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How Kenya flushes Sh11.6bn down the drain in water leakages, theft


Kenyan water supply companies lost water worth Sh11.6 billion last year to leakages and theft, leading to unstable supply to millions of consumers and higher prices as they sought to compensate for the losses.

The Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) says 47 percent of the water put into the distribution system in the year ended June 2020, was not billed, up from 43 percent in the preceding year — a result of increased leakages due to ageing networks, metering inaccuracies, theft and unmetered consumption.

The water regulator indicates that 21 counties lost more than 50 percent of the water they produced, contributing to an increase of Sh6 per unit cost of water billed on average. Consumers were last year paying Sh93 for every cubic metre consumed, up from Sh87 in 2019.

The volume of water lost is more than twice the allowed limit of 20 percent and is equivalent to what Nairobi residents and companies use in six-and-half months.

“It is worrying that 21 counties lost more than 50 percent of the water they produce…At the current level of 47 percent (nationally) and a sector turnover of Sh22.8 billion, the sector lost approximately Sh11.61 billion,” says Wasreb.

“In terms of volume, the amount lost annually after allowing for the 20 percent acceptable level of losses is 151 million cubic metres. This is adequate to serve Nairobi County with a daily demand of 750,000 cubic metres for approximately six-and-a-half months,” the water regulator notes.

The regulator blames corruption and illegal extraction for the losses and calls for strict enforcement of rules to reduce the leakages to the maximum acceptable levels of 20 percent.

“The issue of concern is that the reasons contributing to the very high levels of non-revenue water are not technical, but largely commercial and governance (corruption and illegal practices)…If this state of affairs is not mitigated, there is going to be a very great risk, which will undermine the progressive realisation of the right to water as is enshrined in the constitution,” says Wasreb.

There have been recorded cases of sabotage of supply lines in Nairobi by rogue commercial water sellers who then take advantage of the resultant shortage to sell the commodity to desperate city residents.

Across the country, Migori County accounted for the highest losses, having lost 77 percent of the water distribution. Marsabit (67 percent), Baringo (64 percent) and Kwale (63 percent) followed in that order.

These leakages have contributed massively to the water rationing that has become the norm in almost all urban areas, despite the billions pumped into the sector annually.

Piped water for many rural folks also remains a dream, forcing many to rely on either harvested water or rivers and streams.

Global conflict

The trend in Kenya is reflective of the global situation where billions of people continue to go without stable and clean water supplies, raising fears that the next major global conflict might be related to water access rights.

The World Bank noted in 2016 that about 45 million cubic metres of water valued at Sh307 billion is lost daily in developing countries, and halving these losses would save enough water to supply around 90 million people.

In Kenya, water coverage, which refers to the number of people served with drinking water against the population within the service area, declined from 59 to 57 per cent between June 2019 and June 2020.

The drop is mainly because the population grew at a faster rate of seven percent compared to a five percent growth in access.

The Wasreb report shows that water service providers served 14.7 million people against a population of 25.7 million people under their service area, across the 47 counties.

The quality of drinking water supplied also declined from 96 percent as of June 2019 to 92 percent in June 2020, partly due to ageing distribution networks that have corroded over time due to a lack of investment.

Drinking water quality has a direct impact on the health of consumers. It is a weighted composite indicator measuring compliance with residual chlorine standards (40 percent) and bacteriological standards (60 percent).

Last year, the regulator urged all water vendors within Nairobi to register with the board to ensure that service standards are adhered to in terms of quality, cost and customer care and to guarantee health and safety.

In addition, the water service regulator about a Sh13.9billion financial impact on drinking water utilities, due to Covid-19.

These impacts are a result of drinking water utilities eliminating shut-offs for non-payment, anticipated increased delinquencies as a result of high unemployment rates, reductions in non-residential water demands and associated revenues offset by increases in residential consumption and lower customer growth.

In March last year, Kenya confirmed its first case of Covid-19.

The government then issued a directive and pronounced measures requiring public water services providers to ensure a continuous and accessible supply of water and hygiene services.