Quality of water the slum dwellers use: The case of a Kenyan slum

  • Kimani-Murage E
  • Ngindu A
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As a result of rapid urbanization in a context of economic constraints, the majority of urban residents in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums often characterized by a lack of basic services such as water and sewerage. Consequently, the urban poor often use inexpensive pit latrines and at the same time may draw domestic water from nearby wells. Overcrowding in slums limits the adequate distance between wells and pit latrines so that micro-organisms migrate from latrines to water sources. Sanitary practices in these overcrowded slums are also poor, leading to contamination of these wells. This study sought to assess sanitary practices of residents of a Kenyan urban slum and fecal contamination of their domestic water sources. This cross-sectional study involved 192 respondents from Langas slum, Kenya. Forty water samples were collected from the water sources used by the respondents for laboratory analysis of coliforms. Of these 40 samples, 31 were from shallow wells, four from deep wells, and five from taps. Multiple-tube fermentation technique was used to enumerate coliform bacteria in water. The study found that most people (91%) in the Langas slum used wells as the main source of domestic water, whereas the rest used tap water. Whereas most people used pit latrines for excreta disposal, a substantial percentage (30%) of children excreted in the open field. The estimated distance between the pit latrines and the wells was generally short with about 40% of the pit latrines being less than 15 m from the wells. The main domestic water sources were found to be highly contaminated with fecal matter. Total coliforms were found in 100% of water samples from shallow wells, while 97% of these samples from shallow wells were positive for thermotolerant coliforms. Three out of the four samples from deep wells were positive for total coliforms, while two of the four samples were positive for thermotolerant coliforms. None of the samples from taps were positive for either total or thermotolerant coliforms. Because the presence of thermotolerant coliforms in water indicates fecal contamination, facilitated by the proximity between the wells and pit latrines, the study suggests that the pit latrines were a major source of contamination of the wells with fecal matter. However, contamination through surface runoff during rains is also plausible as indiscriminate excreta disposal particularly by children was also common. Owing to the fecal contamination, there is a high possibility of the presence of disease pathogens in the water; thus, the water from the wells in Langas may not be suitable for human consumption. To address this problem, treatment of the water at community or household level and intensive behavioral change in sanitary practices are recommended. Efforts should be made to provide regulated tap water to this community and to other slums in sub-Saharan Africa where tap water is not accessible. However, more sampling of different water sources is recommended.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Africa
  • Coliforms
  • Contamination
  • Kenya
  • Poverty
  • Sanitary practices
  • Sanitation
  • Slums
  • Urban poor
  • Urbanization
  • Water
  • Water quality

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  • Elizabeth Wambui Kimani-Murage

  • Augustine M. Ngindu

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