News and Views on Africa from Africa
Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
Subscribe to our RSS feed
RSS logo

Latest news


Thirsty city in the sun

As the water shortage continues to bite, the Nairobi City Council s failure to monitor illegal connections and misuse will continue to hamper any plans to supply city residents with sufficient amounts of water.
Zachary Ochieng

Though accustomed to perennial water shortages, Nairobi city residents opine that the current scarcity which began in early May with no signs of relenting soon is a sure cause for alarm. The current shortage was precipitated by flash floods in the Aberdares, which caused the Sasumua dam and the Chania river both major suppliers of water to Nairobi - to burst their banks, leading to clogged tunnels and broken pipes. Although the dam has since been repaired with the help of military personnel, water supply in the city has not returned to normal.

The Nairobi City Council which is perpetually under siege for failing to deliver in virtually every sphere of operation has only bee waxing lyrical that the supply will resume soon. The water crisis is unfortunate. We are apologetic about it, although it is beyond our control. Normal supply will resume soon , says city mayor Joe Aketch.

While Aketch continues to beam on television channels with his empty promises, residents continue to bear the brunt. We wake up as early as 6.00 am in search of water. We do not go for Sunday service. We spend the whole day without meals and at the end of it, we can only manage to get one jerry can. We have gone for days without a shower , laments Emily Odongo, a resident of the city s Kibera slums.

According to Margaret Meso, a resident of Nairobi s Madaraka estate, they are sometimes forced to use sewage water, regardless of the dangers it poses. Since we have no alternative, we have to make use of whatever is available. We don t care about the source . As the shortage continues to bite, some city residents have been forced to trek for as long as 20km in search of the precious commodity, which retails at Ksh 20 for a twenty-litre jerry can. Private vendors have taken advantage of the situation to do brisk business.

But the perennial water scarcity in Nairobi would appear to have less top do with demand outstripping supply, and more with the council s failure to maintain the existing water infrastructure, coupled with an inefficient billing and revenue collection mechanism. Every time there is an acute water shortage, as in the current crisis, the council responds with half hearted attempts to ban the informal car wash business within the city while doing little to curb wasteful consumption and illegal connections that erode its water revenue base.

Aketch admits that water is being diverted illegally and says that investigations are going on but is hard put to explain when the problem will ever be resolved. Upon his appointment early this year, Local Government minister Karisa Maitha instructed officers in the city s water department to ensure that all illegal diversions were closed. But it appears his directive was not adhered to.

However, city residents seem to know even better. They accuse the vendors of colluding with council employees to create artificial shortages in some estates. How else would you explain a situation whereby your neighbour s tap is always running while yours is always dry? , posed Jacob Odhiambo, a resident of Kibera.

While the council is upbeat that its recently expanded capacity is enough to meet the needs of Nairobi up to the year 2006, its failure to monitor illegal connections and misuse will continue to hamper any plans to supply city residents with sufficient amounts of water. Sources of the city s water comprise Sasumua dam in Nyandarua district, Kikuyu springs, Ruiru dam and Ngethu treatment works at Ndakaini, which give the council a total supply capacity of 519 cubic metres per day against an average daily gross demand of 319,600 cubic metres.

Unfortunately, 30 per cent of the 346,600 cubic metres currently pumped into the distribution network from the various sources go unaccounted for, which sees the council lose close to US$ 1 million per month.

The water intensive horticultural sector has also come under scrutiny following complaints that some city estates go without water due to diversions to flower farms belonging to influential personalities within the outskirts of Naorobi. However, City Hall s General manager in charge of water and sewerage Joseph Kimani argues that the council has not been able to supply adequate water to city residents owing to silting in the dams, which has reduced the supply by almost 30000 cubic metres.

But the crux of the matter is that corruption, combined with an inefficient revenue collection has significantly affected the council s capacity to repair and upgrade the existing water pipe network, some of which was installed in the 1950s and is in dire need of replacement, particularly in the face of an increased demand owing to population increase.

As the water scarcity continues to bite, off-repeated plans by the government to commercialise water management are still in the pipeline. Plans are underway to review the Water Act in order to allow the entry of private players. Previously, suggestions had been made that the council should only concentrate on the supply, leaving billing and revenue collection to private concerns. But these plans may be hampered by frequent disagreements between Maitha and her Water Resources counterpart Martha Karua, over which ministry should be in charge.

Virtually, all major urban centers including Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru have been experiencing a scarcity of water owing to poor distribution, a combination of unpredictable water patterns, increasing settlements and destruction of water catchment areas, steadily eating into water sources.

A recent study by the US based John Hopkins School of Public Health reveals that Kenya s development activities had already started putting a strain to the country s water sources as far back as the 1990s. The study, which was intended for a revision of the national water masterplan, indicated that demand for water countrywide for domestic, industrial, irrigation, livestock and wildlife use has almost doubled from the 2073 million cubic metre requirement in 1990.

The major challenge for the government, according to the report, is the redistribution of water from areas of abundance to those of scarcity, considering that the country will be using only 28 per cent of its water potential by 2010.

In January 2000, Nairobi was placed among seven African cities, which endorsed a programme that would address the growing water crisis in African cities. The programme is being implemented along two parallel tracks, which include establishing effective strategies for water demand and management and controlling pollution of natural water bodies.

The initiative a collaboration of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (UNCHS Habitat) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been developed on the axiom that the urban population in African cities is expected to almost quadruple from 138 million in 1990 to 500 million in 2020.

In Nairobi, the project is focusing on demand for water management in the east lands residential and the industrial area, and quantification of discharge into the Nairobi dam by controlling point and non -point discharge and hyacinth harvesting. But even this has yet to solve the water crisis in Nairobi. The buck rests with City Hall, as the residents of the city in the sun remain thirsty.

Contact the editor by clicking here Editor