Clean water and hygiene supplies to fight COVID-19 in Kenya

During the coronavirus pandemic we have all heard the message to wash our hands and slow the spread; but what if you don’t have access to clean water? This is the reality facing women across Kenya who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


“For the past week I have had to trek for over two hours [each day] in search of water. Even then I am not sure I will get water when I get there besides having to pay for it. I have very young children who I leave under the care of a neighbor as I go search for water,” says local Kenyan woman, Irene Mkalewa who has come today to collect water for her family at an ActionAid water point.

With support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), and working with local partners, ActionAid Kenya (AAK) has successfully advocated for clean water for rural communities in need. As a result, rural communities have so far received 62,000 litres of water, 350 buckets with taps and 400 litres of liquid soap so they can protect themselves from the virus. 

When coronavirus began to spread through Kenya, ActionAid swiftly refocused their programs on the health crisis. The team joined Sauti Ya Wanawake (Sauti), a local women’s movement in Taita Taiveta County, to walk door-to-door, sharing health messages and COVID-19 pamphlets that promote basic handwashing and hygiene practices. This initiative has reached women like Irene Tangawizi, who is supporting her husband and three children through the pandemic

“When COVID-19 began to spread in Kenya, my opportunities became very limited and I found it difficult to put food on the table. With better access to water and support from AAK, I have been able to find work in tomato farming and have been learning some basic hygiene techniques to keep my family safe,” explains Irene.  

Prior to the pandemic, AAK was supporting communities in the Kishushe region to break the cycle of poverty, food insecurity and violence by improving access to education and clean water. 

Access to clean water is tightly interlaced with gender equality and economic rights. Many women report having to walk more than two hours to collect water, time that they could otherwise spend in the classroom or earning a living. The long journey to find clean water also  increases their risk of gender-based violence.

Violence against women is skyrocketing globally as COVID-19 lockdowns and economic struggles can increase tensions at home. While walking door-to-door, AAK and Sauti identified nine cases of gender-based violence for support. 

While climate change increases pressure on scarce water resources, the coronavirus pandemic makes it more important than ever that women can access basic healthcare and hygiene resources to keep themselves and their families safe. 

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