Rickety water supply infrastructure, some installed in the colonial era, poor billing systems, illegal connection and unmetered customers are costing Kenya Sh8 billion every year.
This is estimated to be about 47 per cent of revenue which is lost through the shortcomings, a new report says.
Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui said this is unacceptable, warning the various companies in the sector that they risk being kicked out if this does not change.
“The non-revenue water level is beyond acceptable levels when we are investing very heavily as a sector in development of supply infrastructure,” he said last week during a workshop in which report findings for a non-revenue audit of water service providers were disseminated.
“The audit exposes shocking details of just how much treated water we lose that should have been used by deserving Kenyans,” he added.
According to the audit carried out by Atkins, unauthorised consumption, customer metering inaccuracies, estimation and data handling errors, leakage on transmission or distribution pipes, leakage and overflow at utility storage tanks and leakage in service connections up to the point of customer use, also cause huge losses.
“Some of the installations including meters which have remained uncalibrated particularly in the cities and big towns were done 54 years ago. Over time they have given in,” said Mr Chelugui.
He warned those who punch holes in pipes to divert water for sale and farming that if caught, they would be charged under the corruption law.
The CS said going forward, measuring Non-Revenue Water (NRW) would be a critical indicator in utility management.
He said Kenya being a water scarce country due to diminishing sources as a result of population growth could not afford this kind of abandon.
“Far too many service providers still rely on estimates as they lack master and consumer meters. Any utility company that is not able to account on all the scales will be delicensed,” he said.
“This is a resource that we have spent billions of shillings to develop over so many years and it is a serious crime that so much money should go unaccounted for.
“This is a serious economic sabotage that should be treated as any other form of corruption,” he added.
He said the ministry will identify the personnel who are failing to address non-revenue water and will count this as corruption.
“In most cases, such actions not to meter are intentional so that someone can deceptively collect the revenue and pocket it. We will look for these people and we will expose them,” he said.
The CS said they were re-licensing all engineers involved in design, feasibility studies and environmentalists to ensure that all water projects from source to end user, including dams’ construction and laying pipelines, are accounted for.
But this is also a risk for those paying clients because in that case, the water firms makes them pay for what never even makes it onto their side of the meter to compensate. Why? Utilities set rates based on their costs. Hidden in them are non-revenue water.
Of the appraised nine water services providers, NRW levels range from 85 per cent for Nakuru rural to 31 per cent for Malindi. The counties were all losing about Sh400 million every year.
Other urban water service providers covered in the audit were those based in Isiolo, Embu, Kakamega, Nanyuki, and Malindi towns.
The county with the best NRW level (from previous analysis) is Nyeri Water Service Provider at 17 per cent.
The projection is to have the level of non-revenue water reduced to below 20 per cent nationally by 2030.
Richard Leighton, a consultant involved in the audit, who presented the findings said the utilities need to adopt strategy of speed in repairs, pressure management and active leakage control
Water Services Regulatory Board, chief executive Robert Gakubia said there was a plan to tier the current water billing tariffs, so that richer neighbourhoods pay more per litre consumed as compared to the low income settlements.