The World Health Organisation identifies unsafe water and sanitation, and indoor air pollution as the two biggest contributors to ill health in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is estimated that one in every five children born each day do not live to celebrate their fifth birthday due to unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation that cause diarrhoea and eventually death.
In Kenya, the problem of waterborne diseases has not been fully addressed and every so often, there are outbreaks of such diseases.
At the moment, different parts of the country are struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has ravaged even the informal settlements of Kawangware, Kibera and Kangemi in Nairobi.
If not contained, the situation will claim lives. But there is hope, a Kenyan innovation is providing an efficient and cost-effective solution to the problem of waterborne diseases.
In 2009, Kenneth Ndua, the founder of the company Stamp Investment, was supervising a student in Kilimambogo sub-county, when two women offered to make him tea.
It took 45 minutes to prepare the tea using dry maize stalks – not cobs, as fuel. When the tea was finally ready, it smelled of smoke.
Ndua then asked for a cup of water and the women were not sure he would drink the water they were going to offer. It was fetched from a dirty river and since cooking fuel was already a challenge, they had no means to boil it. That was his turning point.
Ndua did not quit his job immediately, though he started thinking of a way he would help these women to affordably access safe drinking water and save fuel.
By September 2010, his cook stove idea had started taking shape and Ndua quit working as a programme officer for a non-governmental organisation. He was still a part-time lecturer.
Between 2011 and 2013, Ndua received support from Enablis, the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP) and Kenya Climate Innovation Centre on refining his business model and linkage to other funding sources.
In January 2013, Stamp won a grant from Grand Challenges Canada to improve the efficiency of the cook stove.
Ndua and his research team worked closely with women from Kilifi, Kiambu and Kitui Counties who gave ideas on areas that needed improvement.
The company now has two stoves, one uses firewood only (Jiko Kenya) and the other charcoal or briquettes (Jiko Africa).
In May 2014, he set up a manufacturing facility in Thika that has so far produced 600 stoves that have sold out. Both the firewood and charcoal stoves are fuel efficient and can cook and boil water simultaneously.
The firewood stove can boil three litres of water in 15 minutes while the charcoal one boils two litres within the same duration. One woman who uses the firewood stove in Kilifi commented in Kiswahili "hii jiko inapunguza mambo ya magonjwa" (this stove reduces incidents of water borne diseases.)
Waterborne diseases like typhoid and frequent bouts of diarrhoea reduced by up to 70 per in households that were using the Jiko Kenya or Jiko Africa stoves in the three counties that participated in the research and development phase.
This reduction in incidence of the diseases meant that households that spent a considerable amount of their meagre income at the health centre could now use such monies to meet other basic needs like food.
Women in these households also confirmed that they were spending less on cooking fuel and still ended up with lots of boiled water. The stoves also come with a cleaner cooking experience because they have been optimised to ensure complete combustion of the charcoal or wood fuel, and therefore minimal smoke.
The company had financial and technical support but the journey to commercial production of the cook stoves has not been easy. Like many other start-ups the enterprise faced challenges in attracting skilled labour.
To address this, Ndua partnered with a technical training institution in Thika where he would pick a number of graduates from the institution and train them. With the refined stoves, Ndua’s next plan of action is to establish a distribution channel that will reach his target market—rural and peri-urban women.
Ndua has tips for budding innovators, “Entrepreneurship is not easy but if you persist, someone will believe in you,” he said. He is also happy that the women he has been working with over the last two years no longer have to worry about waterborne diseases or respiratory issues due to indoor air pollution in their households.
Ndua says his work is all about the women and children of Africa.