Dry times in the slums: the struggle for water in informal settlements

By Kamila Gojobe

Around 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, yet access to clean water remains a challenge for millions of people worldwide. This problem is particularly prevalent in informal settlements, where residents often lack basic amenities, including safe and reliable sources of water. The reasons for this are multifaceted, but one key factor is the impact of climate change and changing weather patterns. For example, Kenya has experienced drought conditions for over a year, leading to widespread hardship and economic challenges. But despite these difficulties, there have been positive developments, such as the rise of partnerships and calls for help to address the water crisis. In this blog post, we will explore the current situation in informal settlement, initiatives taken by the local community, and potential solutions to help end this tragedy.

Current situation in informal settlements

Water is a fundamental need for human survival, used for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene. However, in informal settlements, the lack of access to clean water has made life difficult for many residents. The challenges faced include; having to travel long distances to other settlements to get access to water, and purchasing water at a high price from vendors, which is not affordable due to a lack of financial constraints and the high cost of living.

The lack of access to clean water has far-reaching effects on the community as a whole. As a result, one of the major consequences is the rise of water-borne diseases such as cholera, which is caused by poor hygiene practices and the consumption of contaminated water.

The community was aware that they could not solve these challenges on their own. They needed intervention from the Government and other organisations to find sustainable solutions. During the implementation of the Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA) initiative there was Government support available. Through this program, the Government provided clean water to the entire settlement of Mukuru Kwa Rueben using lorries. In addition, they built water kiosks and drilled a borehole that supplied salty water for household use. The project not only helped the people of Mukuru Kwa Reuben, but also supported other settlements like Mukuru Viwandani and Mukuru Kwa Njenga.

Communities taking initiative

Despite the challenges of water surrounding many informal settlements, there is hope. Organisations and communities around the world are coming together to find sustainable solutions to this crisis, from building wells and rainwater harvesting systems, and educating people on proper hygiene and water conservation techniques. By working together, we can ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, have access to this basic human right.

In Mukuru young people saw an opportunity to make a difference while earning a living. They would source clean water from other settlements and sell it to residents at an affordable price. These young people carry jerry cans filled with water on carts, moving through the narrow streets of the settlement, helping to ensure that water is accessible.

The community has also found other ways to store water during the harsh times. Many households have small water tanks that they use to collect rainwater. The collected rain water is treated and used for drinking and other household needs. This method has proven effective in ensuring that households have access to clean water for an extended period.

Potential solutions

Despite the many challenges, there are some potential solutions that could help improve access to water in informal settlements. One approach is to invest in infrastructure to bring water to the settlements. This could involve extending existing water networks or installing new ones. In some cases, it may be necessary to install water treatment facilities to ensure that the water is safe to drink.

Another approach is to work with communities to develop their own water supply solutions. This could involve supporting the development of small-scale water systems, such as rainwater harvesting or community wells. Community-led water systems can be more sustainable and effective than top-down approaches, as they are often better suited to the local context and are more likely to be maintained over the long term.

In addition to infrastructure and community-led solutions, it is also important to address the root causes of water insecurity in informal settlements. This includes addressing poverty and inequality, improving access to education and healthcare, and empowering communities to advocate for their own rights. By addressing these underlying problems, it may be possible to improve access to water and other essential services in informal settlements.


Water is life. Access to clean water is a basic human right, yet millions of people around the world are denied this essential resource. It’s time for concerted efforts by governments, civil society, and the private sector to ensure that all people have access to clean water, and to empower local communities to build their own solutions. With sustained support and innovation, we can end this tragedy and ensure a better future for all.