SHOFCO is transforming lives through an innovative aerial water piping system

The United Nations estimates that by 2030 two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. This means that in countries such as Kenya, population too will buck the trend and move from rural areas to urban spaces that promise opportunity and growth. This will definitely put a strain on the ever depleting natural resources, especially water.

This year, Nairobi residents had to endure dry taps as a result of a prolonged drought. But there is one organisation that is striving to quench the thirst of residents living in some of Kenya’s largest informal settlements.

Patrick Mungai, the senior adviser to the chief executive officer of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), which put up what it calls Africa’s first aerial water piping system in Kibera, says their programme has changed lives.

The pipes are connected to a water tank to deliver safe and clean water to the residents

Kibera is made up of 13 villages crammed into 2.5 square kilometres and has an estimated population of 250,000 people. The shanties do not have running water and, for years, supply has been controlled by cartels.

In 2015, SHOFCO embarked on an ambitious plan to provide water to Kibera residents through an aerial piping system. Jostling for space with low-lying electricity cables and television antennas, six-inch black pipes run 20-feet above the ground.

Emily Achieng, 31, used to spend most of her mornings queuing to get water from the few watering points in Kibera. The closest of them was three kilometres away. And the distance was not the most frightening thing about making the journey that would gobble up three hours of her morning.

“To get to the water point, I used to pass through some of the most dangerous areas of my village. Women would get robbed while fetching water. Some would even be raped,” she recalls. “Now, I have a tap right outside my home.”

The Kibera water project, supported in part by the Safaricom Foundation, serves close to 100,000 people. “We are sinking another borehole in Kibera and are looking to replicate the model in Mathare and Bangladesh slums in Nairobi and Mombasa respectively,” Mungai says.

“With the partnership of corporates and the goodwill of the people whom we serve, we have started a water supply programme that we hope will make life easier for the residents of these areas,” Mungai said. The idea of an aerial water piping system was conceptualised as a way around the complicated and costly logistical hurdle of distributing water across the country’s informal settlements.

Nelson Ogutu too has found relief after the introduction of the water project. “My family is healthier now and my children no longer suffer from water borne diseases,” he says. “The money that I used to spend on medical care can be used for something else,” he said.

Founded in 2004 by Kennedy Odede, who was raised in Kibera, SHOFCO aims to combat the hardships found in slums by identifying and investing projects that uplift the community.
The organisation has set up several 100,000 litre water towers in different parts of the slums, all connected to the overhead piping system.
Safaricom Foundation has also partnered with SHOFCO to help set up the infrastructure. This include drilling a borehole from which the water is pumped to a treatment centre within the slum, then into overhead tanks. From the tanks the water is piped to the various water kiosks within the slum.
“It may look like a rudimentary solution, but sometimes simple does work,” Mungai says.

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