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Water suppliers "unfair to the poor"

A young boy drinks rain water at the displaced camp in Eldoret, Kenya, April 2008. The heavy downpour brings a risk of waterborne diseases that can hit the camp.
A young boy drinks rain water at the Eldoret IDP camp in Kenya (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

The poor in Kenya pay more for water than the rich, but even then millions do not have enough, mainly because provision is skewed, an advocacy group has said.

"The absence of a formula-based approach to budget allocation at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has led to large inequities for water access in Kenya, with the poor paying more compared with the rich, and millions of citizens going without adequate access every day," James Nduko, the Kenya programme manager of Twaweza, an NGO, said on 5 November at the release of a report, It's Our Water Too! Bringing Greater Equity in Access to Water in Kenya.

"Our analysts have aggregated facts from a range of credible sources that demonstrate that persistent inequalities in access to water services in Kenya can be quickly reduced if an approach that links investment and resource allocation to needs rather than political weight is adopted and implemented."

Corruption accusations

On 2 November, Mwangi Kiunjuri, an assistant minister who was recently moved from the water ministry to public works, presented documents to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, which he claimed showed widespread corruption in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

However, the Minister for Water and Irrigation, Charity Ngilu, defended herself and the ministry against such accusations. She admitted that the ministry could have lost money in "some deals" but maintained she had stopped all payment of questionable bills.

According to Twaweza, the inequities in access to water are glaring as the privileged get water delivered to their homes often at very low prices while the poor in urban areas pay the highest price and persistently have the worst access.

"The actual budget allocations show startling differences that do not reflect the current rural and urban water needs," Nduko said. "For instance, the planned investment for water in rural areas falls short by close to 60 percent of what is required to achieve the water MDG [the UN's Millennium Development Goals], but exceeds what is required in urban areas by 20 percent."

Poor pay more

Twaweza said the poor in Nairobi's informal settlements paid up to 30 times more per unit of water compared with residents of more affluent neighbourhoods. "Overall, almost 16 million Kenyans, mostly poor, have no access to clean, dependable and easily available water and depend on kiosks, mobile vendors, open streams, wells and rain catchment to meet their water needs," it noted. "Rural areas, where the majority of Kenyans live, are mostly underserved by formal water supply services."

Quoting 2009 World Bank figures, Twaweza estimates that nationally piped water coverage stands at between 42 percent and 59 percent and that rural areas perform consistently worse than urban areas.

In rural areas where 78 percent of Kenya's population lives, only 38-52 percent have access to safe water, according to Twaweza. In urban areas, 59-83 percent have easy access to safe water, although huge differences exist within the urban populations.

"At present, there is only 1 percent per year of citizens accessing improved water services," Twaweza said. "At this rate of change, it will take at least 30 years for rural areas to have acceptable water coverage [estimated at 80 percent] and another 40 years for good coverage [90 percent] to be reached based on service agreement adopted by water sector institutions."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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