Health & Fitness

High prices turn water-for-all goal into a pipe dream for poor

Queuing for water in Nairobi: Twaweza says the poor in informal settlements pay 30 times more per unit of water compared with residents of affluent neighbourhoods. File
Queuing for water in Nairobi: Twaweza says the poor in informal settlements pay 30 times more per unit of water compared with residents of affluent neighbourhoods. File 

The poor in Kenya are faced with a nightmare in the quest for accessing water regularly.

Estimates show the masses pay more than the affluent for a commodity that comes in drops at distant places and supply is skewed, an advocacy group says.

“The absence of a formula-based approach to budget allocation at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has led to large inequities for water access in Kenya, with the poor paying more compared with the rich, and millions of citizens going without adequate access every day,” James Nduko, the Kenya programme manager of Twaweza, an NGO, said last week at the release of a report, It’s Our Water Too! Bringing Greater Equity in Access to Water in Kenya.

“Our analysts have aggregated facts from a range of credible sources that demonstrate that persistent inequalities in access to water services in Kenya can be quickly reduced if an approach that links investment and resource allocation to needs is adopted and implemented.”

Mwangi Kiunjuri, an assistant minister who was recently moved from Water to Public Works, presented documents to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, which he claimed showed widespread corruption at the ministry.


However, Water and Irrigation minister, Charity Ngilu, defended herself and the ministry. She admitted the ministry could have lost money in “some deals,” but she had stopped payment of questionable bills.

According to Twaweza, the privileged get water delivered to their homes often at very low prices while the poor in urban areas pay the highest and persistently have the irregular access.

“The actual budget allocations show startling differences that do not reflect the current rural and urban water needs,” Nduko said. “For instance, the planned investment for water in rural areas falls short by close to 60 per cent of what is required to achieve the water MDG (the UN’s Millennium Development Goals), but exceeds what is required in urban areas by 20 per cent.”

Twaweza says the poor in Nairobi’s informal settlements paid up to 30 times more per unit of water compared with residents of more affluent neighbourhoods.

“Overall, almost 16 million Kenyans, mostly poor, have no access to clean, dependable and easily available water and depend on kiosks, mobile vendors, open streams, wells and rain catchment to meet their water needs,” it noted. “Rural areas, where the majority of Kenyans live, are mostly underserved by formal water supply services.”

Quoting 2009 World Bank figures, Twaweza estimates that nationally piped water coverage stands at between 42 per cent and 59 per cent and that rural areas perform consistently worse than urban areas. In rural areas where 78 percent of Kenya’s population lives, only 38-52 per cent have access to safe water, according to Twaweza.

In urban areas, 59-83 per cent have easy access to safe water, although huge differences exist within the urban populations.
“At present, there is only one per cent per year of citizens accessing improved water services,” Twaweza said.

“At this rate of change, it will take at least 30 years for rural areas to have acceptable water coverage [estimated at 80 per cent] and another 40 years for good coverage [90 per cent] to be reached based on service agreement adopted by water sector institutions.”

Improved sanitation

In contrast, 83 per cent of people in Kenya’s urban areas have access to clean water – sources protected from contamination such as fecal matter.

About 30 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation, defined as a facility that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact, according to the WHO/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation.

During the drought of 2008, government officials drilled wells, trucked water to people in arid and semi-arid areas, and installed water tanks in strategic places for people and animals.

To meet goals contained in its Vision 2030 economic blueprint, Kenya will have to significantly increase the amounts of investment in water infrastructure, building dams, pipelines, and irrigation systems, be built to provide water efficiently.