The Star (Nairobi)

1 July 2011

Kenya: Lifestraw Water Filters Saving Lives in Mutomo

analysis

Every household dreams of clean and safe drinking water. This dream however is hard to realise for many households simply because their water sources like rivers, boreholes and wells are highly contaminated.

The consumption of contaminated water has resulted in waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. These diseases have in the past claimed a lot of lives especially in rural areas where clean and safe drinking water is only a pipedream.

Mutomo district is one such place faced by constant water scarcity throughout the year. Here the locals fetch water in dams and seasonal rivers. It is common to see locals fetching water turned green by algae for domestic use due to lack of an alternative, mostly resulting into devastating consequences.

In 2009 for example, there was a cholera outbreak in parts of Kitui Central and Mutomo districts where during a period of three weeks, 17 people died and another 1, 000 hospitalised both in Kitui District and Mutomo Mission hospitals.

But now the residents of Mutomo can heave a sigh of relief after being provided with portable water filters named lifestraw family filters to prevent waterborne diseases.

Kenya Red Cross Society, Kitui branch, is undertaking the programme majorly in Mathima and Kanziku locations in Mutomo district where water contamination is widespread. Augustine Kiswii, the co-ordinator of KRC Kitui branch, says that the lifestraw water filters are being distributed to school pupils and others at household level in an initiative dubbed Community Based Water Filter and Hygiene Promotion. "We are targeting 3,750 pupils and 6,750 households in both locations. This is an ongoing programme until April next year," says Kiswii. He says that the filters come into two types, a small one that pupils hang on their necks and a bigger one meant for households.

The smaller filter has a lifespan of three years and costs Sh600 per piece while the household one has a lifespan of five years and it costs Sh2,000 per piece. During a recent distribution of the water filters, pupils at Kanziku primary school were elated to have the gadgets which they animatedly hang on their necks. "We have been trained on how to use them, we were told that it eliminates waterborne diseases and I was surprised to learn that the filter even eliminates bad smell in water," Kambua Mwanzia, a class seven pupil said, adding that the only time she is separated from her filter is when she goes to bed.

The initiative is a joint partnership between Coca-Cola Company in Denmark and the Danish Red Cross. Coca-Cola is giving out the filters that are distributed to the Kenya Red Cross thorough their Danish counterparts.

The KRCS volunteers and staff then undertake the training programmes among the locals to minimize cases of waterborne diseases. Residents of Mathima and Kanziku locations recently received the household filters for the second time.

Speaking at Mathima Chief's camp during the distribution of the water filters to the residents, Betty Kramer, a representative of the Danish Red Cross, urged the locals to take care of the filters and use them repeatedly, noting that they reduce waterborne diseases significantly.

Betty said that the household lifestraw can filter at least 1,000 liters of water per day removing 99.9 per cent of waterborne bacteria. She added that it also filters 99.9 per cent of waterborne protozoan cysts and reduces water turbidity by filtering particles and sludge.

During the occasion, the Danish Red Cross delegation stunned the locals by drinking murky and algae infested river water using the filters. And going by the locals' sentiments, the filters are a big boost in health promotion and many contend that they cannot trade their gadgets for anything.

Josephine Katemi, from Kiviu sub-location, has benefited from the training and got herself the household filter. She is now among a few locals who are training the others on how to use the filters for maximum benefits. "These filters are playing a significant role in our lives, we fetch water from rivers and wells dug along seasonal rivers which mostly is muddy and produces foul odour. The filter clears all that and no matter the type of water you fetch, once it goes through the filter, the final product is clean and disease free," Josephine says.

The mother of three notes that even with murky water, the sludge is sieved and left behind together with other foreign particles. "We have confidence in the water that has gone through the filter and we can consume it without worrying about diseases. The filters are essential and changing our lives in a positive way," observes Josephine.

Josephine says she was among a group of 60 people from Kiviu sub-location who were trained on how to use the filters and who have embarked on training others because as she says, "we want the gospel to spread far and wide so that we can be safe and healthy."

Another resident from Mathima location Robert Musya could not hide his joy after getting the household filter, noting that with the gadget, cases of cholera and typhoid in his family would be a thing of the past. Musya said that his family's source of water is Katitika dam in Muthue sub-location which he acknowledged is highly contaminated and has caused the locals untold suffering.

Mutomo deputy public health officer Stepehen Mbeni appealed to the area residents to maintain home and personal hygiene calling on them to drink only filtered water. "The only way to eradicate cholera, typhoid and other waterborne diseases is by drinking filtered water. Those who have been trained should endeavour to train others in order to achieve that objective," Mbeni noted.

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