It’s 3.30am. Karisa silently steps out of his shanty and quietly disappears into the darkness. He is dashing to a nearby mkokoteni yard to hire a handcart before he hurtles to a water kiosk.
It is a beehive of activity at one of Mombasa’s main water vendors at Tononoka area as tens of handcarts queue for the precious but scarce commodity.
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But Karisa is lucky. He has struck a deal with the seller who fills up his 20 jerrycans at night and Karisa only arrives in the morning to pick them at an extra Sh50.
“Without this deal, I won’t make two trips a day because the queue is always long in the morning,” Karisa said dismissively as he hurtles towards his first stop at Kaa Chonjo in Tudor.
At the water kiosk, rows of men and women line up in narrow lanes, some sitting on their jerrycans. Others stand behind plastic drums placed strategically between their legs or in front of them.
It is a scene replicated in most water kiosks across Mombasa. In estates like Kiembeni in Kisauni sub-county, many residents have been forced to relocate because of lack of water.
“In Kiembeni, we have not had even a drop of water from the tap for close to three months. We prefer the ‘passport’ style’ for bathing,” said Jemimah Mwende, a resident.
She says water vendors take advantage of the situation to sell the commodity at exorbitant prices. A 20 litre jerrycan of water sells for as high as Sh50 here.
Water resource analysts peg the acute shortages to irregular supply, illegal connections by cartels, leakages due to old pipes and frequent disconnection because of huge debts.
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In January, Coast Water Services Board (CWSB), which supplies bulk water to the county’s Mombasa Water and Sewerage Company (Mowasco), disconnected the supply over a Sh1.2 billon debt.
Water supply restrictions or water rations are also common in estates like Nyali and Ganjoni where residents receive the commodity three times a week. Residents here also complain about the costs.
In October last year, CWSB revised bulk water tariff rate from Sh25 per a cubic metre to Sh20 but raised the tariffs county boards charge consumers from Sh100 per liter to approximately Sh150.
But water resource management analysts say the biggest challenge for Mombasa is leakage due to old pipes and illegal connection linked to water cartels.
Mombasa County Water Executive Fatma Awale also admits that cartels run by some bottling companies are sabotaging the county’s efforts to provide the commodity.
“Some bottling companies are connected illegally. The water Mowasco supplies is only meant for domestic use and not for commercial purposes,” said Awale.
The county, she said, has embarked on a major crack down on uncertified water kiosk operators.
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Currently, Mowasco receives between 44,000 and 48,000m3 per day from CWSB against a demand of 186,000m3.
“Half of the water supplied to Mowasco is lost through the leakages or illegal connection. Almost 24,000m3 is lost to water cartels and leakages, “said a former CWSB manger.
But Awale also attributes the shortage to the burgeoning population’s need for water and the cartels.
Statistics from the county indicate that so far, about 494 new applicants have been given licences to run water kiosks. This is aimed at curbing illegal connections and selling the commodity at higher prices.
According to figures released by the county officials, Mombasa West mainland has 245 kiosks, Kisauni 135, Nyali 35, Island 28 and Likoni 51.
The theft of water, according to county officials, is common in Mombasa West and Kisauni where Mowasco recently conducted a survey to establish the amount lost.
The firm established that those illegally tapping water to the kiosks also charge exorbitant rates to consumers against the stipulated Sh2 per 20 litre jerrycan.
Mombasa County relies on Baricho in Kilifi County, Marere and Tiwi in Kwale County and Mzima from Taita Taveta County for its fresh water needs.
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Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho is currently in Spain to lure water technology firms to support his grand plan of desalination of Indian Ocean waters to supply Mombasa.
Mombasa plans to develop a mega water desalination plant with a production capacity of 100,000 cubic metres.