Basic services elude Kenyan slum dwellers

People draw water from a burst pipe in a trench dug up for the construction of a sewage system at Githurai, a suburb 15kms north east of Kenya's capital Nairobi, on Aug. 29, 2013.  Photo/Xinhua/Sam Ndirangu

What you need to know:

  • Located on the eastern fringes of the Kenyan capital, the densely populated Korogocho slums embodies urban decay and deprivation but its residents are unbowed in their quest for a better tomorrow.

The owner of a water tracker on the roadside in the sprawling Korogocho slums in Nairobi on Saturday had no option but to employ military genius to control a swelling crowd scrambling for the precious commodity.

Located on the eastern fringes of the Kenyan capital, the densely populated Korogocho slums embodies urban decay and deprivation but its residents are unbowed in their quest for a better tomorrow.

During a Saturday morning tour of the expansive informal settlement by Xinhua, a convoy of water truckers snaked through the dusty paths to deliver a rare but expensive commodity.

As for Rosemary Wanjiru, a mother of four, the sight of clean water heralds good tidings and apprehension in equal measure as the market trader digs into her meagre savings to buy the liquid.

"My two bedroom house has no piped water and we rely on vendors who charge 0.23 U.S. dollars per jerrican of water. Water is like gold here in Korogocho and the adjacent slums," Wanjiru told Xinhua.

Several water kiosks sponsored by charity organizations dot the Korogocho landscape but can hardly quench the thirst of an estimated 250,000 people. Wanjiru regretted that cartels had taken over control of water kiosks and converted them into their personal businesses. 

A child takes a bath at a slum in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Sept. 6, 2010. Photo/Xinhua/Zhao Yingquan

"What I know is that illegal groups are happy when water scarcity persists in Korogocho since the situation creates a windfall for them. There are so many unauthorized people supplying the commodity at a huge cost," said Wanjiru. Endemic water scarcity in Korogocho weighs heavily on women and children as they spend lengthy hours in the queue to purchase the commodity from informal vendors.

The urban poor in Kenya have to contend with not only economic deprivation but also lack of access to essential services including water, sanitation, health, education and shelter.

Citizen watchdogs last week (Friday) warned that Nairobi slums could become havens of crime and other social disruptions unless the county government invests in basic services.

Speaking during the launch of a service delivery mapping report for Nairobi slums, the Executive Director, Citizens against Violence, Olang Sana noted that access to basic services remains a pipe dream in the informal settlements.

"There are still persistent service delivery gaps in Nairobi slums yet a redress is not in sight. The new constitution is clear that socio-economic rights of every Kenyan must be protected," Sana said.

The Service Delivery Mapping Report revealed a negligible improvement in provision of critical services like clean water, sanitation, health and shelter in the informal settlements since March 4 general election. Advocates agreed that Nairobi county government should involve citizens in design and execution of projects that improve livelihoods.

"Many slum residents have to contend with dismal service delivery. Broken infrastructure, insecurity, poverty and neglect have conspired to deny these people a dignified livelihood," Sana intoned.

Residents fetch water from a water point at Mathare slum in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Oct. 17, 2012. PHOTO/Xinhua/Sam Ndirangu

The service delivery mapping report noted that access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation, modern health facilities, education and shelter are the most pressing needs among slum dwellers.

The tragic reality of living on the margins dawned on Hosea Mutua five years ago as the casual laborer retreated to a one bedroom shanty in Korogocho slums. Mutua works in construction sites but the meagre wages cannot guarantee him a decent lifestyle.

"Life is not very rosy here and every morning, you must be prepared to part with half a dollar to purchase water for bathing and domestic uses. The worst nightmare is to imagine where this water was sourced from," Mutua told Xinhua in an open market in Korogocho.

He revealed that many residents have fallen sick after drinking contaminated water. "There are dispensaries in every corner but you can never tell whether services provided are up to standard. We are given tablets that only relieve the pain despite the severity of the ailment," said Mutua.

Improved service delivery in the informal settlements will not only transform livelihoods, but also foster harmonious co- existence among different ethnic groups. The Chairman of Westlands Informal Settlements Resident Association Peter Musi emphasized that inadequate access to basic services is the root cause of recurrent strife in Nairobi slums.

"It is not possible to have peace and stability in this city if 65 percent of the population that live in the slums endure prolonged torment due to water scarcity, hunger and disease," Musi told Xinhua. (Xinhua)


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