Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Cost of a Drink

Today we entered Mathare Valley. Piper, one of the crew members, asked, “What’s the nastiest slum you’ve ever been in?”
After some thought I had to say, “Mathare Valley.”
I first entered Mathare Valley in 1985 as a college student. It was my first exposure to severe poverty and I’ve never forgotten the experience. Within a year, my parents joined me in the Valley.
Fast forward to 2010 (We spent New Year’s Day 2010 in Mathare) and it doesn’t look like much has changed.
Mathare Valley is a teeming mass of humanity separated by thin walls of mud or cardboard or iron sheets or even burlap. A complete lack of zoning means narrow, winding corridors become the main avenues and a lack of sewage services mean incredible filth spilling down the corridors into the Mathare River at the bottom of the valley.
In this place, clean water is gold.
Felix is 16. His older sister Winnie is 18. They and the rest of their family live in a tiny hut-indistinguishable from the others, in Mathare. They were born in this slum.
They pay 5/= (that’s how you write “five shillings”) for 50 litres of water. They go through at least 250 liters a day for a total cost of 50/= (about US 75 cents).
Winnie’s parents make between 2,500/= and 3,000/= per month. If we go with the higher amount of 3,000/=, they earn approximately 100/= a day (about $1.25).
This means half of the household income goes toward one thing: water.
Let me say that again. Half of their monthly household income goes to water.
And its’ not even good water. It’s Nairobi tap water, which our crew was warned repeatedly not to drink while we’re in Nairobi working. And they have to go fetch the water.
How many of us reading this spend half our income on drinking water?
I don’t have access to my latest utility bill, but I pay a fraction of my monthly income for very clean drinking water that comes out the tap in several different parts of my house.
Something ain’t right here.

1 comment:

  1. When I think about all the things at my fingertips that the majority of the people living at the same time as me can harldy dream of, I get a little overwhelmed. Water, electricity, food, love...