Water-fluoride taking a toll on residents' health
02 July 2013, 16:05
Nairobi - Mihang’o is located in Embakasi South Division, Embakasi District, Nairobi County. The residents of this area depend mainly on boreholes as sources of water for domestic purposes. Six public and privately owned boreholes serve the residents. The dire water scarcity has led to springing up of countless household-owned boreholes.
The residents who cannot afford their own boreholes depend on the public and privately owned boreholes, whose owners and water vendors charge them for as much as KES 20 per Jerrican. If a family uses two jerry cans of water in a day for basic uses such as drinking, cooking and washing, that amounts to KES 40 in a day and roughly KES 1,200 in a month. That, according to these residents is way too expensive. But this is just a small bit of the problems facing Mihang’o residents.
The borehole water-fluoride levels in the area are as high as 11.4 mg/l, way above the recommended =1 mg/l. This is according to a resident who remembers warnings from the Athi Water Services Board while commissioning one of the boreholes in the area that the water should only be used for washing and bathing but not cooking or drinking due to its high fluoride levels.
However, the residents have no alternative but to use this unsafe water for their daily use. Their efforts to get clean and piped water from the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company have never borne fruit. Numerous petitions and letters by various committees to Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company have yielded little.
On several occasions, the residents have contributed money to lay piping systems with the hope of getting constant water supply but that has not been forthcoming.
The pathological and socio-economic effects of the unsafe water are evident among the residents of the area. The high fluoride levels in the borehole-water have taken their toll on the residents. Dental flourosis and osteomalacia are evident amongst the people.
Asia Ramadhan is 26 years old and has been born and brought up in Mihango. As a mother, she is worried about her children’s increased consumption of the contaminated water.
First of all, her children’s teeth have been affected by dental flourosis. Dental flourosis is a developmental disturbance of dental enamel caused by excessive exposure to high concentrations of fluoride during tooth development.
“Even a baby’s milk teeth are affected by the flourosis. It causes teeth to chip off slowly causing them to be very weak. This water has caused women joint and knee problems as a result of skeletal flourosis. Even if you mix this salty water with juice, the saltiness is still evident,” she says.
Again, the water from the boreholes, even the ones commissioned by the government, is not treated at all. The residents therefore, have to content with cases of water-borne diseases like Amoeba and Typhoid.
Dependence on borehole water is a historical issue here as evidenced by a borehole which was dug more than thirty years ago. Provision of clean, piped water has become a political tool in the area, as every aspirant in any election year promises. There are numerous stalled borehole projects in the area and each election year, a politician promises to restart any of them.
Residents ask, "If this government cannot even complete a borehole meant to supply us with this water that has been killing us, how sure are we that one day, it shall supply us with clean water?"
Water and Livelihoods Network advocates for increased citizen participation in water services management and delivery. Through a Water Action Group (WAG) member for Eastern Region, Nairobi, which covers Mihang’o location, the group has sought a permanent solution to the dire water situation of the area.
After learning of this water quality situation in the area through a community sensitization forum the group facilitated in the area in September 2011, they have engaged the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company for a solution to this, but nothing positive has come forth.
The issue had also been raised in 2010 by Nairobi Water Action Group to Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC), Athi Water Services Board (AWSB) and Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB).
WALINET, as part of its media advocacy, engaged the media to bring the situation into the spotlight, through a television story and Features articles.
This effort is being bolstered by Volunteers for Africa and the Media Development for Africa (MEDEVA) - two nonprofit organisations that are running a media campaign on environment known as ‘Juatenda.’
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