• Howa Mwana Safe Water Enterprise selling safe drinking water for drinking next to old kiosk selling raw water for other household purposes.
    Howa Mwana Safe Water Enterprise selling safe drinking water for drinking next to old kiosk selling raw water for other household purposes.
    © Siemens Stiftung, Photographer: Caroline Weimann
  • No more water for SWE from Howa Mwana dam in Kwale County, after 12 months of drought.
    © Imran Jalalkhan
  • Floods affecting East Africa after long period of drought.
    Floods affecting East Africa after long period of drought.
    © Stephen Njuguna Wamuyu
Working Area:
Basic Needs & Social Entrepeneurship
Country/Region:
Kenya
Project Manager Caroline Weimann and Kiosk Operator Umazi Mwakera
Project Manager Caroline Weimann and Kiosk Operator Umazi Mwakera

Drought in East Africa – and how Siemens Stiftung can help

Rain hasn’t fallen for months in East Africa, now the region is affected by severe floodings, causing a dire living situation for locals. To offset some of the potentially catastrophic effects, Siemens Stiftung works with communities on the establishment of safe water kiosks in Kenya and Uganda. Caroline Weimann, project manager at the foundation, has just been onsite and reports how this technical solution could help to tackle some of the problems.

In February 2017, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta officially declared the drought a national disaster. How is the situation on the ground?

As we speak, we are actually seeing heavy rains fall in Kenya. We have had to cancel some parts of our trip due to severe flooding. Some of our project areas have become inaccessible due to the rains and we hope that it won’t affect too many communities. In such times, we usually see a sharp increase of water borne diseases, affecting children in particular. The heavy rains also destroy harvests and we see a high number of livestock deaths.

The floods are particularly destructive as they follow a tough and long period of drought, which has lasted for over a year! To give you a bit of background: Kenya has two rainy seasons. The long rains that normally take place from March to May, and the short rains between October and December. Last year, large parts of Kenya didn’t see any long rains at all. The situation was particularly severe due to the El Nino phenomenon and communities were hit hard, particularly in the north of Kenya and at the coast. People were hoping for the short rains that usually start in October. But even these didn’t set in. So some communities have had to live without rain for over a year now. Unfortunately, we see that these droughts happen more frequently. They will remain a big challenge in the future.

What were the effects of the last drought on the population?

The population suffered a lot from water and food shortages. In the rural areas, tribes have started migrating in search of water and food for their cattle and for their own consumption. We have seen an increasing amount and severity of conflicts between tribes as well as between herders and large-scale land owners. We have had to keep out of some areas for a while. The situation is particularly tense, as general elections are coming up and many political leaders prefer to withhold from interfering in the conflicts. In the cities, the situation is not much better. In Nairobi, the main dam supplying the city is currently only 20 percent full. The Nairobi Water Company is therefore rationing water and most people in the city are getting water supply only once a week. Agriculture has suffered a lot and prices for water and food have naturally gone up. The price of milk for example has risen from 40 Kenyan Shillings (KES) to 65 KES for 500ml within a period of 6.

Does this also affect some of the regions in which Siemens Stiftung works? Can you talk a bit more about your project?

The drought actually affects all of the communities with which we work! In the Safe Water Enterprise project, we work with communities across the country on the improvement of their drinking water. In many regions, surface water is available but contaminated and not safe for drinking. The safe water kiosks aim to make this water available for human consumption. They are equipped with a filtration unit that removes turbidity, bacteria and viruses from the water. The kiosk is run by a committee that is trained on how to operate the kiosk as a social enterprise for the benefit of the community. An operator is chosen to run the kiosk and to maintain the technology. The operator and the management team need to work together on ensuring long-term financial and technical sustainability. Of course, kiosk operations are affected when water availability changes. Many water sources depend on rainfall.

Have there been implications for the operations of the Safe Water Enterprises due to the drought?

The drought has affected some of the water kiosks more than others, for instance those using dam and river water. When the water level of the dams and rivers drops significantly, the water becomes more turbid and slushy. The concentration of disease causing bacteria also increases. We have therefore had to install pre-filters in some of the kiosks.

