Kenya lost two in five litres of the piped water it produced last year, even as scarcity continues to bite, with the urban poor paying the highest price, reveals a NationNewsplex investigation.
The 90 billion litres lost annually, after allowing for the 20 percent acceptable loss, would adequately serve Nairobi County, with a daily demand of 750 million litres per day, for four months. If sold at a market value of Sh7 billion, the money could help to significantly improve the quality of services by water companies and boost water supply to consumers.
Fourteen counties lost more than a half of the water produced, up from 12 in the previous year, according to Impact: A Performance Report of Kenya’s Water Services Sector – 2017/18. Siaya lost the highest share (70 percent) and Makueni lost the least (29 percent).
The massive wastage, complemented by an extremely low investment in the sector, sets the country gravitating toward a crisis. The government invests only Sh40 billion annually against the Sh100 billion that the national water master plan recommends is needed to achieve universal access by 2030.
Most of the money goes towards the construction of dams but many of such projects have stalled and a couple are embroiled in a multi-billion-shilling scandal. This suggests that little of the allocated funds actually goes into improving the water situation in the country.
And the consequences are imposing – tap water was available to customers for only an average of 13 hours in 2017/18 financial year nationally, down from 14 hours the previous year and way below the acceptable sector benchmark of 16 hours, according to the report. Some regions had a much more depressed supply. Nairobi, the capital city and a regional economic hub, recorded a measly six hours of supply, one of the lowest in the country and the only one with under 10 hours among eight cities in East and Southern Africa.
While pumping the limited amount of water, companies generally give priority to strategic areas and customers such as the central business district, large academic institutions, military facilities, highly water-dependent factories and slums where acute shortage can easily spark an outbreak of attendant diseases like cholera. Water customers in or close to such areas are, therefore, cushioned from the extreme shortage that most areas experience.
“The Government must not only increase the allocation to water but there must be better efficiency in the use of funds and the water itself if we are to prevent the looming water crisis,” says Eng. Peter Njaggah, the director of technical services at the Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB).
Like the rest of Africa, Kenya’s urban population is growing fast and will hit 22 million in 2030, according to the UN estimates. By 2050, towns and cities will account for more than half of the country’s population.
Paying the price
With the rapid urbanisation, those paying the highest price for the country’s diminishing capacity to provide adequate water are the people living in poor neighbourhoods but outside the category of slums, like Rhoda Atieno, a 41-year-old resident of Soweto-Kayole in Nairobi.
Monday 10am. The only water tap in the block shared by 11 households sticks out of the façade rather dully. Not a single drop since 5am when they started waiting. Water only flows on Mondays, and only for a few hours. That explains why close to a third of her seven square feet single-roomed house is packed to the ceiling with 20-litre jerry cans.
“If it gets to 11am before water flows, we usually look for other sources as we wait for Monday next week,” she says. After what seems like eternity, she withdraws her five jerry cans from the long queue, keeps four in the house and, with the remaining one in hand, asks me to follow her as she squeezes herself past the tiny gate.
There have been claims that persistent water shortage in some parts of urban areas is the work of cartels that thrive on scarcity and desperation.