High taxes make universal water access a mirage, say suppliers

Walter Ndede digs a well in search of water at Nyarindi village in Rachuonyo South on August 28. The village has only one water pump. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Water service providers have decried increasing hurdles in their bid to increase supply of the precious commodity.

The Water Services Providers Association (Waspa) wants the government to reduce taxes on water extraction and supply to cushion them against high cost of production.

Waspa Chief Executive Officer Anthony Ambugo said the government takes 50 cents for every cubic metre of water they extract.

He said the government is in the process of increasing the tax tenfold, a situation that will negatively impact their production cost.

“This means the government wants Sh5 for every cubic metre of water we extract,” said Ambugo.

Last month, Water Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki published new regulations that raise regulatory charges on water companies. This means the extra charges will be passed on to consumers.

However, the Council of Governors (CoG) opposed the move.

A vendor draws water near Mlolongo from a swamp, August 19, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

“The Council of Governors will not support these increments as doing so would be tantamount to denying the provision of accessible water and sanitation to Wanjiku,” said Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia, who is also the CoG chairperson of the water, forestry and natural resources management committee.

Speaking in Kisumu yesterday during the Waspa forum, which brought together over 85 representatives, Ambugo said the increase in tax on extraction would be cascaded to consumers, and this would increase the cost of water, and Kenya is already considered a water-scarce country.

“Another huge challenge is the ever-increasing cost of power. Even as many water suppliers embrace gravity, there is still a huge reliance on power to pump the water, which burdens us, yet we have been gagged on increasing the water tariffs,” he said.

During the forum, the service providers planted 1,000 trees within selected areas, in what Ambugo said was to improve the protection of water resources, as well as cushion the environment.

Kisumu County Water Executive Salmon Orimba said there was need for the government to reduce cost of extraction and supply of water.

Orimba said just like street lighting, water supply should be given special electricity rates to lower cost of production.

“Counties are struggling to combat Covid-19 and availability of water is one thing we battle with. Any increase in the cost of water would be a major hurdle,” he said.

Orimba said the county water ministers across the country are already engaging the CoG for increased budgetary allocation to the water sector to help improve infrastructure.

Kisumu Water and Sanitation (KIWASCO) Managing Director Thomas Odongo said water infrastructure remains expensive and is fast becoming unsustainable, especially at a time grants on water development continue to dry up.

Water point in Kishushe, Taita Taveta County. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

He said this has seen the entity look into commercial financing to expand its coverage, but this will require discussions with commercial banks to come up with special rates.

“We are also embracing public-private partnerships. Our aim is to ensure 100 per cent water access as soon as possible,” Odongo said.

He said during the Covid-19 period, they have had to increase water supply, especially in public places to encourage hand washing, which should have been factored in special tariffs to ensure sustainability.

Another challenge the company faces is non-revenue water caused by dilapidated infrastructure, which wear out, as well as theft of water in other instances.

“We have however been investing massively in digitisation, and this has seen reduction in these losses, but we still need to do more and have been replacing old connections,” he said.

Previously, KIWASCO was in charge of water supply within the city, which covers Kisumu Central, Kisumu West and Kisumu East sub-counties, but the entity has since been given approval by the county government to supply the entire county, which brings in Nyando, Nyakach, Muhoroni and Seme sub-counties.