By Daisy Serem
TURKANA, Kenya, 29 November 2012 - At Namukuse Village, in Turkana Central District, northwestern Kenya, sandy landscape leads to the shores of Lake Turkana. The lake is the fourth largest in Africa and a source of livelihood for the fishing community that lives along its shores.
Yet, despite the huge water resource at its doorstep, access to safe drinking water has been a problem for the community for many years.
Water poses health risks
Lake Turkana is a saltwater lake with high levels of fluoride. The water is unsafe for consumption. However, with no other alternatives, residents have been forced to drink this water in order to survive.
According to District Public Health Officer Innocent Sifuna, the continued use of lake water causes deformities of the limbs because of the high salinity and fluoride. Cholera cases have also been high in the region, with devastating outbreaks that have mainly affected children.
“Studies have showed that these conditions have been caused by use of Lake Turkana water,” says Mr. Sifuna.
Along with lack of access to clean water, lack of proper sanitation and hygiene facilities and practices has been a major challenge. Diarrhoeal diseases have been common; recurrent outbreaks have contributed to the high child mortality rates in Turkana.
Jacinta Asinyen, a mother of six, sits under a palm tree facing the lake. She weaves a basket for sale. Her youngest son, 3-year-old Sunday, sits next to her watching his mother’s handiwork.
Three of Ms. Asinyen’s children, including young Sunday, have limb deformities such as bow legs or knock knees.
“I have been using this salty water for drinking and cooking,” she says, “and I realized that my children were having health problems, especially with their bones.”
WASH project pipes in clean water
UNICEF, in partnership with the Government of the Netherlands, the Government of Kenya and the Kenya Red Cross, is addressing the water problems among communities in the Lobolo, Namukuse and Longech villages of Turkana Central District. A water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project has been set up to benefit 7,600 residents at a cost of US$253,730.
The project taps a natural, safe and reliable underground spring, the water of which is further filtered to provide clean water to the community. An environmentally friendly solar pumping system pumps the water to a reservoir closer to the community. Water is delivered to beneficiary communities through a 26 km pipeline.
Access to improved drinking water has made a real difference in the community, especially for the children. Today, for only ten Kenya shillings, Ms. Asinyen fills her 20 litre jerrican at one of the local water kiosks and heads to her home just a few minutes away, Sunday in tow.
WASH in schools helps girls’ enrolment
Sanitation and hygiene components of the project have also had a great impact on the children’s lives. Gender-sensitive segregated latrines have been constructed to address hygiene and sanitation in the four local schools, as well as in the health dispensary that serves the three villages.
Girls who have had to stay at home during their menses because of lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities no longer have to miss school.
“Now we can come to this bathroom and clean ourselves and change, then go back to class and study, just as any other student,” says Diana Akai, 16, who is president of the school’s WASH Committee.
Community manages project
Netherlands Ambassador to Kenya His Excellency Joost Reintjes recently visited Turkana, where he and other delegates were treated to music, dance and poetry.
“We were shown around by children from Namukuse Primary School, and they showed us how they now wash their hands. They do it better than I do,” said Ambassador Reintjes. “They know how to use their toilets, and have been educated about hygiene and their health. I think that is very good.”
The WASH project has been handed over to the community to ensure efficient and transparent use of the resource. “We are happy to see that schools, health centres and the community are benefiting from this project, and our call to the community and national administration is to manage and maintain this project for sustainability,” says UNICEF Kenya Representative Marcel Rudasingwa.