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Wario Bonaya


The theme of the 2016 world water day, Water and Jobs,  reflects the  emerging global consensus on the important role the water sector plays in stimulating sustainable economic development. The 2016 world water development report highlights this fact emphasizing the need for long-term planning and effective financing in the water sector for realization of economic growth and other socioeconomic benefits.

One of the pivotal economic sectors where water is used extensively is agriculture which uses up to 70% of the world’s exploitable water resources particularly for irrigation. Closely related to this is the amount of water used in food production. Generating 1kg of common foodstuffs such as milk and bread uses between 1020-1608 litres of water while production of 1kg of beef meat uses a whopping 15,415 litres of water.  These Agri-food water consumption figures are set to rise due to growing populations and increasing global standards of living.


Similarly in the manufacturing sector, water is used in almost every phase of the production process from the extraction of raw materials to disposal and reuse of the products. Water is also the key driver of sectors such as energy production and transportation among others.


Kenya understands the important role the water sector plays towards economic development and as a country, has set lofty goals of attaining universal coverage by 2030 to meet both the sustainable development goals and the vision 2030 targets. However, water coverage in the country currently stands at 55% indicating that a staggering 21 million Kenyans, approximately 45% of the population, lack access to clean and safe drinking water. The sector is also experiencing inherent resource allocation deficiencies because the Kenyan government can only meet 10% of the investment demand. Water infrastructure in the country remains outdated and largely dilapidated as majority of it was constructed during the colonial era. Functionality particularly for rural water systems is an issue due to poor management and lack of technical know-how. All this is exacerbated by the fact that Kenya is a water scarce country with 540m3 per capita water availability, which is well below the global benchmark of 1000m3 per capita.


Further we also realize that amongst its East African counterparts, Kenya has the lowest per capita water storage capacity of 559m3/capita. This is in comparison to Uganda which has ample storage of 2131m3/capita and Tanzania which has 1948m3/capita.  Ironically, Kenya has a high per capita water usage of 78.7m3 /year while its water rich neighbour Uganda has  a reasonable per capita water usage of 20.3m3/year.


It is becoming increasingly clear that when it comes to the Kenyan water sector, key actors and players must literally think without the box to devise means through which coverage can be increased.


Resounding sentiment across the sector is that increased investment through innovative financing vehicles could be the game changer in addressing the annual sectoral financing deficit of Kshs 40 billion.  Kenya can borrow a leaf from countries that are already using Public-private partnerships and performance based contracting to finance infrastructural developments in the water sector. In order to generate private sector interest in what is traditionally considered to be a high-risk sector, steps are being taken by the World Bank and the Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB) which have developed a water utility creditworthiness index as well as tool kits on commercial lending to the water and sanitation sector.  Development partners are also opting to use Output Based Aid (OBA) or Aid on Delivery (AoD) programs and to help utilities build their credit profiles.


It is also imperative to institute proper management practices at utilities in order to professionalize water services delivery and improve functionality of water systems. This can be done through the use of service delivery models which advocate for greater private sector involvement in water utility management


Adopting climate adaptation & mitigation measures will also go a long way towards enabling the sector to attain its 2030 targets. Climate change has a direct impact of reducing the quantity and quality of water available for human consumption and other economic activities. Additionally, use of climate sensitive technologies causes utilities to incur high operational costs, generate greenhouse gases and have irregular and intermittent supply. In Northern Kenya for example, boreholes are widely utilized for water provision. An estimated 65% of these boreholes are run on diesel powered generators which have poor efficiency, generate high carbon emissions and require constant maintenance. The adoption of climate smart technologies such as solar powered pumps can be used to resolve some of these problems. This is well illustrated in Western Kenya where, Wandiege Water Project, installed solar panels to generate energy for water pumping. Through this, the utility managed to reduce its power costs by 54%.


The sector can build resilience to adverse climatic events through using adaptive planning in infrastructure development and increasing investments in strategic water reserves as well as rain and floodwater harvesting.  Australia, for example managed to successfully cope with the millennium drought which lasted for 12 years from 1997 to 2009 by overhauling urban water planning and management, propagating massive consumer behavior change and investing millions in innovative infrastructure such as desalination plants and water recycling facilities.


The Kenyan water sector also lags behind in adopting the use of innovative technologies including remotely read meters, e-billing and e-payment platforms, customer interface programs, hydraulic water system monitoring, pump system monitoring software among others. The uptake of which have the capacity to reduce utility inefficiencies substantially and reduce the levels of Non-Revenue Water.


Conventional activities in the sector have only witnessed 1% annual increment in service coverage and with this trend, it might take another 45 years to achieve universal access assuming the population is held constant. If the Kenyan water sector is truly committed to achieving universal coverage by 2030 then the status quo must be disrupted to usher in new and innovative methods of water service delivery.


Wario Bonaya is the Water Sector Lead, Kenya Markets Trust. wbonaya@kenyamarkets.org