Lake Victoria
Maureen Esau
Water Service Board
Water Services Board

Drying East Africa cities bank on mega projects to boost water supply

For the fourth time in two hours, Maureen Esau makes a trip to her water tank. This time, she is washing her three children’s clothes in Kisumu’s Obunga estate, a sprawling slum that houses more than 30,000 residents.

Ms Esau’s 2,500-litre tank is enough to meet the daily needs of the six people in her household and she says life has never been easier.

“This is my third year with this tank and I am happy. Previously I had to depend on water hawkers who would sell 20 litres for $0.2, a pricey amount for me, because in a day I’d require a minimum of five such quantities,” Ms Esau says.

Thirteen years ago, less than half of Kisumu population was connected to piped water, with almost 90 per cent of the town’s slum dwellers using piped water from punctured pipes or water bowsers for drinking. Half of them relied on boreholes or spring water for washing and cooking.

So far, it has managed to install bulk meter chambers on water supply lines ran by master operators. They are identified through community groups and designated as resellers of water within the informal settlements.

“We then sell the water to them in bulk through a master meter. From here they sell the water to the community through smaller meters at some profit. So they are also in charge of new connections within their lines as this means more business,” Eng Jura said.

Jared Odhiambo, a master operator co-ordinator at the Nyalenda-Kogelo water development group says he is now responsible for delivering water to residents, and receiving money from customers for onward payments to the utility firms at a negotiated but profitable rate.

“I am also responsible for reporting problems to Kiwasco, reading the meters accurately and improving the quality of services received by residents. On average our revenue stream collects about $2,500 from the 540 connections we have here.

“This is good business and ensures the residents here have dependable water,” Mr Odhiambo said, adding that, as a master operator, he is now responsible for the supply of water to kiosks and individual households.

It is now serving more than 21,000 connections while for the utility firm, the quantity of non-revenue water (water distributed but not paid for) has reduced to 6.5 per cent, up from 30 per cent in 2013.

Since 2016, and with the support of donor communities, Kisumu has transitioned from a water-deficit city to a water-surplus one with the only remaining challenge being its weak distribution network, a phase the Lake Victoria South Water Services Board is saying it is now addressing.

“We are going to use these funds to build a new dam in Mombasa while in Kisumu the funds will be used to seek new water sources and upgrade supply networks,” Mr Rotich said.

So far, the Lake Victoria South Water Service Board has received more than $86.24 million over the past 10 years from these three agencies, resulting in improved water infrastructure in the city.

Over half of Kisumu water network infrastructure has been in use for more than five decades. Continued use results in frequent bursts and leaks, leading to high non-revenue water levels. This remains the city’s biggest water challenge.

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