As the world becomes paranoid on hygiene amid Covid-19, Nakuru sanitation woes cause for worry
Cholera, typhoid and dysentery kills 1,300 children of less than five years in Africa per day. This is according to the World Health Report. At the same time, the Ministry of Health attributes 22.2 per cent of all the under-five deaths to diarrhoea. The Coronavirus pandemic has also reminded us of the importance of maintaining good hygienic conditions in our homes and surroundings.
Despite these worrying numbers, however, little attention is being paid to proper sewerage disposal, which plays a big role in the spread of these diseases.
Take the case of Nakuru, for instance. Nakuru town, with a population of more than 600,000 residents according to the 2019 census has a sewerage coverage of only 27 per cent as the figures given by Nakuru Water and Sanitation Services Company.
Whenever it rains and the town is flooded, which has become the norm during the rainy season, the floodwaters mix with raw sewerage, posing a health concern for the population.
The County Public Health Director, Samuel Kingori said only 29.7 per cent of the urban and rural population use improved sanitation facilities, while a significant portion of the population still defecates in the open.
This lack of sanitation facilities has also been a source of friction in some areas. Currently, residents of Ziwani estate are up in arms against matatu terminus workers who have resorted to open defecation because the two toilets are not adequate for the number of people using the terminus.
Unfortunately, this is replicated in a number of towns due to limited, dirty and insecure toilets. Along the highways – this is a key transit town – there are hardly any, and vehicles stopping near bushes for passengers to relieve themselves.
The rural part of the county has 48 per cent pit latrine coverage, which happens to be the best in the country. However, due to the sandy soils, pit latrines contaminate groundwater through faecal sludge and urine that percolates to the groundwater table. Those who live in the low grounds, such as Rongai Sub-county are on the receiving end with waters contaminated by faecal matter from areas on higher ground.
Kingori said the importance of a well-developed sewerage system, cannot be underrated, in the control of diseases and they were continually investing in the expansion of the sewerage services to other parts of the town. He said that the county operates two sewage treatment plants located in Kaloleni, for domestic effluents and Mwariki A- Njoro for both industrial and domestic.
He said the county has realised the importance of involving various professionals in the implementation of sewerage development and disease prevention, since health has no demarcated boundaries. He said the Public Health team has incorporated engineers, physical planners, meteorological officers, community members and medics because the added professionals play a vital role in the wellbeing of the residents.
A physical planner in the town, Joakim Omabati, said lack of involvement of their skills in the construction of sewerages in the past has led to mistakes and increased flooding. “It doesn’t matter how well a sewerage system is constructed, if the town itself was not well planned it will still cause a lot of problems, and might not end up serving its intended purpose of managing the proper waste disposal,” said.
But this challenge affects more than just the people living here. Two years ago the wild animals at the Lake Nakuru National Park contracted anthrax and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) blamed the county for the breakout of the diseases due to poor management of the town’s effluence, which ended up in the lake in the park.
However, depositing sewerage contents in rivers and lakes is not only a Nakuru problem. The city of Nairobi has also been accused of turning the scenic Nairobi River greenish-brown with sewage and Kisumu has been blamed for deterioration of water quality in Lake Victoria.
Sewage link to coronavirus
To further complicate issues now is the novel Coronavirus pandemic that has so far killed at least 50 people in Kenya.
Researchers from Biobiotic Analytics Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA last month discovered a high presence of the virus in the states’ sewerage treatment system. The finding provides proof that recovered patients were still shedding antibodies and would easily infect their family members despite having recovered.
In an interview with KNA, Dr Meshack Obonyo, a biochemist scientist at Egerton University, said the US scientists wanted to determine whether wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) would be a good candidate to track the virus in the hard-hit state of Massachuttes. They collected ten samples of sewerage water waste from a major urban facility for comparison against water samples collected before the first USA case was documented on January 20 this year. He said all the samples before tested negative for the virus, whereas each sample collected between March 18 and 25 tested positive at “significantly higher” levels than expected based on clinically confirmed cases in the state.
Dr Obonyo said although the scientific paper has not yet been peer-reviewed, the study has given a further understanding of the presence of the virus at the population level, which would also assist governments and medical officials to implement informed policy measures. He said the WBE test would be a cheaper method to map out areas where coronavirus infected people were likely to be staying instead of the current contact tracing and mass testing. However, the WBE might prove difficult to implement in Nakuru town, since the sewerage system was limited and rudimentary.
Away from this is the worry about what such a situation would mean for population where sewage flows in open canals and on the streets in some areas, coming into contact with people and livestock.