Robert Wanjala
April 6, 2013

Budalangi district lies about 357.87 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.

The district is synonymous with flooding and displacement of persons during rainy season. This is a common trend when River Nzioa bursts its banks letting water to overflow all over the land surface.

Efforts to install dykes to contain the situation have not been effective due to the large volumes of water flowing down to Lake Victoria. It is also claimed that locals interfere with the dykes so that they may get fish when the water overflows.

River Nzoia, seen above is not only an all year round source of water in the region but also a source of trouble
River Nzoia, seen above is not only an all year round source of water in the region but also a source of trouble

For the residents, the situation means another round of ‘goodies’ which include relief supports like food stuffs, clothing, household utilities and even construction materials from relief agents and the government have come in handy.

However, the humanitarian conditions that comes with the rainfall, accessing clean and portable water in the area is one of the main grave challenge during this flooding, Grace Ochieng, a victim of the flood in the region says.

“During rainy periods, floods flush away pit latrines all over the area. Accessing clean water therefore is a real challenge for most of us,” Mrs. Ochieng says. “The surface water gets contaminated for any domestic use.”

For many years, residents have had to adopt unique migratory patterns, moving to high grounds during rainy periods and back to their original homesteads on the lowlands when the floods subside.

Ironically the situation in this region is not any better during dry spells. One would expect that in the absence of floods, underground water would be clean for domestic use.

The soil formation in many parts of Budalangi has high concentrations of iron metals, according to soil expert in Kenya.

Long before the modern technology of testing iron concentration in water before use were discovered, locals adapted to an indigenous method known as “guava leaf” test.

“For a long time we have been using guava leaf as a reagent. We crush the leaf and add to a glass of water in a clear container and leave it to settle for a few minutes,” Joyce Oyeri says.

“After about three to five minutes, the water with iron concentration begins to turn black.” The thickness of dark coloration shows the concentration of iron in the water, she adds.

“Iron has the effects of turning the colour of water to brown when it comes into contact with the surface, Mrs. Oyeri says. “When this water is used for cooking it changes the food colour to dark blue – an unpleasant sight for any meal.”

According to World Health Organization, iron is an essential element in human nutrition. Iron makes up about 5 percent of the earth’s crust. In humans, it is an essential element required for hemoglobin to transport oxygen from the environment to our cells. In industry, it is used as a construction material and to create pigments.

However, high levels of iron can be fatal. The average lethal dose of iron is 200–250 mg/kg of body weight, but death has occurred following the ingestion of doses as low as 40 mg/kg of body weight, according to WHO.

“For humans, the average lethal dose of iron is quite high–between 200 and 250mg/kg of body weight or about 14g of iron for a typical 70kg adult,” WHO reports points out. “Death results from extensive gastrointestinal hemorrhage. However, iron toxicity is rare, and iron intake from drinking water is typically much too low to raise health concerns (about 0.6mg/day if you’re consuming a typical 2 liters of water per day, compared to an average iron intake of 10 to 14mg/day from food).”

Underground waters may contain iron (II) at concentrations up to several milligrams per litre without discoloration or turbidity in the water when directly pumped from a well, according to WHO.

Taste is not usually noticeable at iron concentrations below 0.3 mg/litre, although turbidity and color may develop in piped systems at levels above 0.05–0.1 mg/litre.

The report notes however that while iron in drinking water has no health concerns, iron concentration above 0.3mg/L can cause food and water to become discolored and taste metallic.

Water with a high iron concentration will also stain laundry, silverware and bathroom fixtures.

Water is life and while the available information does not point out serious health concerns, any impurity in domestic water is enough worry and to many people it implies dirt and contamination, says Peter Maina, a community health worker.

Clean water shortage affects the lives of individuals and the vitality of entire communities
Clean water shortage affects the lives of individuals and the vitality of entire communities

During the celebration to mark the world water’s day, Budalangi residents had their hands full. The perennial flooding in the area and high concentration of iron in water had opened a door for modern water purifier technologies.

Local water providers in partnership with INICEF WASH Programme rolled out a massive water filtration and curative techniques which according to Lake Victoria North Water Services Board, LVNWB, is ideal innovation which has been tested in India on a pilot basis.
Water “Dosers” is the latest method being used to address turbidity menace and bacteriological contamination in water in the region.

Dosers are simple devices consisting of a low steel stand with a one litre container for Water Guard (chlorine solution) fitted with a dosing tap that releases a dose sufficient for one 20 litre jerry can at a time, says Peter Bett, communications officer, LVNWB.

Implementing agent for UNICEF WASH Programme, LVNWB says it was confronted with high effects of iron effects in water soon after completion of digging boreholes in various parts of Budalangi.

Treatment of high iron levels typically involves filtration or some form of chemical removal. And as modern technologies come into play, the residents in Budalangi are not about to abandon this old chemistry that for years it has remained effective to them.

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