Health and Nutrition
by Drew Denzin, Ololulunga, Kenya
Our drinking water is not fresh, and many people (including our students) take no precautions to make sure it is safe. Many times we have seen our students dip their cup in the river and drink it. They don't believe that it can make them sick. Our community does nothing to purify the water, though some more educated people use chlorine or boil the water before drinking or cooking with it. Many people do not invest in gutters and tanks to collect rainwater. Most just go to the river for water (which is something Jen and I can't understand). While rain is scarce, the water is much cleaner.
Our water is contaminated by pesticides from nearby large-scale farms, manure, human wastes, erosion of soil—just about anything you can think of. Many people rinse out petrol cans in the river as well. Most people here seem to have amazing immune systems. But waterborne diseases and sickness from contaminated water are common.
by Kendall Rondeau, Miharati, Kenya
Those who have piped water have fresh water. That water comes straight down the mountains and is hardly contaminated. But there is a village of squatters in Wanjohi that is very poor. They fetch from the Wanjohi River, which comes a long way through farmland before heading toward the Wanjohi town. Health officials here often comment that the villagers "let the silt settle down to the bottom and then say the water is clean!" Typhoid outbreaks are common. Obviously they are not boiling their water; if you ask, however, they'll assure you that they are. Fortunately most people drink only chai—a hot tea which requires boiling. Otherwise I think there would be more typhoid outbreaks.
Many days walking home I see small children (and sometimes even adults) stop at the river for a quick drink. Schoolchildren fill their water bottles. I try to explain about typhoid, but usually the people just shrug at me and continue to drink.
by John and Kim Shumlansky, Mount Kenya National Forest, Kenya
Our water is fresh and clean but it is not treated enough to remove all the possible disease-causing organisms. The intake structure contains a series of screens and filters that removes the larger particles of dirt, stones, and debris from trees and other vegetation that fall into the stream. It also keeps crabs, insects, and even frogs from getting into the pipeline. Unfortunately the screens are not able to keep out the microscopic organisms from animal droppings, insects, and bacteria. Therefore many people in the village take the precaution of boiling all drinking water.
Some people still feel immune to disease and drink the water directly from the tap. Since the water appears clean they believe it is healthful. It can often take some time before everyone learns that clear, clean-looking water doesn't always mean that the water is free from disease-causing microorganisms. Drinking and bathing in contaminated water can result in illnesses that can keep people from doing their work and making a living. Contaminated water can also cause death and greatly impact the development of our community.
by Melissa Perry, Oyugis, Kenya
My water usually comes from a spring that is protected and well maintained by the Kenya Red Cross, so it should be fairly safe drinking water. However, I still boil my water and then filter it. Most of the families in my area boil their water for drinking.
Since I've been in Oyugis, there has been a small outbreak of typhoid fever, which comes from water. There has also been a cholera outbreak. Cholera causes severe diarrhea and it can lead to death within a few days. This more often affects people in the very rural areas.
by Bryce Sitter, Mobile Clinic, Kajiado, Kenya
The goats and cows can't get nourishment from the grass; they don't give milk and are susceptible to disease. We constantly get boils, scabies, and other skin problems from not properly washing. We must boil our water, and a few filter it. The spring of Kilimanjaro is surprisingly clear, but it runs through miles of pipes before I see it. The Maasai have lived here for years and years and still can't be convinced to boil or filter the water. Their immune systems have adapted, and they are very tolerant of living with worms, stomach bugs, and other waterborne diseases. When collecting water, they simply scatter the green algae at the surface and fetch the water just under the surface. It is rude to reject a gift offering of tea called chai, and I have been sick from drinking bad water or eating uncooked meat. I'm surprised, though, how much more tolerant of sickness I've become since coming here.
by Barbara Hinsman, Vigeze Village, Vihiga, Kenya
Although tap water and rainwater look, smell, and taste clean, I boil and filter water from both sources, just to be safe. Surprisingly many Kenyans in my area also boil their water before drinking it, but filtering is uncommon. I have heard some mamas complain that to boil water takes too long and requires too much fuel. This explains the high incidence of dysentery among Kenyans. I once heard that one-third of Kenyans have permanent amoebic dysentery without even realizing it, due to its cyclic nature of making one feel sick for a few days and then fine for a few weeks before becoming active again. Drinking river water can be especially dangerous, because both human and livestock waste, plus various chemicals from surrounding farms, contaminate it. I was told by a friend never to eat sugarcane (which is eaten raw) that grows near a river, because I will become sick. Even cattle that graze near some rivers can become very ill.
Most people here do know the importance of clean drinking water. Many women and children walk long distances daily to a clean water source, such as a protected spring, rather than use the river water that runs through their backyards. Rainwater is considered to be very clean. Families often save their money for years in order to build a roof catchment system, which collects the rain in gutters and directs it to a large storage tank. If water becomes a concern throughout the community, villagers will sometimes pool their resources and, often with the help of a nongovernmental organization or another aid organization, they will collectively build a water pump and storage tank for use by all.
Those who have access to clean water are usually generous with it as well. One of the farmers I work with, Mr. Edalia, owns one of the only water tanks in his village. During a time of drought, or on any occasion when large amounts of water are needed (like a wedding or funeral), Mr. Edalia graciously allows other villagers to come and collect water from his tank. He claims his 1,000-liter tank stores enough water to supply his family year-round, plus a little extra for the community when needed.
by Patrick Campbell, Mombasa, Kenya
The piped water in my area is treated, making it relatively safe. Many of us boil our drinking water as an added precaution. The two most common forms of contamination here are from sewage and salt water. Contaminated water affects people who are limited in their options and sources of water.
by David Frommell, Bagoo, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
The water works in Kericho Town draws water from a freshwater river in the Mau Forest, a gazetted (protected) forest. The community takes great measures to ensure a clean water supply. The forest intake is 15 to 20 kilometers from town, deep in the forest; the treatment works sits about 13 kilometers from the town center. These distances prevent contamination by pollution from farms and industries.
The Mau Forest is owned and protected by the government of Kenya. Development, farming, and tree harvesting are forbidden by law within the forest, which lies almost entirely within Kericho District. The treatment works was built at great expense, considering the distances involved for moving water. A German corporation sponsored and funded the multimillion-dollar construction project, which is now managed by the town council. The Kericho Town's progress, in matters related to clean water, is immeasurable.
Unfortunately, the municipal water supply fails to reach every home in the district. Many families are forced to use local streams, wells, and springs for their water needs. Many communities form self-help groups, which undertake water projects to protect local sources from contamination or to construct rooftop rainwater catchment systems. Such groups make direct investments of money, time, and sweat to provide themselves and their children with clean water.
Families that cannot afford to invest in protected water supplies use water drawn from sources that may be contaminated with pesticides, viruses, bacteria, or protozoa. Those with enough resources boil their water using wood, kerosene, propane, or charcoal. Others drink unboiled water, commonly resulting in illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, giardia, amoebic dysentery, and other forms of dysentery. Such diseases claim many lives and adversely impact Kericho's productivity, whether measured in school days, agricultural output, or work hours. Although my local community is blessed with well-designed water facilities, much work is needed to ensure a safe water supply for the entire district.
by Glenna Snider, Osorongai, Kenya
Most of the water supplies in my area are contaminated. Animals are free to drink from the water sources, and there are no safeguards to prevent other wastes from washing into the water collection points. There are many families that do not have pit latrines, so human waste is also a problem.
It is very important that public health workers live in communities such the one where I live, so they can teach on a daily basis the importance of water sanitation.