Vulnerabilities of the Elderly in WASH: Teso North

Having adequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities constructed with vulnerable groups’ needs is necessary. However, the elderly in most rural Kenya do not enjoy the luxury of accessing these services adequately and safely. Through support from the WaterAid organization, KEWASNET embarked on a journey to document the WASH challenges of PWDs. This is what we established from Teso North, Busia County, Kenya.

Philomena famously referred to as ‘Tata” amongst her village mates in Koteko, Teso North, Busia County, is a widower who lives alone since the death of her husband fifteen years ago. Her two sons visit once in a while. They live with their families in the next town. However, she is grateful that they support her whenever they can. The 80-year old depends on subsistence agriculture and the goodwill of her neighbors’ children to get water from the river.

“The river is very far from here. Therefore, I send my neighbor’s children for water. Sometimes, they bring me contaminated water. In such cases, I use it for other household chores but ask for my neighbors for clean water for drinking. That is how I survive,” said Philomena.

“Tata” milking at her compound

Few meters from Philomena’s homestead is the compound of Juliana. Two years ago, Juliana lost her husband to prostate cancer, a loss that she is yet to come to terms with. Few months before his death, he had begun constructing what would have been a traditional squat toilet. Unfortunately, he died after only marking the placement of the toilet and drilling a hole. Now Juliana and her dependents  walk for long hours to the river and depend on the neighbors with better sanitation facilities.

“There was a time I was hospitalized. The doctor told me I had typhoid.  On that day, I remember feeling uncomfortable in my stomach.  I was given some medication, and I have since recovered. But I still fear that I may fall sick because of the water I continue to use”, said Juliana.

Juliana narrates how difficult it is for her to get clean water for domestic use.

“My grandchildren help me by going to the river. But they are so playful. Sometimes, on their way from the river, children being children, they contaminate the water. Sometimes I put a little chlorine on it. When I do not, I use the water as it is”, added Juliana.

Juliana seated at her homestead

Pascal, an 83-year widower, has lived alone since death snatched his wife fifteen years ago. His two sons, just like the other younger generation, moved with their families to the nearby city. His day revolves around going to the farm when his joints allow, reading when his eyes and back allow, and cleaning when his energy level.

Pascal reading during his free time at his compound

Since retiring from being a watchman sometime in the 1990s, he depends entirely on his sons for support.

“I use at least 30 liters of water per day. I send my neighbor’s children when they pass by my compound on their way to the river. I use what they bring sparingly until the next day. Concerning the toilet and bathroom, my brother, who lives nearby, allows me to use theirs. I do not have money to construct mine”, said Pascal.

Elderly people in rural Kenya report neglect of their rights to WASH. Admittedly, such areas continue to be marginalized in the general provision of basic services. Consequently, the population continues to be left behind in development. The situation observed in Teso North shows a worrying trend of no supply of clean water and safe sanitation options. It places doubt on the possibility of achieving access to WASH to all by 2030 and justify the need for effective governance in WASH to support the needs of elderly.

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