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Try to figure out a scenario where you are routinely forced to be indoors before nightfall because your neighbourhood is not lit.

This can be quite frustrating, isn’t it? Unfortunately, thousands of households in informal settlements across Kenya have had to endure this reality for many decades.

Due to the darkness, the residents are forced to rush back home before nightfall while businesses have to shut down early for security reasons. Coupled with poor infrastructure and crowded housing, crimes such as mugging, house break-ins, and rape have been common with crooks taking advantage of the darkness to pounce on people. Landlords suffer in such non-lit neighbourhoods because tenants keep away, fearing for their safety.

Luckily, the situation is gradually improving across many informal settlements, thanks to various initiatives to provide lighting. One such is by Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP) whose infrastructure upgrading programme, including installation of high mast lighting, has proved a game-changer for people in such settlements.

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The high mast lights have boosted the socio-economic status of thousands of people in counties under KISIP that is funded by the State Department for Housing and Urban Development, the World Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Today, businesses in areas such as Kayole-Soweto in Nairobi, Obunga in Kisumu and Kasarani in Naivasha operate for longer hours and customers make purchases at their convenience as late as 11 pm or even midnight.

Female residents of informal settlements such as Kamukunji in Eldoret where the high mast lightings have been installed are particularly grateful because the risk of sexual assault has reduced and as a result, women traders are now able to leave their houses and source for food and supplies from the fresh market as early as 5 am. Children in Obunga in Kisumu have also taken advantage of the high mast lighting to either do their homework or engage in sports in playfields well-lit by the floodlights.

The light has also eased access to institutions such as health centres, police posts and chief camps at night. For Milimani High School in Kericho, the floodlights illuminate wider areas of the school, thus providing a great sense of security for the students and teaching fraternity.

More investors are also now either expanding housing facilities in the informal settlements or putting up new ones on improved demand by would-be tenants encouraged by improved security due to high mast lights. This could contribute to the realization of the Government’s Big Four agenda targets on affordable housing.

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Households in informal settlements have also discarded harmful sources of lighting such as kerosene tin lamps, which contributed to respiratory illness and complications due to pollution.

So far, the benefits of the high mast lights are overwhelming so much that many counties have adopted the concept of lighting up the informal settlement and public spaces such as markets.

But even with the initial success of the KISIP lighting programme, the focus must stay on the long-term sustainability of the initiative which largely depends on continued financial and technical support from county governments.

The cost of running the masts isn’t cheap. In Mombasa for example, the county street lighting team estimated the average monthly bill per high mast to be between Sh13,000 and Sh15,000. This cost, when multiplied by the number of all mast lights installed, can be quite substantive. Nakuru spends approximately Sh18 million per month on the street lighting bill.

Gladly, the county governments have already started undertaking these financial and technical obligations despite their concerns about the operational costs.

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There are options that can be explored to leverage these masts. For instance, counties could exploit the advertising opportunities provided on the lighting masts to help offset part of the power bills. The light masts remain bare despite a monthly revenue potential of Sh50,000 per mast. This amount is sufficient to keep the lights on throughout the month. Another alternative is solar panels, which despite the substantial initial installation costs, portends a myriad of benefits including reduced monthly bills, low maintenance costs and are friendly to the environment.

The counties could also partner with the national government for cheaper power supplies to run the masts. The generation of power from cheaper sources such as wind and geothermal has increased and the benefits could be extended to the high mast lighting initiative.

Counties should lobby Kenya Power and State agencies involved in security and trade to supply bigger capacity transformers to informal settlements.

Besides the power bills, the focus must also stay on fighting vandalism of the light masts. Several components such as power meter boxes are an easy target by vandals and these could be protected through the installation of cages.

But more importantly, sensitisation of communities on the protection of the light masts would be critical. Inculcating community ownership of the lighting initiative is an effective way of flushing out vandals because the benefits of sufficient lighting cannot be gainsaid.

Last but not least, sustaining the lighting initiative would require that more transformers are added or bigger ones installed across most informal settlements.

There is obviously increased demand for power, especially during peak hours and it is necessary that bigger capacity equipment is installed to prevent outages due to system overloads.

In Nyalenda in Kisumu, beneficiaries of the KISIP high mast lighting project have reported of power outages that would last for more than two days. Beneficiaries in KCC in Nairobi, Mkomani in Mombasa and Huruma in Eldoret have also reported cases of gradual dimming of some of the high mast lights.

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