ATM-style machines in Kenya dispense clean, affordable water

A resident of the Mathare slums in Nairobi (left) getting some help in buying clean water from an ATM-style water dispenser last week. The clean water from such dispensers is cheaper than what other water vendors used to charge for water that was oft
A resident of the Mathare slums in Nairobi (left) getting some help in buying clean water from an ATM-style water dispenser last week. The clean water from such dispensers is cheaper than what other water vendors used to charge for water that was often dirty.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NAIROBI•  Around the world, people use bank machines to access cash, but in the Kenyan capital's crowded slums, people now use similar machines to access an even more basic requirement - clean water.

In a bid to boost access to clean water, four water-dispensing machines that operate like cash machines have been installed, with customers able to buy affordable water using smart cards.

It has cut costs dramatically and is helping to improve health, residents said.

"It's pure and good for cooking, and, above all, it is affordable," said Mr Peter Ngui, who runs a small street restaurant. "I used to get water from far away, but this water system is closer to my place of work."

Previously, people living in Nairobi's cramped slums struggled to get clean water cheaply.

NEAR AND NOT AS DEAR

It's pure and good for cooking, and, above all, it is affordable. I used to get water from far away, but this water system is closer to my place of work.

MR PETER NGUI, who runs a small street restaurant

Without water pipes or plumbing in the tin-hut districts, residents resorted to buying water from sellers who dragged handcarts loaded with jerry cans or oil drums into the narrow streets.

That water was often dirty, sometimes taken illegally from broken pipes.

The new machines installed by the government-run Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) allow people to purchase water directly and far more cheaply.

The machines also allow the government to make a profit, as water was previously stolen from the authorities, with people cracking pipes to siphon off water to sell.

For slum dwellers, the clean water provided is up to six times cheaper. Previously, people would buy 20 litres of water in a jerry can from a street seller for three Kenyan shillings (four Singapore cents), often from unreliable sources. It was expensive for many slum residents who are unemployed or who occasionally find work for US$2 (S$2.70) a day.

Now the machines sell the same amount of water for just half a shilling - and the treated water is safe to drink.

"We will have more and more people accessing water in a more dignified manner," NWSC chief Philip Gichuki said, standing beside one of the machines, as long lines of users waited to fill cans with water, heavy loads that they must then carry back home.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'ATM-style machines in Kenya dispense clean, affordable water'. Print Edition | Subscribe