“It’s Day Zero in Cape Town, a foretaste of what is likely to come in cities such as Nairobi with a rapidly increasing population. So, day zero makes us reflect water matters” This was the opening remarks for the Water Policy Dialogue organized by Kenya Climate Innovation Centre. The deeply valuable dialogue had amazing insights on workable solutions and bottlenecks from the speakers and audience on the water journey in Kenya.
Acute and crippling water shortage is not a new phenomenon in Kenya and has yielded social, economic and environmental challenges. We’re in a critical water transition period characterized by frequent floods and droughts. What’s more, the demand for water exceeds supply and there is loss of credibility of water service providers. The CEO, Water Sector Trust Fund, Mr. Ismail Fahmy in his opening remarks noted that water service is not a free utility implying that the traditional utility approach would not deliver water sustainably. A number of important aspects related to policy, stakeholders, and structures were highlighted that demonstrates the areas where Kenya has gone wrong in water provision and what needs to be done differently.
The conversation alluded to implementation and monitoring as the bulk challenge. It’s evident that the broad-spectrum institutions set up to address the water challenges have been a letdown. The inefficiency is visible by the artificial water shortages and a booming water vending business. Moreover, water connection numbers do not tell the real story as a consequence of poor planning and poor monitoring. For example, benchmarking with peer utility providers such as KPLC, the water connection rates still remain low, despite the KPLC customers being potential water utility customers. We ought to go back to the drawing board, and re-design our water policies and institutions to incentivize private sector, program monitoring, and mandatory prepaid metres to deliver efficiency.
The opportunity for private sector is as big as the problem. For example, while the water demand in Nairobi County is 760,000 M3, the supply 509,600 M3, (66%) per day, hence a deficit of 34% on the ideal scenario, which is an opportunity for private sector investment. The private sector is better placed to address water service delivery by augmenting innovations and finances to serve the unserved and underserved. Prepaid water meters that are linked to mobile payment and online monitoring system by Maji Mileleis one such innovation that is leveraging innovations in water sector. Building the capacity of water entrepreneurs to improve service delivery would be the ideal leverage point for financial institutions for example. Early-stage capital and financial is a potential market gap that the private sector could capitalize on, but they ought to trend with caution given that only practical solutions would offer feasible returns
An integrated approach to address water issues remains fundamental since the water challenges are mainly beyond the water sector. Currently, the water ecosystem is at a threat by the unsanctioned water boreholes and the illegal dumping of sewerage by private investors posing underground water contamination- a health hazard, a consequence of isolated water initiatives. A water master plan that consolidates the isolated initiatives would address the water value chain issues. This then calls for a “Public Sector Stakeholder Partnership” that pilots innovations and embraces emerging technologies pragmatically.
Closing the dialogue, Mr. Ishmail noted that it would be desirable to frequently engage in such policy dialogues where the stakeholders meet to reflect and take stock of the progress made towards achieving SDG 6 – Water and Sanitation.
By Stella Mutuku