Availability of water is also a great challenge. Some of the communities with which we work have seen their water sources diminish drastically. To give you an example: one of our “youngest” kiosks, in Howa Mwana in Kwale County, is using water from a dam. We didn’t think that this dam would ever dry out. And indeed, over the past year, it was the last dam in the entire region still holding water despite the drought. But after 9 months without rain and a growing demand from the surrounding communities, the dam eventually also dried out and the kiosk had to close. It was the first kiosk where this happened and we were taken a bit by surprise. Luckily, some small rains occurred in March, so the kiosk was able to reopen. On a positive note, the kiosks that remained open throughout the dry months have been able to provide even more people with safe drinking water. As many alternative sources are running dry in the absence of rain, more people start coming from further away to buy water at the safe water kiosk. Thus even more people can get to know the advantages of safe water as opposed to other sources. This is particularly important in times when waterborne diseases are prolific.

How did the communities and kiosk operators react to the situation? Are they worried about running out of clean water? Are they worried about the sustainability of the SWE? Their jobs around water might also be at stake?

Of course some of the communities and kiosk operators were worried when they saw the water diminishing and the possibility of it drying out completely. We discussed the topic with the water committees and sensitized them about the need to come up with back-up plans in case of drought. At some sites, there was for instance a need to resort to alternative water sources when the primary source did not yield enough water. Korumba and Tinderet SWE in Kisumu and Nandi County did that. At other sites, there was a need to do some technical adaptations, such as installing a pump that reaches further down into the river or dam. At sites where the number of customers increases in dry periods, the kiosk teams need to come up with solutions to increase availability of safe water, by installing bigger storage tanks for example. These adjustments incur additional costs and we help the management teams to review their financial planning and prepare for this.

What long-term changes are foreseeable and is there also a need for additional or new types of technology?

The regular drought cycles are predicted to become even more frequent. They will be more severe, also due to climate change, transformation of the groundwater table and increasing demand by a growing population. It is a very worrying situation overall and of course there will be a need for large-scale and long-term adaptations in different areas of industry, agriculture, food and water. With regards to drinking water in the remote areas, which is what we are working on, projects like the Safe Water Enterprises, where surface water is made usable for consumption, will become even more important. But there will also be a need to find more and better solutions to deal with brackish water and water containing chemicals, such as fluoride, for example. At the Siemens Stiftung we are scouting those technical solutions and research on the experiences users have with them so far.

“At some sites, there was for instance a need to resort to alternative water sources when the primary source did not yield enough water.”

 

Customers, not beneficiaries
  • “Ideas that Could Change Our Lives” – report on the Safe Water Enterprises in Kenya from Germany's ARD public broadcaster (in German)
Working Area:
Basic Needs & Social Entrepeneurship
Country/Region:
Kenya
Safe Water Enterprises
Benard Olemo and Caroline Weimann

Customers, not beneficiaries

In October 2016, the residents of the Kenyan villages of Korumba and Soko Kogweno had good cause for celebration. For two years, two Safe Water Enterprises of Siemens Stiftung have been supplying the residents with clean drinking water. From the very beginning, the local teams that operate the system have worked extremely hard and completed training courses so that they could successfully operate water kiosks for many years to come. Siemens Stiftung has now handed over responsibility for the supply stations to the villages themselves.

“The kiosk operators filter contaminated water by using the SkyHydrant membrane technology and sell it to the villages at a low price,” said Caroline Weimann, project manager at Siemens Stiftung. “The goal is to keep the kiosks in good financial shape so that they can provide water on the communal level over the long term. The profits flow back into the operation and maintenance of the kiosk and also pay the kiosk operator’s salary. Other potential profits will be used to expand the project and to fund other local social activities.” In addition, the small business owners who provide clean drinking water make an important contribution to the health of village residents and create new opportunities. Furthermore, the kiosks create additional jobs as well as produce opportunities for young people, thus enabling them to shape their futures, in addition to providing good reasons not to flee the cities.

Reporters from Germany's ARD public broadcaster reported on the “Safe Water Enterprise” as part of the program “[W] wie Wissen: Ideen, die unser Leben verändern könnten” (“[K] for Knowledge: Ideas that Could Change Our Lives”) In their story, the journalists explored the technology, the people behind it and the reasons why education is at least as important as logistics and technology.

“In the beginning, it was difficult because people did not know how important clean water is. But things have changed since then.”

Benard Olemo, kiosk manager.

