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Access to clean water transforms Nairobi communities

Two Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) projects, funded by The Coca‑Cola Foundation, have helped install a new sewer line and water dispensers, helping to restore dignity in two urban communities in Kenya.


Many residents of Kaptagat and Biafra, two low-income settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, can clearly recall how just a few years ago, they lacked basic access to clean water and sanitation.

“It was so bad, you wouldn’t believe it,” says Njeri Kang’ethe, a landlady in Kaptagat located in the west of Nairobi. “People didn’t have access to toilets, and they were using paper bags and throwing them wherever they could. This would create a smell and was unhygienic especially for the children.”

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In Biafra on the eastern side of Nairobi ruthless vendors took advantage of residents – amongst the poorest in the country – by selling water from illegal water connections at exorbitant prices. Those that couldn’t pay were forced to trek more than 10km in search of clean water for their families, costing them potential business and employment opportunities. 

But working together with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) Project and the Kenyan water authorities, RAIN has not only improved access to clean water and sanitation for Kaptagat and Biafra residents, it has created income generating opportunities in communities with high levels of unemployment. 

The Chairman of the Kaptagat area, Francis Ndung’u recalls how a construction truck once fell into an open waste pit and had to be towed out. Ndungu’s daughter, Sarah Wamaitha adds, “It has been amazing to finally have fresh water and sewer lines. Before we used a lot of money to pay for exhausters to pump the dirty water out, but now it's flowing very well, and the rainwater doesn't flood our place anymore as there is proper drainage.”

George Mbire, a small-scale businessman in the area runs a successful washroom with running water, where he charges residents a small fee to use clean toilets, hand basins, and showers. 

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“The new sewer line has been a great help to the community,” he says. “Before this, it was terrible. We had to use exhausters (to clean out the waste tanks) every two weeks, but since we got the sewer line, the toilets are clean, and customers are happy.”

Illegal water connections which ran along the surface of Biafra’s roads have been replaced by the legal, underground water pipes installed by WSUP and the local municipal water utility service provider Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company. Prepaid water dispensers have also been installed. 

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A group of women have started laundry washing businesses near the dispensers, and their brightly coloured washing lining the streets can be seen, while their children play nearby. 

“I love these pre-paid dispensers because it is handing over power to the community,” says Gertrude Salano, a Program Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at WSUP. “They can access water 24/7 and it’s affordable at half a shilling. People used to have to pay 5 shillings for 20 litres. 

It takes the whole community to ensure that the project runs smoothly. The water dispensing technology uses a pre-paid token system, where residents can load any amount from 5 shillings to pay for clean water. Each dispensing station is managed by a young person from the community who controls the master token as part of an income generation project. They are also responsible for ensuring the upkeep and maintenance of the dispenser and reporting anything that needs fixing to the water utility company.

“One of the lessons that we've learned over time is that most communities don't have the power to operate and maintain water projects, so we strive to change that,” says Salano. “We anchor each project in mandated institutions such as the local water utility, who have the technical know-how, and the financial ability to ensure its sustainability.”

She adds that there is now no reason not to ensure that the right to access safe water and sanitation under the sixth Sustainable Development Goal is achieved for all, meaning there is no reason for people in low income urban areas to be left behind.

“My ultimate vision is that the model we’ve developed will be replicated elsewhere to ensure that the right to safe water and the right to sanitation is finally achieved for all.”

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