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Solar water disinfection saves lives, money in largest Kenyan slum

Page history last edited by Rosemary 8 years, 4 months ago

Effective community mobilization, participation is key to KWAHO's success in promoting SODIS in Kibera

The sun, recycled plastic bottles, an award-winning Swiss technique, and a strong locally-driven social marketing campaign have brought clean water to thousands of people living in Kibera slum, just outside the Kenyan capital, over the past four years. The solar water disinfection campaign (SODIS) is led by the Kenya Water for Health Organisation (KWAHO), a national non-governmental organisation that has been working for three decades to improve water and sanitation services in Kenya, and it is improving health, reducing disease and saving fuel that used to be used for boiling water.

In Kibera, home to more than half of Nairobi's one million residents and Africa’s largest informal settlement, most residents get water from privately owned kiosks that are connected to the main municipal system and may each serve a thousand people or more, resulting in long line-ups. Other residents must buy water from water trucks that come from outside the slum and whose prices per litre can increase dramatically during the dry season. The truly desperate obtain water from the polluted Ngong River.

KWAHO has been working in Kibera since 1987, focusing in particular on women and children. It has provided water kiosks in the nine villages of Kibera; promoted health and hygiene education; helped residents build sanitation facilities; provided training on use and care of installed water and sanitation facilities; and encouraged income-generating activities related to water and managed by women groups, as well as caring for the aged, orphans and people living with HIV/AIDS.

SODIS, or solar water disinfection, is one of its most successful sanitation programs. Users pour contaminated water into ordinary clear plastic bottles, and put them in direct sunlight – often on the corrugated metal roofs of their homes – for six hours, where the sun’s ultraviolet rays remove the pathogens that cause water borne disease. At the household level, SODIS is a cheap, practical water treatment method that saves the time and fuel needed to boil water, improves childrens’ health and nutrition dramatically, and protects the environment by reusing plastic bottles.

KWAHO attributes the success of the program, which began in March 2004,  to intensive mobilization of the community, formation of users groups and committees, and effective SODIS promoters and users reaching people door to door. Kaltuma Tahir, a 48-year-old mother of six, is nicknamed "Mama SODIS" by the community for her enthusiasm in spreading information about water and sanitation. Tahir, who raised her children on Kibera’s expensive but dirty water, tells of regular illnesses in her family due to waterborne diseases and late nights agonizing over whether or not she could afford to get a sick child to Kenyatta Hospital a few miles down the road.

The promotion is effective. Laila, 33, a mother of four who lives in Kibera Makina village, did not believe at first that a plastic bottle exposed to the sun could make water safe to drink. “However, after vivid and thorough explanation I decided to buy two bottles to try the method.. To my amazement when I drank that water that evening it tasted nice and everybody in my family liked it. Since then, I have been practising SODIS consistently and I bought a total of ten bottles for SODIS. …I can now afford to drink treated water consistently which I never used to, this is because SODIS is cheap; the health of my family members have improved a great deal; as there is no case of diarrhoea like before. I am saving on medication and fuel. I can now buy my children more food and some fruits.”

Developed in the early 1990's by EAWAG (The Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology) and SANDEC (EAWAG's Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries), SODIS is now used in more than 20 countries and has won many awards, including the first prize for special humanitarian commitment awarded by the Swiss Red Cross in its 140-year history; the Latin America and Caribbean Water Prize; a Special Award during the Energy Globe Awards 2004; Dubai International Award for best practice; first prize in the 1999 international contest organized by SIMAVI World Waterfund. During World Water Day in 2001, the World Health Organization recommended SODIS as one of several measures to reduce health hazards related to drinking water.

This story was prepared from several sources, including Kenyans Tap Sun to Make Dirty Water Sparkle, April 13, 2008, by Sarah Stuteville, WeNews correspondent; information on the KWAHO website; information about the Solar Water Disinfection Process on the SODIS website and a case study of SODIS in Kibera; and information on the WaterCan project in Kibera with KWAHO.


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