Brian McSorley

Brian McSorley, Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator, promotes water, sanitation, and hygiene programs in Northern Kenya. This includes Dadaab refugee camp, where 88,000 people rely on Oxfam to provide facilities. “Water keeps us alive. But get too little, or too much, or the wrong kind, and results can be catastrophic — drought, floods, crop failure, children dying of diarrhea because of poor hygiene and sanitation or from drinking contaminated water — all of which we can mitigate against, if we invest properly,” McSorley says. He acknowledges that not everything they have tried has worked, but a willingness to take risks and innovate has been key to Oxfam’s WASH program in Kenya.

For instance, because public toilets close at night for safety, sanitation is a major issue in urban slums. People have to defecate into plastic bags, known as “Nairobi flying toilets,” and litter them throughout the slums. The solution, McSorley says, was the ‘jitegemee’ portable toilet project. “The next step is to scale this up and turn it into a commercially viable business model, which creates employment opportunities and offers incentives for safe disposal by turning the waste into a resource,” he says.

But it’s not just toilets. Lake Turkana — where McSorley was Oxfam’s WASH coordinator for six years, before taking his current position as humanitarian coordinator in the organization’s Nairobi office — is an alkaline lake that is high in fluoride, causing some residents to develop crippling skeletal fluorosis. Oxfam funded the development of a hand operated reverse osmosis (RO) desalination unit, which is still in the development phase. Meanwhile, other technologies employed by McSorley and the Oxfam team include replacing diesel-powered pumps and generators with solar pumps that are powered by Turkana’s abundant sunshine, piloting a new hand pump and using GPS-enabled mobile phones to map and collect key data on water points. McSorley says he believes outside-the-box solutions like these are needed, because “regardless of how many million dollars you had, traditional solutions have not and will not solve the water and sanitation crises.”

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