The Little Sisters of St. Francis Community Water Project in Nairobi’s Kasarani area benefits approximately 57,000 students, patients, and community members with access to safe drinking water. The Catholic sisters run the project alongside a community hospital, primary school, pastoral care center, vocational training center, and a shelter for rescued street children.
The water project is unique. Water in this area of Nairobi is high in fluoride and unhealthy for human consumption. Through a partnership between KIWASH and DOW Chemical Company, a fluoride decontamination treatment system was installed in 2018. DOW donated an energy-efficient filtration system while KIWASH provided technical assistance and infrastructure support to expand the existing water pipeline, install an efficient pump, and construct two water kiosks.
Over time, project management noted that not all customers were able to access water during normal working hours. “Our customers are comprised of professionals and business people who work late into the evening. Our concern was that they were unable to keep up with the business hours at the water kiosk,” said one water project manager.
As a solution, the project introduced an automatic vending machine that dispenses different amounts of water (five, 10, or 20 liters), with the use of a chip coin. “To date, we have distributed 100 chip coins to our customers at US $2. They are very excited about it as they can access water anytime without time restrictions. That means that they can run their businesses during the day with ease and fetch water at their convenience. The chip coin technology also came in very handy during the Coronavirus pandemic because it encourages cashless transactions and physical distancing,” said one project water technician and operator.
One beneficiary of the water project is a laboratory assistant at the community hospital and a mother of three children. “At work, we depend fully on the project’s water for lab work and other hospital procedures. For home use, mainly cooking and drinking, I fetch approximately 40 liters per week. My family has benefitted a lot from the water. Before we had the water kiosk, we used tap water to cook, which was at times highly chlorinated, smelly, or brown. As such, my children constantly complained of upset stomachs and diarrhea. I am very excited to have access to this water as my children are no longer ill from unsafe water,” she said.
To encourage more chip coin use, the project introduced a pay bill number through which customers send money directly to the project’s account, as opposed to relying on the water kiosk attendant to load money on their mobile phones. This has improved project accountability.
Over the past year, the project also had its share of challenges. For roughly six months, road construction barricaded access to one of the water kiosks, limiting the number of customers. In May 2020, the project’s water pump broke. This led the project to depend on water trucks to supply water to the community hospital and meant the project could not serve any individuals for two weeks until the pump was repaired. Lastly, the government’s revenue agency launched a levy on entities running water businesses, which also coincided with the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Kenya.
“The challenges during the coronavirus pandemic brought down our sales by 30 percent, but we are recovering and hope to have fully recovered by December 2020. We also have plans to put up a full-time solar-powered system for the fluoridation unit and to purchase a water distribution truck to increase water supply in the locality,” said a project manager.