The tea farms that surround the Ndakai-ini Dam on the slopes of Nyandarua ridges add to the beauty and serenity of the picturesque terrain that harvests 75 per cent of the water used in Nairobi— more than 60 kilometres away.
But behind this beautiful scenery lurks the sad story: This dam can no longer supply enough water to city residents as demand has outstripped supply.
While the water levels have been dwindling, thanks to deforestation on the upper slopes of the ridges, the rising population of Nairobi now means that Ndakai-ini will have to be supplemented by other sources.
The Athi Water Services Board (AWSB), which is charged with expanding the water infrastructure says daily demand by Nairobi residents alone stands at 750,000 cubic metres a day against the supply capacity of 530,000 cubic metres, leaving a daily deficit of up to 220,000 cubic metres.
“The board needs in excess of Sh40 billion to implement a long term project that would end water shortage in the city by 2030,” said Rose Nyaga, the Chief Executive Officer of Athi Water Services Board.
This situation mirrors the general failure by other water companies to plan ahead, thus dimming the country’s prospects of fresh water security.
According to the director of water sector reforms in the Water ministry, Mr Peter Ombogo, out of the 120 companies formed in 2002 as part of the changes in the water sector, only 22 can meet their expenditure.
Water experts say the situation in Kenya is a reflection of what is happening in East Africa, despite the fact that the region has numerous fresh water resources that include Lake Victoria — the second largest fresh water lake in the world; the River Nile, Lake Tanganyika (the second deepest lake in the world) and Lake Malawi.
With Nairobi’s population climbing beyond the five million mark, the projected demand for water in the city in 2020 and 2030 stands at 1.6 million and 2.2 million cubic metres respectively.
At the moment, stake holders are sceptical about the suppliers ability to surmount these challenges to meet projected demands given the slow pace of reforms in the industry.
Mombasa and Kisumu are not exempted from the soaring supply deficit while water firms in the coast region can only supply 58,000 cubic metres against a daily demand of 150,000 cubic metres, leaving the coastal town with a perennial daily deficit of about 92,000 cubic metres.
According to the Ministry of Water, Kenya’s per capita water supply stands at 696 cubic metres per year against a population of about 40 million.
This is far below the internationally required benchmark of 1,000 cubic metres per capita a year.
Some of the causes of the current supply deficit in the city include the 15 year time lag and delay in new investment in water storage, slow rehabilitation of water infrastructure and lack of investment in new water sources.
It is now seven years since Sasumua Dam broke down in 2003, reducing its storage capacity from 17 million cubic metres to about 5 million cubic metres yet reconstruction is not yet complete.
By admitting that by 2013 the current initiatives will increase water supply from the current 530,000 to 700,000 cubic metres per day, yet the current demand is 750, 000 cubic metres day, and is likely to double by 2013, Athi Water Service Board was indeed admitting that it is unlikely that Kenya will meet the MDG on environmental sustainability (water access to all) by 2015 despite government’s efforts to implement various programmes to address water scarcity in the country.
Kenya is also is grappling with regional imbalances in water security, with some parts of the country having a lot of water during rainy seasons and little or no water during dry periods.
Water companies must therefore address rampant corruption, ageing supply networks and illegal connections as short term measures to correct this situation.
With properly managed books, water companies would access credit or attract external funding from international banks, sovereign financiers and concessional loans from foreign State- owned banks or offer infrastructure bonds to deal with the financing gap that would make substantive investment in new water sources, building bigger water storage facilities and rehabilitation of the dilapidated transmission network possible.
Inadequate financing has left water providers with only one option in the quest for financial muscle needed to upgrade the ageing transmission network— inflating water tariffs.
This further deepens the misery of consumers who are already finding trouble dealing with the high cost of living.
The recent wrangle on the position of the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company managing director only serves to expose the underlying time bomb of governance at the firm, further deepening the deteriorating image of the company and making it even more unattractive for external investors.
According to Mr Robert Gakubia, the chief executive of the Water Services Regulatory Board, the greatest headache that the water companies have to deal with is governance.
“Governance and infrastructure development are key to the success of water supply in the country,” said Mr Gakubia.
The Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company introduced water rationing back in 2008 citing drought and the degradation of water sources when water levels had reduced to 30 per cent of the dam capacity.
It also revised water tariffs upwards purportedly to raise funding to expand water provision services in the city but nothing seems to have come out of the effort.
The unprecedented conversion of residential properties to commercial enterprises has further deepened the stress on water and sewerage pipeline in the city and its environs.
“Some residential properties around the city have been converted into commercial services without factoring in the strain on infrastructural development, especially water and sewerage,” said Mrs Nyaga.
Another possible means of making water companies sufficiently prepared to meet the growing demand to engage in water business would be to merge the small companies into bigger outfits that would benefit from economies of scale and make them more attractive for foreign investors.
The Water ministry had initiated a plan to merge the seven water companies at the Coast to make them attractive to lenders in order to mitigate the difficulties experienced by water companies in accessing funding.
But the plan was met by stiff resistance from the stakeholders due to the varied interests at play.
According to the World Bank country Director, Johannes Zutt, management of existing water resource would also help in meeting the deficit.
“The country must invest in prudent water management strategy to guard against losses right from storage, treatment and distribution,” he said.
Athi Water Services Board says that unaccounted for water has only been reduced from 65 per cent to 42 per cent since its inception.
Most of the unaccounted for water is lost through illegal connections, and technical losses due to underground leakage from the dilapidated piping.
Faulty meters also account for the remaining unaccounted for water
The country has also another option in mitigating against the deficit through investment in ground water and sinking more bore holes across the country to reduce over reliance on the distribution network.
The board has plans to build another dam along the Maragwa River to enhance water supply that is expected to have a capacity of 20 billion cubic metres.
With this, they will be able supply extra 200,000 cubic metres of the commodity per day to the city residents but says it is looking for financing from the Treasury and other development partners.
Commercialisation of water resources, promoted as a means to bring business efficiency into water service management, is yet to bear substantive fruits but has instead served to reduce access for the poor as prices for these essential services have risen.
The perennial water crisis in Kenya disrupts social and economic activities, with the shortage giving impetus for the emergence of private vendors selling water at exorbitant prices. Consumers have had to dig deeper into their pockets to buy the precious commodity.
Scarcity of fresh water in the country continues to present an ideal investment climate for the mineral water business, with firms dealing in the sub-sector experiencing tremendous growth.
But the opportunity is also being exploited by unlicensed bottled water companies who are distributing low-priced water through local kiosks and handcarts even as more and more private water providers step up their activity in the wake of the water shortage yet they do not supply to the water grid.
Unless stakeholders go back to the drawing board and chart practical ways of addressing water scarcity in the country, it is unlikely that this situation will improve any time soon.