  • “Ideas that Could Change Our Lives” – report on the Safe Water Enterprises in Kenya from Germany's ARD public broadcaster (in German)
Working Area:
Basic Needs & Social Entrepeneurship
Country/Region:
Kenya
Safe Water Enterprises
Benard Olemo and Caroline Weimann

Customers, not beneficiaries

In October 2016, the residents of the Kenyan villages of Korumba and Soko Kogweno had good cause for celebration. For two years, two Safe Water Enterprises of Siemens Stiftung have been supplying the residents with clean drinking water. From the very beginning, the local teams that operate the system have worked extremely hard and completed training courses so that they could successfully operate water kiosks for many years to come. Siemens Stiftung has now handed over responsibility for the supply stations to the villages themselves.

“The kiosk operators filter contaminated water by using the SkyHydrant membrane technology and sell it to the villages at a low price,” said Caroline Weimann, project manager at Siemens Stiftung. “The goal is to keep the kiosks in good financial shape so that they can provide water on the communal level over the long term. The profits flow back into the operation and maintenance of the kiosk and also pay the kiosk operator’s salary. Other potential profits will be used to expand the project and to fund other local social activities.” In addition, the small business owners who provide clean drinking water make an important contribution to the health of village residents and create new opportunities. Furthermore, the kiosks create additional jobs as well as produce opportunities for young people, thus enabling them to shape their futures, in addition to providing good reasons not to flee the cities.

Reporters from Germany's ARD public broadcaster reported on the “Safe Water Enterprise” as part of the program “[W] wie Wissen: Ideen, die unser Leben verändern könnten” (“[K] for Knowledge: Ideas that Could Change Our Lives”) In their story, the journalists explored the technology, the people behind it and the reasons why education is at least as important as logistics and technology.

“In the beginning, it was difficult because people did not know how important clean water is. But things have changed since then.”

Benard Olemo, kiosk manager.

Entrepreneurial approach to supply drinking water
  • Maji Safi Water Kiosk
    Next to the provision of drinking water, the Safe Water Enterprises create income opportunities for the communities.
    © Siemens Stiftung
Working Area:
Grundversorgung & Social Entrepreneurship
Country/Region:
Kenia
Portrait Paul Njuguna
Njuguna is the local project coordinator for Safe Water Enterprises.

Many villagers think it is completely normal to suffer from frequent water-borne illnesses. Showing them that this can be prevented with clean water is an important task for Paul Njuguna.

Sometimes I am amazed at the great ideas that develop around our program. In a rural community near Kisumu, for example, the water kiosk that supplies the village with clean drinking water and the neighboring school are currently forming a partnership. In return for a small monthly charge, the kiosk will set up water dispensers in classrooms so the children are always able to drink clean water. The idea is not necessarily something that might occur to everyone. For example, I went to school in the capital Nairobi, where it is not as hot as in this region, which meant we did not have to drink as much. And most importantly, there is not the problem of dirty water in this form.
I have been involved with Safe Water Enterprises for more than a year now. Before this, one of my jobs was at the United Nations, where I was responsible for a project that worked on supplying electricity to rural areas. When I first heard of the Siemens Stiftung water kiosks, I was excited. Clean drinking water is such an urgent need – and most importantly, the technology behind it is immensely practical. A filter to clean river water – that is all you need. From experience, I know that the technology needs to be as simple as possible when working in rural regions. This means, firstly, that it is easy to explain. And best of all, there are no components that are difficult to replace if something breaks.
I travel a lot with my work. I am always visiting the communities where we have set up a water kiosk. Our principles include working closely with the communities so that the project receives broad support. Each water kiosk is operated by a kiosk manager appointed by the community organization. We encourage the community to identify a manager with an entrepreneurial mindset from the local area, who is then given appropriate training. This normally works very well, but occasionally there are disagreements between community members. Then it is my job to visit the scene, talk to everyone involved and help to resolve the dispute – at the end of the day, we all share the same objective and interests.
We have had good experiences with the hygiene training sessions at the water kiosks. These educate people about the links between water and disease. I notice again and again that many villagers think it is completely normal to suffer from frequent diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses. Showing them that this can be prevented with clean water is an important task. It is often about things that might seem trivial – for example, washing hands regularly and making sure always to carry clean water in clean containers.
A great example for me of how our program can help is a project where a water kiosk was built at a hospital. The kiosk operator is now able to supply the entire hospital with drinking water. Not only the patients benefit from the station, but also the hospital’s neighbors, who can also collect clean water there.

"From experience, I know that technology needs to be as simple as possible when working in rural regions."

  • Maji Safi Water Kiosk
    Next to the provision of drinking water, the Safe Water Enterprises create income opportunities for the communities.
    © Siemens Stiftung
Working Area:
Grundversorgung & Social Entrepreneurship
Country/Region:
Kenia
Portrait Paul Njuguna
Njuguna is the local project coordinator for Safe Water Enterprises.

