The wonder well of Kitui

While the international target on Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 is to halve the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water before the 2015, MDGs 4 and 5 focus on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. At community level, the three seemingly distinctive goals are intricately roped together.

Phyllis Kamene, a 40-year-old mother of five, hails from Mutulu location in Matinyani District of Kitui County, located in the lower eastern region of Kenya. The area is among the poorest in Kenya with over 56 per cent of the population living in absolute poverty. The climate of the district is arid and semi-arid, with erratic rainfall. Due to limited rainfall, surface water sources are scarce, being mainly seasonal rivers that dry up when there is no rain.

Phyllis is the coordinator of the Orphanage Women’s Self Help Group, which helps needy children in Mutulu location. In 1998, AMREF trained several members of the group as well artisans and helped them to construct wells for the community. Some other group member were trained to manage the wells. Fifteen years later, the group has built numerous wells for individuals and groups at a fee, greatly contributing to improved health and poverty reduction for themselves and members of their community.
Using well water, the group makes bricks for sale. Members have also used the financial skills they received from AMREF on well management to pool resources and venture into informal financing businesses such as table banking, giving member and non-members access to small loans for self-improvement.

The Orphanage Group operates kitchen gardens to feed its members and their families, as well as elderly people, orphans and other vulnerable children and people living with HIV in the community. “We are now able to feed the needy children, take them to school and buy them clothes,” says Phyllis.
Working in partnership with the Orphanage Group and over 100 other local groups in Kitui County, AMREF has supported construction of over 900 wells serving 87,000 people. AMREF adopts an integrated approach in implementing its programmes across the entire country. The wells form an effective entry point for interventions and improvement in other areas of health.

In Kitui where both infant and maternal mortality rates are higher than the national average, the well committees, comprised of both men and women, have provided a useful platform for discussion of maternal and child health issues, which are then cascaded to the rest of the community. The forums have helped to ensure high male involvement, which is a crucial element in decision making in regards to the health of women and children in Africa.

Whereas women had to walk long distances in the past to fetch water for domestic use, leaving them little time for other activities, proximity to the water points gives women the time to attend ante-natal clinics, as well as immunisation and child welfare clinics, improving the health of the women and their children.

A mid-term evaluation of the Makueni Maternal Newborn and Child Health project carried out in 2011 showed that 52 per cent of women had delivered with the assistance of a skilled health provider, compared with 40 per cent at the beginning of the project. There was also an increase in the number of children being immunised and receiving nutritional supplementation in the project area.

In line with this year’s World Water Day theme of ‘Water Cooperation’, AMREF’s integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health programmes, working with groups like the Orphanage Group, have demonstrated a clear improvement in health outcomes in a cost-effective way that has made a positive impact on thousands of lives in Kitui.