Nothing to celebrate as Kenya marks Water day

Real Estate

Until all citizens can access clean and adequate water, the Government cannot claim to making steps in development, writes HAROLD AYODO

As we mark the World Water Day today (March 22), many Kenyans, especially in low-income urban areas, continue to grapple with shortage of the precious commodity.

Many estates in Nairobi either receive water a few days of the week or make do with spells of dry taps.

It is worse in informal settlements where residents spend more money to buy water than food.

A recent study by the United Nations Development Programme estimated that one person in Kenya consumes 50 litres of water every day. Although this is very little in ideal circumstances, this might be all a household can access per day in a slum.

However, Water and Irrigation Minister Charity Ngilu says her ministry is implementing reforms to ensure efficient service delivery.

According to Ngilu, a water storage strategic plan aimed at constructing 25 dams in various parts of the country over the next ten years has been developed. 

"We are also working with the Ministry of Local Government to pass new regulations that buildings in urban areas must have plans for harvesting rainfall," says Ngilu. 

The minister says local authorities would be required to pass the new by-laws to enforce the regulations that will increase per capita storage 16 times — from five cubic metres to 80 cubic metres.

However, organisations such as the Economic and Social Rights Centre insist that current legislations on water must be reviewed in line with the Constitution.

Water kiosks

There are fears that shortage of supply of water may increase following the increased rate of urbanisation. According to the 2009 national census, the population of urban areas increased by 26 per cent to 12.5 million up from 9.9 million in 1999.

"In 1962, one out of every 12 Kenyans lived in urban centres," says Civil Society Urban Development Programme (CSUDP) programme coordinator George Wasonga.

By 1999, human population in urban areas increased to 34.5 per cent, which translates to about 10 million people, meaning one out of every three people live in urban areas.

Therefore, facilities in urban areas would be overstretched in 2015 when the population in urban areas is projected to shoot to 16.5 million and 23.6 million by 2030.

What is most worrying, however, is that majority of this urban population lives in informal settlements with limited access to water, sanitation and proper housing.

The rapid urbanisation has overstretched the capacity of the Government to control physical growth and provide essential services like water and sanitation.

However, initiatives by some civil society organisation are improving access to the basic commodity among slum dwellers.

An example of such an initiative is the Umande Trust, which in partnership with Habihut PLC (Montana) and support by the CSUDP has installed two Habihut solar-powered water kiosks in Korogocho (Nairobi) and Dallas (Embu).

Habihuts are water kiosks made of recycled plastics and fitted with solar panels. They provide access to clean and safe water, and source of energy for lighting.

Cart vendors

According to Umande Trust Managing Trustee Josiah Omotto, the success of the project recently attracted support from GE-Electric, Davis & Shirtliff and Safaricom.

Umande Trust plans to install 100 habihuts countrywide by December 2011 to benefit at least 100,000 residents of informal settlements.

Others are Maji na Ufanisi and Pamoja Trust that recently spearheaded provision of water to informal settlements like Mnazi Mmoja in Kisauni, Mombasa.

According to the CSUDP chief executive officer Prof Edward Kairu, urban informal settlements are growing very fast.

"Sustainable access to safe water is estimated at 60 per cent in urban areas, but falls as low as 20 per cent in low-income urban settlements," says Kairu.

Prof Kairu is, however, confident that the increased budgetary allocation for water, environment and irrigation from Sh27.79 billion in 2010 to Sh57 billion 2011 will improve the situation.

"Approximately 22 per cent of slum residents have household connections of water while 75 per cent purchase the commodity from kiosks and cart vendors," says Kairu.

In most cases, slum dwellers buy 20 litres of water between Sh2 and Sh5, which translates to Sh250 per cubic metre while the Nairobi Water Company has a special lower rate of Sh10 per cubic metre for informal settlements.

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