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‘Trees-for-tank’ project takes root in Kenya

 Street News Service 04 October 2019

Helping protect the environment and fight poverty while providing safe drinking water. It sounds like a dream in a country where only 30 out of every 100 people have access to piped water, but in Kenya a unique projects does just that. (962 Words) - By Njoroge Kinuthia

SNS(EU)_Trees for tank project

Women mixing mortar during the construction of a concrete tank (behind) in Langa Langa village, Gilgil.The local community provides labour and construction materials in the water harvesting projects sponsored by the Rotary Club of Nakuru. Photo: Njoroge Kinuthia

In the past three years, Hannah Njoki has been treated for typhoid, a waterborne disease, twice. At hospital, she was advised to always boil water before drinking.

"The river water was sometimes brownish with soil. But we didn't have an option, when thirst struck we had to take it anyway," Ms Njoki said recently.

Luckily, today, Ms Njoki and some of her neighbours in Langa Langa, a small village in Gilgil, about 120 kilometres north of Kenya's capital Nairobi, have got an option.

Since the beginning of last year, she has had a steady supply of clean drinking water and her reserve has never run out. Ms Njoki is among the beneficiaries of a project initiated by the Rotary Club of Nakuru and which is funded jointly by the Rotarians and local communities.

The Club helps people, mostly women, in various parts of Nakuru, in the Rift Valley province, to construct concrete tanks which they use to harvest rainwater.

"I now have a source of clean water to drink and even share with my neighbours who do not have tanks yet. I don't have to walk long distances to look for clean water anymore," reveals the 64-year-old woman who lives with her 90-year-old mother, a wide grin on her face.

To date, 2500 concrete tanks, each with a capacity of 10,000 litres, have been erected in various parts of Nakuru district as a result of the partnership between the communities involved and the Rotarians. This means, through the project, an equivalent number of families, about 2500, now have access to safe drinking water, drastically reducing the incidence of waterborne diseases.

"Water is a big problem for residents of the Rift Valley," notes Ms Roseline Jemeli," president of the Rotary Club of Nakuru.

Like in many other parts of the country, piped water for most residents of Nakuru district remains a pipe dream. According to the results of the 2009 population census which put the country's population at 38.6 million, only 30 out of every 100 Kenyans have access to piped water. Majority of those with access to piped water live in urban areas.

The others draw their water from uninspected boreholes, springs or streams posing a risk of water-borne diseases and heavy metal industrial poisoning. Only one percent of Kenyans depend on rainwater harvesting for their water needs.

Besides, in the Rift Valley, where majority of the people rely on boreholes, most underground water is contaminated with fluoride which is blamed for causing dental and skeletal fluorosis.

"There is a high incidence of dental and skeletal fluorosis in the Rift Valley," says a Rotarian Mr George Peter Ogombe, who has been involved in the provision of safe drinking water to schools in the region.

Ms Jemeli says the incidence of dental fluorosis is attested by the high number of people with brown teeth in some parts of the district.

"Most people, especially the older ones, have brown teeth in parts of the district. But the number of children with dental fluorosis has been declining in areas where access to safe drinking water has been boosted," Ms Jemeli noted.

The cost of constructing the tanks is shared equally between the communities and the Rotary Club of Nakuru. Ms Jemeli says the cost of constructing one tank is about Ksh60,000 ($742). The community contributes by providing labour and locally available construction materials.

Needless to say, Rotary club of Nakuru by helping provide safe drinking water to some 2500 families has made a small but important step in the fight against poverty. In addition, the multi-faceted nature of the project and the promise it holds toward veritable progress in environmental protection and the fight against poverty is heart-warming.

Every family that aspires to acquire a tank through partnership with the Rotarians is required to plant at least 100 trees before commencement of the construction work and have a clean toilet. This means that so far, over 250,000 trees have been planted through the Rotary Club of Nakuru initiative.

This is an important step towards the realisation of MDG 7 (ensure environmental sustainability). Notably, Kenya's forest cover stands at only 1.7 percent of the country's 58 million hectares landmass. The government has already started seeking ways of increasing the cover to 10 percent.

Besides environmental protection, Ms Jemeli says the trees would provide families with a reliable source of energy. "Our goal is not only to provide clean water but also to make the communities self-sustaining. Women waste a lot time fetching water and firewood." She said.

"We remove loads (water and firewood) off women's backs and encourage them to engage in income generating activities," said Mr Ogomba, a former president of the Rotary Club of Nakuru and now president of the Rotary Club of the Great Rift Valley.

Indeed, through micro-finance initiatives, individual members of various groups have been pooling their resources before borrowing, individually or in groups, to start small income generating activities. Some have bought dairy cattle, sheep or even started poultry farming.

Ms Njoki has already bought a sheep after borrowing from the micro-finance and plans to buy a dairy cow when she borrows next. She believes such investments will help uplift her financial status in the near future.

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