I left my instructor’s office desiring to take a walk for a while before boarding public transport.
I had been taking some vocational classes on electrical installation with a desire to expand my possibilities in this tough economy.
But to get to where I wanted, I had to go through the valley.
But not just any valley…
Mathare valley to be precise.
A neighbourhood often painted infamously yet filled with an innovative and energetic population.
I had crossed the valley a few times before.
However this time I decided to do so as I sampled freshly fried fish to take home for supper.
But what drives Mathare valley is the sea of people…
Energetic persons deeply immersed in their hustle ready to make ends meet.
Being an informal settlement, Mathare valley lacks basic facilities such as water distribution, sanitation and planning.
So it wasn’t a surprise to notice women and children lining up their containers next to a water distribution ATM.
Water ATMs are established by non government organizations seeking to fill the gap left by failed government institutions.
The main aim of such establishments is to avail clean and safe water at a subsidized cost.
A seemingly lower cost that’s still too high for the poorest of the poor…
A cost that is still too exorbitant for those struggling to eke out a living in the informal sector most of whom live there.
To complicate matters further, one could still notice water trucks on the move seemingly distributing the much needed water to people.
As innocent as it looked many water distribution companies thrive on inefficiencies of municipal water distribution especially in informal settlements.
Infact, such ‘failures’ are sometimes designed by municipal/ county officials in order to use their briefcase water distribution companies to profiteer out of people’s misery.
An artificial shortage is even created in order to spike water prices making poor people to pay more.
So as the most vulnerable struggle to afford the most basic of commodities, what options do they have?
It’s no surprise to find women and children fetching water from surrounding runoffs to supplement their daily needs.
Though it might look understandable, surface water flowing through densely populated zones is rarely clean.
Most of these water streams function as dumping zones due to population pressure, lack of sanitation, makeshift garages and industries located upstream.
So a picture of women and their children fetching such contaminated water for use is simply mind boggling.
But they’re not pushed there by default but by design.
The poor not only pay a greater price for water but are thrown under the bus by a society that cares less about the environment they live in.
Small wonder that some residents in the Kibra informal settlement fetch water from Nairobi dam;
A water body with samples confirmed to have over a 1000 fold toxic heavy metal levels compared to the maximum allowable limits set by the WHO…
Metals whose effects are well documented and known.
Take lead metal for instance who’s neurotoxic effects on children are clear for all to see.
A nation’s poor population is held hostage by a dangerous environment which is destroying not only their present but their future.
Even in a nation grappling with the ravages of COVID-19, people in settlements like Mathare and Kibra care less about washing hands than they do about the availability of water to drink.
As a member of the fast vanishing middle-class, I have the luxury of sparing a few litres of water per day to wash my hands…
Something that simply doesn’t add up for the poorest of the poor.
Isn’t it a paradox that in a country where each of us is expected to be patriotic, the cost of the most basic commodity necessary for life is so skewed against the poorest?
Even as the world is startled by racial injustice in the United States, a major dimension of this inequality is driven by lack of access to basic needs by the most disadvantaged.
Water is one such basic need.
In western nations, this inequality plays off in racial terms.
However in nations such as Kenya, it plays off in class disparity.
A nation must guarantee quality of life for all it’s citizens.
It takes the simplest of things to either unite or divide us.
And clean drinking water is no exception.