Kenya is one of the countries that did not achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) goal 6 on clean water and sanitation. Only 27 percent of Kenyans have access to clean water and improved sanitation.
This means that approximately 30 million Kenyans still do not have access to clean water and are using unsafe sanitation methods like rudimentary types of latrines, and almost six million are defecating in the open.
With a population of 46 million, 41 percent of Kenyans still rely on unimproved water sources, such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, while 59 percent of Kenyans use unimproved sanitation solutions.
These challenges are especially evident in the rural areas and the urban slums. Only nine out of 55 public water service providers in Kenya provide continuous water supply, leaving people to find their own ways of searching for appropriate solutions to these basic needs.
The water and sanitation crisis in Kenya devolved system remains critical with unprecedented urban growth attributable to natural population growth and rural-urban migration due to factors like drought, conflict and rural poverty.
It is projected that the country’s urban population will continue to grow, reaching 35 million (59 percent) by 2027, moving to the urban areas without proper water and sanitation facilities will be a major challenge under the devolved government.
Through the 2010 Constitution, many water and sanitation functions were devolved to county governments.
Smooth devolution of water services calls for the county leadership to drive reform. We have witnessed governors fight water companies’ boards of directors instead of providing this important service.
Adequate access to safe water and improved sanitation services is central to achievement of better health and wellbeing of Kenya’s population. These services facilitate prevention of waterborne diseases which in turn may reduce mortality rates and health expenditure.
Adequate availability of water is also critical for sustainable economic growth and reduction of poverty – currently estimated at 38.3 percent of Kenya’s population – as water supports key economic activities in the Big Four agenda and Vision 2030 such as agricultural and manufacturing.
Furthermore, violent conflicts such as in Laikipia ranches over water resources could reduce if adequate access to quality water is improved across the country.
Access to improved sanitation is a major challenge both in urban and rural areas.
Thirdly, having a toilet, either connected or not connected to a piped wastewater system is only one part of fecal waste management.
The Constitution of Kenya makes access to some basic services including clean water and sanitation a basic right for all, further reinforcing the need to urgently respond to the prevailing crisis under the devolution.
The first step is acknowledging that we have a huge challenge that calls for rethinking of strategies, and have water and sanitation management under the national government.
Increasing water and sanitation financing and focus on better targeted and more inclusive interventions will also help Kenya reach its Sustainable Development Goals.
Water scarcity in Kenya has been an issue for decades, as only a small percentage of the country’s land is optimal for agriculture and the year round climate is predominantly arid.
We can harvest water by inventing new water conservation technologies, improve irrigation and agricultural practices and educate to change consumption and lifestyles.
Expenditure in the water and sanitation sector has increased in recent years at the national level and in some counties.
However, Kenya is facing a huge resource gap (Sh1.4 trillion) that may negatively affect its ability to achieve universal access to safe water and improved sanitation services by 2030.
Scaling up access to safe water and improved sanitation services is also constrained by high incidence of poverty, fragmented legal and policy frameworks, inadequate data for planning and budgeting and climate change which affects availability of water.
As devolution continues to progress, the need for policy reforms to strengthen national and county government structures and responsibilities arises to minimise confusion due to overlapping obligations and conflicting laws.