Mobile telephony eases search for water in Kibera, Nairobi

25 August 2015


Water is life- Maji Ni uhai; our very existence as human beings is hinged on water. It is linked to Agriculture, energy, sanitation and health; but its accessibility is still a problem in the 21st century. A report by the UN states that 768 million people in the world do not have access to a safe, reliable source of water and the majority of these numbers are in the developing countries.

In Kenya’s informal settlement areas, the Kibera slum of Nairobi, in this instance, on a bad day it can take an individual a whole day to access water and upon getting the water, it will be sold at an expensive price by the water vendors. On a good day, it will take about an hour to access the precious commodity. There is no guarantee that the water sold is free of contamination, to boot. There has been an attempt to provide piped water to the community living in this settlement, but a few rowdy youth have continually vandalized the water meters in the area leaving the residents totally dependent on water cartels.

Umande Trust, an organization working in the informal settlements of Nairobi and Kisumu, under a project dubbed “Under the Same Sky- Kenya” has come up with an innovative way of incorporating ICT with water accessibility for the residents of Kibera. They identified the problem, which was a lack of real time information on water availability, price and quality. They also noted that the majority of people had access to a mobile phone and decided to use the mobile telephony technology to give information on the various water points within the settlement. Hence, in conjunction with Safaricom- one of the mobile service providers in Kenya- they came up with M-Maji services.

Through this service, at the start of each day, the various water vendors within the settlement use the USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) code-22778- to create a water advertisement consisting of their location, price and purification method (if any) via text messaging. All the advertisements input into the system are collected at a central database and expire at the end of each day. The water buyers can then get information on the various water vendors by dialing the USSD short code.

Since Kibera comprises of several villages i.e. Gatwekera, ,Makina, Kambi Mburu etc, the water buy can as well access the information by sending in the name of the village in which they are looking for water. They will in turn get a text back informing them on all the available water vendors within the village, or if not, vendors in a village closest to them.

If a buyer discovers that a certain vendor misreported water availability, pricing and quality, there is the provision on the M- Maji messaging service, to file a complaint on the vendor. To ensure safe and reliable water is available to the communities in the settlement, the M-Maji officers conduct regular surveys and random water quality tests.

Clean, safe and easily accessible water is a right for every individual and with such a system in place, the residents of Kibera will no longer suffer long hours of looking for water and the number of diseases contracted through the use of unsafe water, will significantly drop. The organization hopes to implement the same technology in Kisumu’s informal settlement areas as well.

Quick facts
• In Africa, 345 million people lack access to water.
• 3.4 million people die each year from a water related disease
• Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water related disease
• Women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water
• The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns

Article by; Velma Oseko