By Asiya Mohamed:
Proper Sanitation is a constitutional right in Kenya, the responsibility for which rests on the shoulders of the County Government. Universal access to improved sanitation yields maximum health, social and economic benefits.
Did you know that Wajir County loses 854 million KES each year due to poor sanitation? (Ministry of Health, 2014 Water and Sanitation program), This includes losses due to access time (medical access time), premature death, health care costs and productivity. This estimate does not include some costs that could be significant (such as water pollution) and is therefore likely to under-estimate the true cost of poor sanitation.
Source: Ministry of Health, 2014 Water and Sanitation program (Wajir County).
And this brings me to my question on Wajir Water & Sewerage Company (WAJIR WASCO), what does it do? For a county like Wajir that boasts of its development and devolution as a dream and envy for other counties in NEP, doesn’t have a functional water and sewerage system? And we can’t talk about development if only 15.3% of population in Wajir County has access to improved sanitation and the remaining 84.7% have no access and defecate in the bushes? I would presume the county officials responsible for the water and sanitation in the county know what the percentages mean.
MSF had warned the Wajir County Authorities in February of an outbreak of Cholera. In a recent publication, “Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is warning that the substandard water and sanitation situation is creating ideal conditions for a future increase in cholera cases. While today patient numbers in the cholera treatment centre in Wajir Hospital are stable, the organization is urging for an immediate improvement in sanitation services to avoid another spike in the outbreak…. Many of the water sources are drying up and the lack of sufficient human waste disposal in the area means there is a high potential for further spread of the disease”. Was this warning heeded at all? Apparently no, that is why Wajir South MP, Abdullahi Diriye, complained loudly once the Cholera outbreak hit Sarif and other outlying posts in is constituency. The MP was quoted in the media as saying, “County health officials were overwhelmed by the number of people displaying signs of the disease who were seeking treatment. (Daily Nation, 30th March 2016). This is shocking, how can a county Government that claims to have sufficient medical facilities and resources, be so lackluster in responding to such emergency?
And that brings us round the cycle again, officials at Hospitals and various Health Centres are complaining that the County government is not doing all the necessary actions in handling the outbreak. This is audibly clarified by the Association of Public Health Officers in Kenya (Aphok) union’s national Secretary-General Mr Mohamed Duba. He says that majority of the governors have hired their allies to head health dockets in their respective counties for political mileage. Mr. Duba stated that “Almost all the 47 counties have this problem and this is why diseases such as cholera and yellow fever have hit the country in a big way,” (Daily Nation, 31st March 2016). The big question is, is this a factor in Wajir?
A senior County government official once told us, that cholera is persistent in Wajir because of horribly poor sanitation. He said that and I quote “Unhygienic conditions are basically causing Cholera”. Poor sanitation is killing us, why is it not a priority? Shouldn’t this be an emergency for both National and County Governments? The poor Sanitation is at an undesirable state but we only see pictures about Sanitation, but no action. Let’s also remember the Wajir Sewerage project stalled and was written off.
I quote one town administrator who said “Sanitation services in Wajir County got a big boost after the town administration acquired waste disposal machines and equipment worth millions of shillings. …he said the equipment will enhance waste collection and disposal which will in turn spruce up the image of the town. Received items include two tractors, two trailers, two cesspits emptier, a skip loader and a backhoe tractor”. Two questions arise out of his statement, first apart from continuing the age old ideas of emptying cesspools and buckets, what other ideas have been fronted to solve the sanitation crisis in Wajir? (Nep Journal, March 18 2016). Secondly, why are we focusing the county resources only on Wajir town? Why can’t we hear about these similar equipment delivered in the wards and sub-counties outside the main town? I didn’t hear anything about that? And how are they of use to the county at large, if they cannot help curb the cholera outbreak that has been in the county? And look at these statistics before claiming the knowledge in whatsoever the Wajir County Government has to say or has said about the water and sanitation issue. Wajir has a water poverty index of 63.5 classified as very high with less than 30% of the population having access to 20 liters per person per day (WESCOOD KAP survey 2013). Only 6% of households in Tarbaj, Wajir East and South were reported to be treating water, (SMART survey Save/GoK June 2014). While the main water sources include boreholes, shallow wells and water pans the county’s latrine coverage is reported to be 30% (KFSSG/CSGLRA 2014 report). There is low latrine coverage as the community believes in common toilet use. (Save survey report June 2014).
Availability and accessibility of water is major challenge in all the livelihood zones, so what is the County Government doing other than claiming political affiliations and extortions derailing the development agenda? Can we be of help to our own people other than claims and understating the power we hold?. We have to fight cholera and ensure we save the lives of our people by working to improve their access to clean water and not just stating it at public functions. And did you know that the information available in the county website is not as much useful? I was looking for the Water and sanitation department, to my awe, there is neither. The county government has got only 2 sanitation related projects, which are building toilets and Dumpsite improvements. The County Government of Wajir seems to be engaging in the same tokenism and short-term projects as the NGOs and the CDF. Long-term, problem-solving and prioritization doesn’t seem to be its strength.
There is no question that clean, affordable drinking water is essential to the health of our community. The only safe drinking water in Wajir County today is the bottled water that is sold in every corner of the town, less than 30% of the population can afford bottled water. Improving and expanding water treatment and sanitation systems is more likely to provide safe and sustainable sources of water over the long term and will also curb the health issues we seem to be facing in Wajir County. The numbers seem overwhelming, and yet there are solutions available to help people in such dire situations get safe, sustainable access to life’s most basic need – clean water and basic sanitation.
We have a chance to make a difference, to break the cycle of sickness and poverty and to save the lives of men, women and children who should not be forced to battle every day just to get a clean drink of water, that isn’t contaminated. No other intervention has a greater overall impact on economic development and public health in the county than creating cost-effective access to clean water and proper sanitation.
Asiya is the manager, Salah Abdi Sheikh’s Wajir County gubernatorial campaign Team. She can be reached on her email email@example.com