The Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company recently published a water-rationing programme for Nairobi. It was not lost on the city residents that for some areas, the announced rationing would actually mean more water rather than less. For instance, the rationing announced water availability twice a week for some areas which currently receive only once a week. This could only mean that the NCWSC does not have the basic information on water access in the city!
Granted, the fundamental issue is that access to water is limited based on time; whether it is during the rainy or dry season. This implies water scarcity is not necessarily caused by the physical lack of water, but rather “economic water scarcity”. One, the investment in water resources and human capital are not adequate to meet the demand for water. Two, the population lacks the means, both financial and otherwise, to make use of the water source on its own.
Lack of adequate rainfall in one short rain season between October and December is not adequate reason for taps to go dry in the city. We recall we had flooding during the long rains of March to May last year. The water could have been harvested and stored for use in the time of low rains. It means the NCWSC planning systems operate on the basis of just one dry season away from a major crisis.
Interestingly, private water vendors have water to sell, all the more underlining the fact that the problem is not one of physical availability of water as such. If the private vendors can get water somewhere to sell, the NCWSC can also get water to supply to its residents.
The lack of sufficient and clean water in a growing city of more than four million people is a major crisis. That the shortage is chronic and getting worse is even more serious. Sufficient and clean water is basic and also a health and economic issue. Many industries are increasingly factoring water as a key business risk. Running a business that requires plenty of clean water such as food processing now involves ensuring access to reliable private borehole water. Institutions including hospitals and schools require constant supply of water to operate. While larger ones have invested in water infrastructure such as boreholes and large storage facilities, it is neither sustainable nor economic.
Water shortage is no doubt one of the risks to investment and the growth of the economy. The economic water scarcity that we face is a result of insufficient planning and investment in water resources. It is time to raise the performance expectations of the NCWSC from rationing to access to sufficient and clean water 24/7. There is an urgent need for the NCWSC to team up with the private sector to look for sensible solutions.