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Indigenous Ogiek health volunteers want clean water access

1 September 2022

By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group 

Kenya’s Mau Complex is well known for being one of the most important water catchment areas in the country. The main rivers that snake their way through the famous Rift Valley in the country derive their waters from this area. 

The rich and fertile Mau Forest Complex is also the ancestral home of the Ogiek — the indigenous hunter-gatherer community, that has recently won yet another legal battle against the Kenyan government over evictions from the forest. While the complex is a source of plenty of water, access to clean and safe water for domestic use is still a major challenge for the Ogiek. 

It is common to see animals such as cattle and donkeys drinking side by side with girls and women fetching water into jerrycans to take home for domestic use. Poor sanitation practices such as open defecation further contaminate these water sources. 

‘Diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery are quite common in our communities,’ says Patrick Oldaisaba, an Ogiek Community Health Volunteer (CHV).  ‘As a matter of priority, both at the county and national levels, the issue of access to clean water for the Ogiek must be sorted.’ 

In Nessuit, Nakuru County, Minority Rights Group International, in partnership with the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program, is working to improve health outcomes among the community, under the ‘Ethnic Minority Defenders: Amplifying the voices of minority indigenous human rights defenders to advocate for the rights to health and education’ programme

Animals and members of the Ogiek community sharing the same water source is a common sight in Nessuit in Nakuru County, Kenya. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo/MRG

This project, funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Kenya, aims to attain improved health outcomes in these communities through the training of CHVs like Patrick, who are also supported with stipends. 

As health role models among the Ogiek, CHVs educate members of their community on best hygiene and sanitation and how to prevent outbreaks of water-borne diseases in their homes. However, their efforts are being derailed by a lack of access to clean and safe water in Nessuit.  

‘We move from one household to another to tell people to use clean water, but what choice do they have if they cannot get water from a clean and safe source?’ wonders Hellen Sitiengi, another CHV. As the popular phrase goes, ‘health is wealth.’ Good health is a major contributor to improved prospects of communities, and even more so with indigenous peoples such as the Ogiek. 

CHVs play an important role in improving public health among the Ogiek. They sensitise people on diseases and encourage the sick to go to health facilities for medications. As vital and selfless as this work is, these volunteers need support. As new political leadership shapes up across Kenya, from the national to county levels, authorities need to prioritise clean water access for the Ogiek.  

Nobody should have to look to contaminated shallow rivers and streams for domestic water. The government should extend reliable piped water to vulnerable communities in the medium term. Meanwhile, in the short term, protected springs, boreholes and even water tanks should be availed to the Ogiek to facilitate their access to clean water. 

Lead photo: Hellen Sitiengi (left) and Patrick Oldaisaba at a waterpoint in Neissuit, Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo/MRG

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