NAIROBI, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Kenya has secured funding from Belgium for a 1.7 billion shilling ($19.66 million) water project serving the highlands town of Iten, used by athletics champions such as Wilson Kipsang and Mo Farah.
The east African nation of 40 million people has raised the share of its population with access to clean water to 55 percent from 43 percent two decades ago, but will require $5-7 billion over the next several years to close the gap entirely.
The Iten water supply project in the Rift Valley county of Elgeyo Marakwet involves the construction of a dam on the river Charama and a purification station. Once completed, it is expected to boost investment in the area.
"It will not only increase access to clean water and reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases but also attract international athletes," Kenya's finance minister Henry Rotich told a news conference.
World marathon record holder Kipsang, who hails from the Rift Valley, and Britain's double Olympic and world champion Farah have both trained in Iten.
Terms of the funding provided by Belgium include a repayment period of 15.5 years at zero interest.
Wary of China's growing influence across the continent, European countries are seeking to boost ties with Kenya and other African states.
Belgium has funded a range of projects in sectors like energy, and dispatched its foreign minister for a visit to Nairobi earlier this year.
Kenya plans to sell its first Eurobond later this year, raising up to $2 billion for debt refinancing and infrastructure projects such as roads.
Judi Wakhungu, the minister for environment and water, told the same news conference that her priority is mapping Kenya's water resources and embarking on a project to desalinate water from the Indian Ocean for use in homes and farms.
($1 = 86.4500 Kenyan shillings) (Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by James Macharia and Catherine Evans)