If you travel thirty minutes by leaky motorized canoe from Mudimbia, the first ten minutes snaking down a reed-lined channel before sliding into Lake Victoria and the last five snaking up another channel, you’ll find a small fishing village comprised of reed huts. The second channel isn’t hard to find due to a bizarre sight which, from a distance, looks like 30 or 40 men walking on water. In fact they are fishing with nets from sand bars some distance from the shore. After hauling one end of their net out into the lake by canoe and then back again to the sand bar in a giant u-shape, the men take hold of the lines and heave against the weight of water and fish. It looks both picturesque and exhausting. When you see those men walking on water, hang a right into the second channel. The fishing village itself seems to be more like a logging camp, not quite intended for permanent residence, but will remain as along as there are fish. It is populated mostly by men, though their families sometimes stay with them there.
We visited the village today to learn about their water situation, which is dire. With no wells and no way to treat the water, the entire village drinks directly from the lake. The water table here is only 2 feet below the surface, making latrines impossible and adding to the contamination of the lake water around the village.
“We work very long hours in the sun, and we are only forced to drink the lake water,” the Vice-Chairman of the Beach told us. “We are in need of clean water.”
We had come to learn more about their water situation and what happens to villages during the annual flooding, and while we were able to demonstrate and leave some HydroPacks behind, this will not solve their problem. The village’s need is one of long-term sustainable water, while the HydroPack is intended for short term emergency use. It is a reminder that many different technologies and approaches are needed to address the enormous problem of access to safe water across the globe.
Strategies for emergency water are in a different class altogether than strategies designed to improve household daily drinking water. Technologies that work well for improving household point of use treatment may not be good candidates for widespread distribution in emergencies. Considerations such as very high contamination levels of available water, unpredictable contaminants, populations under heavy stress, destroyed infrastructure, lack of access, lack of security, all point to the need for reliable, locally acceptable, simple technologies. What has made this pilot project so exciting for us is seeing just how well the HydroPack meets these requirements.
Chris Akeba is a community health worker employed at the local rural health clinic, and is now also working part time for KWAHO, conducting the health survey for our pilot program in Mudimbia. He was educated at the Kenyan Medical College in Nairobi, and is a medical lab technician. He has worked in the Mudimbia area for seventeen years, and is convinced that the HydroPack has a role to play in disaster preparedness.
“I was here during the flooding, and it was very terrible. There was nowhere to find clean water, and there was water-borne disease all around,” he told us. “It was not easy working in the clinic during the flooding. The HydroPack would minimize those people getting a water-borne disease.”
Chris says this because the urine analysis trend in his surveys shows that people are better hydrated now than during the week before the pilot started, a clear indicator that they are drinking more, which in turn indicates that they have accepted and like the HydroPack.
“As a medical technician, I can tell you that the Hydropack will keep people hydrated, and would be good to have during an emergency. I have visited the same ten households during this pilot, and I haven’t seen any complaints about the HydroPack,” he says.
Nobody knows the community better than Asst. Chief John Kwedombi, our host and ultimate facilitator in Mudimbia. Chief of 984 households and 2,800 people, he’s held his title for ten years, and describes his duties as mobilizing people and resources, being responsible for the development agenda of the community, and organizing public meetings. He is a marriage counselor, truant officer, community cop and welcome wagon all in one. Ask, and he’ll quickly list a string of relevant facts: his district covers four square kilometers between the rivers Zoia and Yala, has one market, two public toilets and one primary school with 914 students. 40% of the fishing is for domestic consumption and 60% of his citizens are semi-literate. His concern for his community is obvious. Surviving the next disaster is one of his concerns.
“We have many health challenges in our community. HIV is very high, food insecurity is a problem, and waterborne disease is a problem too,” he says. “We have improved the knowledge of how to treat water, but during the flooding it is too difficult. In my opinion the Hydropack is very viable. It prepares water in a quick way. It is not tedious. It is easy and simple. It can even be used by my people who have no education. They are even proud to be associated with the HydroPack now. The people are listened to, and they appreciate this greatly,” he says, referring to the pilot research project.
“I see the HydroPack as an ideal. I ask the experts: look into and avail the HydroPack. The common citizen has already accepted it. My hope is that if the floods come – we anticipate April, August and November – my hope is that we get supplies readily available. They should be brought in time so they are readily available when the floods come. And I request to you: don’t go and forget us. Come as early as march, we are expecting rains and flooding between April and May.”