Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bondo, Kenya grapples with shortages of water and health services

From IRIN, a story about shortages of water and health services in western Kenya.

Bondo constituency in Nyanza Province, western Kenya, has the least amount of rainfall annually in the region, even though it is not classified as arid or even semi-arid, forcing residents to walk long distances in search of water.

"The dry conditions throughout the year mean that farmers do not harvest the maximum of the crops they plant and this in turn leads to widespread poverty in an already poor region of Nyanza," Pascal Babu, a farmer and trader in Bondo, told IRIN. "I walk up to 5km daily to get water for my herd of cows; that is why I trade in glass on the side because I cannot survive on farming alone."

For years, Babu and other residents of Barchando in Bondo relied on a water pan in their village but this is now just a tiny pond.

"Many of us have to deal with water-related diseases such as typhoid and cholera and livestock diseases are also common," a neighbour of Babu’s, who declined to be named, said. "Our understanding is that water projects require the government or the water ministry's decision to be implemented; if you are not politically correct, your area may not benefit. This was the case for Nyanza for many years."

Bondo receives an annual average of 800mm rainfall, according to the Kenya Meteorological Department, the lowest in the province, whose residents depend on fishing in Lake Victoria and farming crops such as rice, sugar cane, sorghum and millet.

Ayub Shaka, the assistant director at the Department, told IRIN on 22 February that Bondo, in line with other parts of the country that traditionally received low rainfall, was more affected by the La Niña phenomenon, which is responsible for the serious drought conditions being experienced in northern, eastern and southern parts of the country.

"Areas of the country that normally receive slightly more rainfall are not as badly affected as those, including Bondo and Suba in Nyanza, that usually receive little rainfall,” Shaka said.

According to Alfred Okeyo Adongo, head of Sustainable Aid in Africa International (SANA), an NGO that deals with water services, the situation is "grim" in terms of access to water across the whole province.

"In Bondo, the situation is pathetic; SANA has received a request to develop a proposal for water provision for Bondo and we are in the process of undertaking it," Adongo said. "It is sad and dangerous when women wake up at 4am or 5am to walk long distances in search of water."

Adongo said a consequence is poor sanitation, especially for school-children. "In Nyanza, you have situations where 80 school-children use one latrine when the ideal situation should be one latrine for 30 girls and one latrine for 35 boys."

SANA has in the past supported 12 water pans in Bondo. Adongo said the NGO is undertaking four school-based water projects targeting 22 schools in Muhoroni and Nyatike districts.

Sparse health services

Julius Oliech, the district medical officer, told IRIN the health service coverage remained a challenge as the district had only one main hospital serving 161,450 people. The hospital is supplemented by a sub-district hospital and 32 dispensaries, he said.

"There are only two doctors for the whole population; the rest of the medical staff include 80 nurses and 20 clinical officers," he said. "Ideally, the district should have at least four doctors, 40 clinical officers and 120 nurses."

Low public awareness is another challenge in the provision of health services in Bondo.

"The number of patients accessing family planning services is still about 50 percent, despite outreach activities being carried out during public barazas [community meetings], health dialogue days and the setting-up of community units to encourage people to seek health services," Oliech said.

The most common diseases in Bondo are malaria and HIV/Aids. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, malaria remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the country, with close to 70 percent (24 million) of the population at risk of infection.

Oliech said the HIV/Aids prevalence rate for Bondo was 23.6 percent against a national prevalence rate of 7.4 percent.

He added that other health threats included diarrhoeal diseases and upper respiratory tract infections.

However, Oliech said efforts were ongoing to improve health services. Distribution of mosquito nets had been increased and the district could "soon" achieve universal coverage.

He said HIV/Aids services were being decentralized and counselling and testing made available in most medical facilities in the district.

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