Unique Technology Brings Cheer to Water Starved Villagers
In 2006, the scarcity of water in Musingini village meant that many villagers would have to make the 3-mile walk to the nearest body of water, the Mathauta river.
Once at the river, their journey was far from over. The Mathauta River is dry most of the of the time which meant that villagers would now have to dig in order to reach a water source. "The villagers would scoop sand out of the river bed until they reached a source of water. The water would not be clean, but we had no option but use it,” says James Mutui, a local resident.
Because water was a scarce commodity, taking a full bath was uncommon. "People used to clean themselves up using just a cup of water and a piece of cloth and then they would go to work,” Mutui adds.
School drop-out rates were also high as students would often miss school to accompany family members in their search for water.
Rose Nthambi, another resident, adds: "Sometimes they would go alone to look for water, which was very risky especially for girls because of the distance they had to travel."
New Water Project Brings Clean Water to the Community
Fast forward to 2013 and the stories from the villagers are different – thanks to a new water project in the area. The project, a brainchild of community members, is backed by Plan, mobile technology firm Safaricom, and Danish firm Grundfos LifeLink.
Plan sank a 360-foot deep borehole and handed it to the villagers who in turn entered into partnership with Grundfos LifeLink, a pump manufacturer who helped to upgrade the borehole by installing an automated water pump which is fitted by three stand pipes to reduce congestion during the peak hours.
Through solar energy, water is pumped from the borehole into a tank from where it is relayed into a dispenser machine. The water is stored in the elevated tank and dispensed from the tapping unit using an activated special key fitted with a microchip.
In order to fetch water from the dispenser, the vendor has to load the special key with money. The key is linked to the vendors’ mobile phone to be able draw credit via M-Pesa –a mobile phone money transfer system which can be used to pay for goods and services.
“We used to get a lot of waterborne diseases but that is history in this community,” says Mutui, who chairs the committee that runs the water project.
Villagers Experience the Benefits of Clean Water
Peter Munyasya, an assistant chief in the village, says people of Musingini are now benefiting from reliable access to water, enabling them to improve their families’ health and living conditions.
“Before Plan helped us to construct a borehole here, life was very difficult. When the borehole was sunk, the walking distance in search of water reduced tremendously, although we still would experience long lines because we were using a hand pump and it was very slow,” Munyasya says. “Using the user friendly microchip key, community members are able to fetch water by inserting it to the activated slot on the dispenser. It is affordable, at 3 cents per every 5 gallons of water. Community members can also access water without owning a mobile phone because they can buy airtime for their keys through their colleagues’ mobile phones,” he says.
Shadrack Munyasia, who draws water from the borehole, is happy that he no longer spends all day or night waiting in lines to fetch water from the only seasonal river which serves about 10,000 people in the community.
“Life was not easy before the borehole was constructed. We would spend several hours in long lines with our children, women, and old men all night, waiting to dig out sand and fetch water. But, I am happy that life is easy now. The borehole has also helped us save a lot of time and we can now attend to other chores,” says Shadrack.
“I am happy that we can get clean water. These days you will hardly hear people complaining of diarrhea,” he adds.
The project has also benefitted nearby facilities such as schools and a fountain which has also tapped water from the same borehole. This has helped to reduce the number of children absent from school and waterborne diseases in the community.
"I used to buy vegetables for my family. Now I can get enough water to even irrigate my vegetables in my garden. I am able to save that money for other use and to buy milk for my grandchildren,” says Rose Nthambi.
”My grandchildren are also healthier and no longer complain of diarrhea or stomach problems anymore,” she adds.
Anastacia, a fifth grader at Msingini Primary school could not hide her joy: “I didn’t like going to the river because I would get so tired because it was far. We also used to carry water from home for cleaning our classes in school, but am happy I don’t do that now because there is water in our school.”