As the world celebrated the “World Water Day 2020”, globally countries have been adversely affected by the COVID 19 crisis that calls for good hygiene practices including frequent hand washing. Worldwide 2.2 Billion do not have access to safe water. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and new cases rising steadily every day, several emergency responses have been put in place to prevent its spread. The provision of safe water is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 outbreak. If safe, adequate and sufficient water is provided in communities, homes, schools, marketplaces and health care facilities, human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus will be prevented. Frequent and proper hand hygiene is the most recommended measures to prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus. Many health benefits will be realized by safely managing water and sanitation services. Such efforts will prevent many other infectious diseases, which cause millions of deaths each year, especially in the urban informal settlements.

Unfortunately, the urban poor in Kenya do not have access to safe and adequate water, making them even more vulnerable to the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 32% of the Kenyan population live in urban areas, with an annual urban population growth of 3% needing water and other resources. The urban growth trend poses the challenge of service provision including water, sewer and garbage collection not matching the urbanization rates due to weak planning perspectives. The situation is worsened by the fact that people living in informal settlements/low income areas are paying expensively for water than those living in formal settlements due to cartels controlling and selling water to unsuspecting urban poor. Water services providers lack sustainable service models, thereby encouraging inequalities. Water and sanitation provision is largely market driven with private players focusing more on formal settlements at the expenses of the informal settlements in urban areas.

Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees every Kenyan citizen the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities. There is need for a more robust water governance through harmonization and implementation of pro-poor water policies, both at national and county level. The public needs to be involved more in decision making processes particularly during policy formulation, implementation and tracking. There is also a growing ask to enhance access to and sharing of best practices in water resource management. Kenya needs to draw its experiences from both the county, national and international level. Further, various institutions need to enhance coordination of water related multi-stakeholder efforts, to build and strengthen existing structures where possible, particularly to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the urban informal settlements.

The Government and other stakeholders should think of sustainable measures to provide clean and safe water to informal settlements. As a matter of urgency, the Government should prioritize supply of water and sanitation to informal settlements to cushion them from an unforeseeable health pandemic. Government should also as a matter of urgency in partnership with the community build sanitation blocks with constant water supply in the informal settlements. The response by the Government should address the systemic challenges facing informal settlements on matters water and sanitation. The urban poor also need to be sensitized on frequent hand washing and sanitation as a measure to prevent infection and spread of COVID 19. The emergency response funds to fight spread of COVID 19 in Kenya, should prioritize provision of clean safe water in the settlements.

The author is the Programme Officer, Health Water and Sanitation at Hakijamii. brian@hakijamii.com

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