Many villagers think it is completely normal to suffer from frequent water-borne illnesses. Showing them that this can be prevented with clean water is an important task for Paul Njuguna.

Sometimes I am amazed at the great ideas that develop around our program. In a rural community near Kisumu, for example, the water kiosk that supplies the village with clean drinking water and the neighboring school are currently forming a partnership. In return for a small monthly charge, the kiosk will set up water dispensers in classrooms so the children are always able to drink clean water. The idea is not necessarily something that might occur to everyone. For example, I went to school in the capital Nairobi, where it is not as hot as in this region, which meant we did not have to drink as much. And most importantly, there is not the problem of dirty water in this form.
I have been involved with Safe Water Enterprises for more than a year now. Before this, one of my jobs was at the United Nations, where I was responsible for a project that worked on supplying electricity to rural areas. When I first heard of the Siemens Stiftung water kiosks, I was excited. Clean drinking water is such an urgent need – and most importantly, the technology behind it is immensely practical. A filter to clean river water – that is all you need. From experience, I know that the technology needs to be as simple as possible when working in rural regions. This means, firstly, that it is easy to explain. And best of all, there are no components that are difficult to replace if something breaks.
I travel a lot with my work. I am always visiting the communities where we have set up a water kiosk. Our principles include working closely with the communities so that the project receives broad support. Each water kiosk is operated by a kiosk manager appointed by the community organization. We encourage the community to identify a manager with an entrepreneurial mindset from the local area, who is then given appropriate training. This normally works very well, but occasionally there are disagreements between community members. Then it is my job to visit the scene, talk to everyone involved and help to resolve the dispute – at the end of the day, we all share the same objective and interests.
We have had good experiences with the hygiene training sessions at the water kiosks. These educate people about the links between water and disease. I notice again and again that many villagers think it is completely normal to suffer from frequent diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses. Showing them that this can be prevented with clean water is an important task. It is often about things that might seem trivial – for example, washing hands regularly and making sure always to carry clean water in clean containers.
A great example for me of how our program can help is a project where a water kiosk was built at a hospital. The kiosk operator is now able to supply the entire hospital with drinking water. Not only the patients benefit from the station, but also the hospital’s neighbors, who can also collect clean water there.

"From experience, I know that technology needs to be as simple as possible when working in rural regions."

Water kiosk in Githembe – Interview with Alice Wanjiru
Working Area:
Basic Needs & Social Entrepeneurship
Country/Region:
Kenya
Alice Wanjiru is happy with her new job: She is manager of a water kiosk in Githembe, Kenya.

A water kiosk in Githembe provides work for Alice Wanjiru and safe drinking water for her village

Alice Wanjiru lives in a small village in the Thika region north of Nairobi. Like many Kenyans who live in remote areas with poor infrastructure, Alice and her village community drank polluted water from a nearby river. The result: countless cases of illness, high medication costs, and missed school hours.

Since 2012, Githembe has a water kiosk, which has changed the situation. Mobile water filtration systems daily produce up to 10,000 liters of safe drinking water, which can be purchased at an affordable price.

From her job as kiosk manager, Alice generates income for herself and her family. The Safe Water Enterprise in Githembe not only contributes to improved health in the community but also offers opportunities to make a living.

“Since 2012, the water station in Githembe has been my permanent job and allows me to provide for my family.”

Working Area:
Basic Needs & Social Entrepeneurship
Country/Region:
Kenya
Alice Wanjiru is happy with her new job: She is manager of a water kiosk in Githembe, Kenya.

A water kiosk in Githembe provides work for Alice Wanjiru and safe drinking water for her village

Alice Wanjiru lives in a small village in the Thika region north of Nairobi. Like many Kenyans who live in remote areas with poor infrastructure, Alice and her village community drank polluted water from a nearby river. The result: countless cases of illness, high medication costs, and missed school hours.

Since 2012, Githembe has a water kiosk, which has changed the situation. Mobile water filtration systems daily produce up to 10,000 liters of safe drinking water, which can be purchased at an affordable price.

From her job as kiosk manager, Alice generates income for herself and her family. The Safe Water Enterprise in Githembe not only contributes to improved health in the community but also offers opportunities to make a living.

“Since 2012, the water station in Githembe has been my permanent job and allows me to provide for my family.”