Dry Water Taps in Nairobi’s Pumwani Slums during COVID-19 Pandemic

By Francis Kinyua

Hand washing is a precautionary measure to curb the spread of COVID-19, but residents of Majengo Pumwani slums in Nairobi are wondering what this means as taps have been dry for the past week. As water taps stopped working in Majengo slums, there is no water for drinking and cooking, let alone to wash hands to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Jackie, a resident in Majengo slums, was disturbed when her 5 year old daughter appeared from the house with a cup of water to wash her hands for the third time. She picked up a piece of soap before stepping out of the house, ignoring her mother’s protests. “Our teacher told us to wash hands regularly” her daughter says. “Now she does it very often and is wasting all the water in the house,” her mother stated. Even though she would like her children to maintain basic hand washing to avoid contracting COVID-19, the mother of four states she cannot afford it.

“This is outrageous! The government wants us to wash our hands all the time but our taps remain dry most of the day,” she said. She lives with her children in Majengo in Nairobi’s Pumwani Slums. For the last week, the area has not received any water and residents are forced to buy it from the private borehole in the area. “We are buying water at Sh20 (USD 0.20) and that is lucky. When there is no water, the prices shoot up to Sh100 (1 USD). Where is the water to wash our hands?” she asked. Jackie said that even if they want to follow all the safety precautions given by the government, their income is unable to sustain it. She understands how she exposes herself and family to COVID-19 but insists that water has more uses in her household than for washing hands. In fact, for her, it is a luxury at the moment as she cannot afford all the water needed to wash hands regularly. “We wash hands before we eat, that is mandatory. After nature calls, that is okay but not just randomly,” she said. She further states “I am paid Sh. 200 (2 USD) per day to wash people clothes in Eastleigh Estate, but there is partially a lock down as it has been mapped out as high-risk areas as Covid-19 cases in Kenya surges to 584, my employer asked us to stay at home until the situation gets better.”

Another resident says his life has become intolerable due to dry taps. He says he has not taken a bath for three days because of lack of water and the high expensive of the little that is available. Vendors have emerged who are cashing in on the water crisis by selling small quantities at exorbitant prices. He believes the situation is already uncontrollable and any intervention should be made with haste to curb the spread of COVID-19. He, like other disturbed residents of Majengo as well as neighboring slums, says he is apprehensive of probable spread of COVID-19 and outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the densely populated slum.

Furthermore, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) which supplies water in Nairobi advised its customers to use the water sparingly even as one of the Covid-19 interventions is washing hands frequently with running water for a minimum of 20 seconds. “How does the hand-washing standard that the COVID-19 pandemic requires, get fulfilled in a situation like this?” a resident asked.