiku, like other nine tenants, share the water and electricity bills each month. She says the nine tenants share the water bill of about KShs 900-950 each month, which they pay to Nanyuki Water and Sewerage Company (NAWASCO).
“Five months ago, we got an erroneous water bill of KShs 4,000,” Wanjiku narrates further stressing that, “we felt bad. We shared the exorbitant bill amongst ourselves.”
Kanyoni is now blessed to have two water kiosks which sell water to the residents at KSh. 3 per 20 litre, after buying it from NAWASCO at Shs 2. Compared to Uganda, the water sold at the kiosks is relatively cheaper. In Uganda’s capital Kampala, a 20 litre jerrycan goes for an equivalent of about KShs 6. The extra shilling the water kiosks charge in Kanyoni, is a profit for them. With the help of Transparency International, Kenya (TI-Kenya), Kanyoni has set up a five member committee that ensures they demand for transparent availability of clean and safe water. Currently, there is a 15, 000 litre tank which supplies 650 residents with water from water kiosks or in people’s homes.
According to James Maina Macharia, one of the water committee members, residents are more empowered to demand for the rights and for accountability.
“We normally meet with the residents and talk about the problems they are facing and advantages and disadvantages of treated water,” Maina notes further stressing that, “most people now use water from the two kiosks. Some have already their own water from Nanyuki Water and Sewerage Company.”
He notes that water scarcity in the area is rare because there is a river and mainly the 15, 000 litre water tank from NAWASCO. However, he says, since wild animals in Mt Kenya National Park where River Nanyuki flows from, wallow in it, the water from the river “isn’t used directly” because it is always dirty.
“We got the tank here, the distributor from the company. The water is very good. We mostly have clean treated water from the plant. So there is no scarcity of water.”
He says much as residents can get as much water as they want from River Nanyuki, it is better for residents to fetch the water from the plant.
Unlike before, “it is very safe today because there are no water borne diseases. It was caused by the dirty river, because they (residents) used to fetch and use the water direct. But today we have treated water.”
As far as water is concerned, Maina adds that TI- Kenya has empowered them, as a committee, to ask concerned authority relevant and follow up questions.
This news item was written by Paschal B. Bagonza, Mary Mwendwa and Gasirigwa Sengiyumva in combination with their participation in the training on water integrity for journalists in East Africa that took place in July 2012 in Kenya.