NAIROBI WATER TAPS RUN DRY

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Story by Joyce Chimbi
Nairobi, Kenya

Photo by Fredrick Mugira
KENYA, The director of the Meteorological Department Dr Joseph Mukabana recently released an eagerly awaited weather report predicting the patterns of the expected long rains.

Although based on the report the rains are expected to properly fall in April, even then, not much rain has been forecasted. This comes after the short rains fell below the expected level and is bound to fuel the already existing water crisis particularly in Nairobi.

As a series of short and long rains continue to fuel water crisis in Nairobi and with taps running dry residents have shifted to borehole water for solutions but this too is proving rather inadequate.

Pupils at a School in Isingiro district of Uganda close to Uganda- Tanzanian boarder drinking water from a water tap

The biggest problems that Nairobi city continues to face are water supply, sanitation and transport. This became even clearer during the recently released results of the census which revealed that Kenyans are growing by one million people per year.

Further, the rural urban migration has continued to increase rapidly with Nairobi being home to an estimated 3 million Kenyans making it the largest city in East Africa.

“Although the name Nairobi is derived from a Maasai word enkare nyirobi which loosely translates into ‘a place with cool waters’ and for many years has been popularly referred to by Kenyans as ‘the Green City in the sun’ these phrases however are slowly becoming rather ironical,” explains Cecelia Tande, an environmentalist.

With the harsh climatic conditions as well as a growing population that has seen many storey buildings come up across the city to cater for the growing population, the city continues to face severe water problems.

As a matter of fact, there is an annual housing shortfall of over 120,000 units in Nairobi each year. This has continued to create a surge in the demand for water.

“City Council has come up with ways of ensuring that the water reaches many people by opening their pipes in the wee hours of the night when people are too sleepy to exploit the opportunity and will only fetch what they need to meet the basics needs,” explains Nancy Turi, a resident in Eastlands Nairobi.

According to a report by Stella Kabura who runs a web based information resource on various issues in Kenya, “it is getting harder to draw water from the city’s boreholes report water-selling companies, with water volumes down now by more than a quarter on their levels of six months ago.”

Plans to sink more boreholes by various interested parties in the water business which has proved quite lucrative seem futile because the already existing boreholes are recording significantly low volumes of water.

Further, Stella Kabura draws attention to the fact that not only has the country suffered a series of failed rainy seasons but the city council has also failed to effectively collect water revenues that can further be used to expand the available water infrastructure.

“The deterioration in piped water supplies triggered by the long-term financial crisis of the municipal water system – unable to collect bills on illegal water tapping, and unable to maintain its infrastructure without revenue,” Stella Kabura expounds.

With Nairobi city council unable to manage the water crisis, this has seen residents turn to city boreholes to meet their water supply needs consequently leading to a sharp drop in the water table around the city.

Further, Stella Kabura notes that, “Karengacha Borehole Company, which has been supplying city residents with water since 2002 from two boreholes in the Nairobi basin reports that where their electric pumps used to draw 11 cubic meters of water an hour, they now can only draw 8 cubic meters an hour, and must run the pumps for fewer hours to maintain supplies.”

Although the meteorological department predicts that rain will soon start in many parts of the country, they also note that it will be unevenly distributed with dry spells in between rainy days.
Further, even in the event that the rains do fall, the country still lacks sufficient capacity to harvest the rains.

“It is a common sight to see people moving around looking for water vendors even during rainy days. In fact, in highly populated places such as Eastlands in Nairobi, water becomes an even rarer commodity on rainy days,” explains Mitch Omondi, a resident of Eastlands.

According to the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the country urgently needs to increase its storage capacity by a 30-fold in order to sufficiently meet current demand.

“The lack of rains means that electricity will cost more and ultimately water will also cost more because more than 60 percent of the country runs on hydroelectric power and the percentage is much higher in Nairobi,” Cecilia Tande expounds.

The rising costs are however not only expected to affect the energy sector but the cost of food will also go high consequently hurting an economy that is struggling to get back on its feet.

“With a growing trend and in failed rains, the government needs to foster partnerships with the private sector in order to effectively and efficiently harvest the little rain that is expected to fall soon,” Cecilia Tande concludes.

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