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Kenyan mother holding her young boy fills up a jerrycan at a water kiosk for clean water in Marsabit county.

In Kenya, Clean Water Flows Out of An…ATM?

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WRITTEN BY Alice Zhang

In the United States, we experience a miracle every time we open a water faucet, turn on the shower, the garden hose, or flush the toilet. We get clean water that is safe to drink and available on demand. Even when there is a drought, which happens in places like California, water still flows from the tap. Though we may have tried to trim our showers by a few minutes, most of us don’t know what it’s like not to have access to clean water–at all.

Yet, more than 780 million people in the majority world—more than 2.5 times the entire population of the United States—have inadequate access to clean water.

For those who don’t have instant access to it, clean water is not something to take for granted. Every drop matters, and every drop is a miracle. More than 3.4 million people die each year from lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Women and children in underdeveloped countries spend a total of 200 million hours per day collecting water — and there is no assurance that the water they collect is clean or safe. That was the case for Mesiamo Lengima.

Meet Mesiamo Lengima

Mesiamo Lengima draws water from her old water source, about 12 km away from her home.

Mesiamo would regularly leave her home in northern Kenya and walk up to 12 miles in search of water for her family and the livestock she owned. But success was never guaranteed. The shallow wells she drew from were often dirty–so contaminated that the water ran brown. The possibility of contracting a serious waterborne disease was high. Oftentimes, Mesiamo’s children frequently helped with the water collection, causing them to either miss school or get sick from drinking it.

Unfortunately, in the red, dusty drylands of Kenya, this is not a unique situation. Forty percent of Kenya’s 46 million citizens seek out ponds, shallow wells, and rivers as their primary water source. Only nine out of 55 public water service providers offer a consistent supply of it. In the dry season when the rain is sparse, Kenyans turn to a lot of manmade water sources, including machine-drilled boreholes, community wells, and other management systems to get water.

But even then, things break. One report from The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) found that in 2009, up to 50,000 water supply points were not functioning across rural Africa.

So how do you provide water–and manage it well?

Dispensing Clean Water from “ATMs”

FH is one of 15 non-government organizations working in collaboration with the Millennium Water Alliance (MWA). Through MWA, FH works to provide water, sanitation and hygiene to educate the people in developing countries about how to live healthier lives through the provision, proper handling and use of clean water.

Any supporter of Food for the Hungry believes that communities can best thrive when given the tools to lift themselves out of poverty.

We are interested in graduating communities from extreme poverty, meaning long term sustainability. That means that when we are working to provide clean water to communities, embedding teaching about maintenance and management practices is critical.


To address the issue of access and sustainability of clean water in Kenya, FH is implementing an innovative WASH project alongside partners such as IBM Africa and the Coca-Cola Foundation in the remote northern villages of Kenya.

In five counties, FH worked to build water kiosks, which are best understood as “water ATMs” managed by the community. Prior to filling up their jerrycans on their assigned day of the week, each member has a prepaid card that they must load with funds. When it’s their turn to collect water, the kiosks function just like an ATM. Scan your card to “withdraw” your water funds, and the water is automatically dispensed. Not a single drop is wasted, since the meter is pre-paid!

Each kiosk as well includes a water management software platform developed by IBM, which automatically sends real-time data and reports about water usage to the local county governments, alerting the right people for when the system needs maintenance. Take a look at the video below:

All the fees collected by the kiosks are used to pay for maintenance and reinvested into the children of the community by paying their school fees.

The program was designed to increase the average water coverage rate in the five counties from 37 percent to more than 50 percent, and the numbers speak for themselves:

  • 184,172 people have access to improved access to safe and clean water in Kenya
  • More than 22,512 people gained access to basic sanitation services
  • 314,510 livestock have improved access to water through livestock troughs constructed in the developed/rehabilitated water points

Kenyan mother holding her young boy fills up a jerrycan at a water kiosk for clean water in Marsabit county.

Florida and her son fill up their jerrycan at the Saku Water Kiosk in Marsabit county. The prepaid water kiosk guarantees Florida receives enough water to meet her family’s needs.

Water jerry cans in a group in Kenya

A woman holds her baby boy, in front of an innovative kiosk bring clean water in Kenya

Since the new water kiosks were installed in the five counties, women in the village no longer have to walk long distances and wait in long lines to carry water back to their homes. Instead, they can use that extra free time to attend school. The children are able to drink and bathe in safe water. As a result, their overall health is improving, with fewer children getting sick.

That’s the ripple effect of what clean water in Kenya brings.

Kenyan woman in purple clothing gathers clean water from kiosk


Bring Clean Water to Kenya on World Water Day

On World Water Day, you can make a difference in bringing clean water to children in developing communities like Kenya! By donating to the 22x match fund, your $1 turns into $22 to fund projects like water ATMs in Kenya. You can also purchase a water filter or rainwater collection tank for someone in poverty through our gift catalog.

By partnering with FH, your donation makes a difference through context-specific and innovative solutions for those in the hardest places.

Happy World Water Day!

Continue reading:

3 Ways FH Builds Sustainable Clean Water Solutions

Photo Essay: International Women’s Day Around the Globe

God’s Story: How Clean Water Reveals the Kingdom of God


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