Misuuni, Kenya

For those of us in the water and sanitations fields, it is impossible to ignore World Health Organization statistics:

  • 844 million people still lack even a basic drinking water service.
  • 263 million people spend over half an hour per round trip to collect water from an improved source.
  • 159 million people still collect drinking water from a surface water source.

These macro-scale problems are what drove EWB-NY to partner with the Misuuni Development Self Help Group (MDSHG) in 2014 and return again almost every year since then. What we found were some very serious problems, some amazing resilient people, and community leaders willing to dig in to help their community. Asante sana for your support of the work done during this time. Now we would like to introduce you to the community of Misuuni and some of the leading citizens there. But first, allow us to provide some background – at least from a water resources perspective.

Misuuni in Context

The community is an agricultural area in Machakos County, Kenya located about 70 kilometers southeast of Nairobi on a semi-arid high plain. Misuuni is approximately centered at the Misuuni Market and Misuuni Dam. The larger town of Miumbuni with its market area, schools, and administrative offices is 1 kilometer to the north.

The water problems which are widespread in sub-Sahara Africa exist in Misuuni. Women and children spend much of their time hauling water to their homes – time that could be spent with other productive work, time that could be spent in school. Often, the water is bacteriologically unsafe for drinking, adding the burden of disease to the time-consuming labor of hauling water.

Smallholders – subsistence farmers – obtain water from a variety of sources depending on the season.  Irrigation water is a matter of serious economic consequence.  In a semi-arid climate, it is the difference between a crisis and a survivable year. 

Surface water sources such as shallow impoundments and intermittent streams cost nothing but are unsanitary and unreliable.  The existing groundwater sources are bacteriologically safe although somewhat mineralized and unpalatable.

For safe groundwater pumped from a borehole (a drilled well), a fee is normally collected to offset the costs of maintenance. Within the Misuuni program area, one community-operated groundwater source and one private groundwater source sell water to the public at a cost of about 5 cents for a 20 L container. 

The Misuuni Dam is the Community’s all-purpose water source. The situation there can perhaps best be described by an interview with children at the Misuuni Dam.  The video was filmed by Weiling Xu, an EWB volunteer from the City of New York Department of Health with translation from Kamba to English by Glorianne Ndolo, of Misuuni.

A more in-depth description of the water resource issues in the Misuuni area can be found here: Community Water Supply – Case Study

Wastewater disposal is also a growing concern, particularly in the Miumbuni Market area where some facilities may eventually have piped water and flush toilets.  Some of the institutions in this area are already beginning to consider this issue.   EWB-NY provided an investigation of wastewater disposal options for an 80-bed school dormitory which was already partially built.  You can read the feasibility study here: Sanitation Challenges for a 80-Person Dormitory Miumbuni Secondary School

Program Background and History

The Misuuni Program originated as a request from the Misuuni Development Self Help Group (MDSHG) to drill a new borehole one kilometer to the north of MDSHG’s existing borehole.  The existing borehole and water system was constructed in 2008 with support from the Spanish NGO, Manos Unidas.  This borehole is a success.  It is the best available source of bacteriologically safe water in the area and also provides irrigation water to several farms.  Fees are collected for the water which sustain the operation of the system.

The proposed location for the new borehole would have been an ideal distribution point for the community.  However, upon visiting the site in 2014 and seeing the number of non-functioning boreholes in the area, EWB-NY took a cautious approach and initiated a groundwater study of the area with assistance from an experienced hydrogeologist and EWB volunteer, Jeff Randall.

Together, EWB-NY and MDSHG hired a Kenyan hydrogeologist, Dominic N. Mutinda of Groundwater and Technical Service, Ltd in a qualifications-based procurement process.  The report in its entirety can be found here: Hydrogeological and Groundwater Availability Study in Miumbuni – Misuuni Area, Mitaboni, Machakos County, Keyna.

The results indicated that a borehole with a reasonable yield probably cannot be found at the desired location.   Instead, it would need to be located further away in the zones of fractured rock along the intermittent streams bordering the project area. 

This is important to know.  But it complicates the situation.  To locate the borehole where a reasonable yield of groundwater is available, more pumping and piping is needed to convey the water uphill to a more central area where it can be used.  Further planning is required for this larger project including the establishment of rights-of-way, a 3-phase power supply (or a robust solar power system), and a route survey.  But the need for water is dire and cannot wait for a fully planned, designed, and funded water infrastructure project. 

As an interim project, MDSHG and EWB-NY went forward with rainwater harvesting improvements at two primary schools.  The work was completed in 2018 and 2019.  A total of 98 m3 of rainwater storage and 663 m2 of rainwater collection area were installed.  These systems are now in operation, serving a total of 1000 students and staff at the schools. A special debt of gratitude goes to Jeff Morgan, with Plumbers Without Borders for his assistance with the completion of these rainwater harvesting systems.

While this provided over 4 times the pre-existing rainwater harvesting capacity, the water supply is still not what it should be for proper hand washing and hydration at these schools.

Looking Forward

Despite the capabilities of the MDSHG, despite the efforts of the government, and despite the positive interventions of several non-governmental organizations, clean water is not readily available to some 50% of the population in Machakos County.  The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change exacerbate the situation.  Significant challenges remain.  The way forward is best charted by the community itself.

Our team is team just recently adopted a new project to design and install 10-15 latrines for the schools in the Misuuni community.

Meet Our Partners

The Misuuni Development Self Help Group, founded in 2007, has been a steadfast and energetic advocate for the community.  Chairman John Ndolo, Rose Ndolo, Atanas Mutua, Lazarus Muthiani, their families, and others have worked incredibly hard to initiate and deliver projects for their community.  At EWB-NY we have the greatest respect for MDSHG as we have witnessed them in action and seen the results.  Frankly, if it was any one of us, we would be entirely exhausted by now.

But like many thoughtful organizations, there has been some succession planning and so a new community group is preparing to carry on the work of MDSHG.  With a similar name and a similar mission the Misuuni Community Organization is carrying on the work.

Here is a link to the Misuuni Community Organization Facebook site: ( ).  Visit them for information about current topics in Misuuni.  A web site is under development as well.  We will provide a link to it when it is available.

Some of our EWB-NY team were fortunate enough to meet upcoming and dynamic engineers from the Misuuni Community Organization.  Through the Misuuni Community Facebook site, you can too.

Meet Nixon Kioko, with a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Nairobi, Nixon is one of the most talented and resourceful engineers we have ever met.  He has the hands-on technical skills of a veteran tradesperson with all the theoretical underpinnings obtained from a university education.

His family shamba (farm) is in Misuuni but he travels all over East Africa to support his business clients.  Nixon leads the community with his pioneering work with solar pumping systems for irrigation water.

Meet Festus Ndolo.  He received his Bachelors in Civil Engineering from the University of Nairobi in 2015.  His senior research project was a report titled “A Feasibility Study for a Water Project in Misuuni, Machakos County”. In his engineering career, Festus has managed construction projects in East Africa and Madagascar while serving as the In-Country Technical Liaison for EWB-NY’s Misuuni Program.  Festus is from Misuuni and has lately been managing his family’s farming enterprise in Misuuni while attending graduate school at the Beedie School of Business at Simon University in Vancouver, Canada.

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Asante Sana!