Julius Mwongela was still about half a kilometer from his house in Mumbuni in Machakos. His joints were aching. Not because of malaria but due to another long day in the hotel where he worked. He was so tired that it took a while for his eyes to register that the smiling woman in front of him was Margaret Kasiva his beloved wife. Dangling in her right hand was a twenty-litre jerrycan.
“Mbona umezubaa Sweetie?” Why are you absent-minded sweetie? She asked him, a playful look dancing in her eyes.
“Nilikuwa nakufikiria,” I was thinking about you, he lied in that honest way that men have perfected over centuries.
Almost daily, Margaret has to go and fetch water from a borehole that is just under a kilometer from their house. She often has to do it herself because they don’t always have the twenty shillings that it costs to ferry a twenty-litre jerrycan of water to their doorstep.If they have to buy all the water that they need, they can easily end up spending as much money on this precious liquid as they do on their rent.
When Julius moved to his house in Mumbuni estate, there was a shallow borehole from which they could draw water. But it dried up within months so they were sentenced to the daily water-fetching journeys.
Like all urban centres in Kenya, Machakos doesn’t have regular and reliable water supply. Many houses like Julius’s don’t even have piped water. For many that do, taps are often dry so some depend on water delivered by trucks. This is despite the fact that Machakos town sits next to Maruba dam. Located across river Maruba, the dam gifts visitors to Machakos people’s Park with a beautiful scenery. But its ten billion liters of water doesn’t seem to be gifting residents of Machakos town with sufficient water.
Although Maruba dam can provide four times as much water as it is currently providing, sand is standing in the way of this extra water being unleashed.
Interestingly, this water scarcity in Kenya and Machakos in particular is nothing new. Back in 1974, seven years before Julius was born, Hon George Nthenge the then Machakos Member of Parliament posed these questions to the Minister of Agriculture, “What urgent action is being taken to ensure that Machakos town has water day and night? Is the Ministry aware of the great hardships suffered by the residents of the Township including the provincial hospital whose essential activities have had to stop at times?”
In his response, Hon. Wanjigi the then Assistant Minister for Agriculture said that his Ministry was aware of the water scarcity and was taking urgent measures to address it. He added that, “During the recent rains, the production of water in Machakos has had to be reduced due to the heavy silt in Maruba dam…”
Some things never change. Forty-three years ago in 1974, siltation was strangling Maruba dam and is still doing so today. The National and County Government departments responsible of kicking out silt from Maruba dam should rise to the occasion and do so once and for all. The people of Machakos deserve nothing less than that.
Julius and his beloved Margaret deserve taps that have running water. This is their right because Article 43 of Kenya’s constitution clearly states that every person has the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities.