It is no longer news that Rwanda is one of the best 50 countries in the world for any legitimate business to start, operate and prosper.
Among the ten indicators that the World Bank used to arrive at this score for the country that had largely been written off one and half decades ago, is the ease with which investors can access utilities such as water and electricity.
All that an investor needs to do is to indicate on the application for a construction permit that they want to have water and electricity connected to their site--and the relevant agencies will do the rest of the work.
In fact there is a desk officer from the national utility agency, the Electricity, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA)," stationed at the Kigali City Construction One Stop Center to specifically handle water and power connection for investors.
And the whole process takes a very short time because the one stop center has what it calls a client charter that stipulates the number of days each application is supposed to be ready. So, since water and electricity connection is applied for concurrently with the construction permit, it takes approximately 30 working days for the investor to be handed all documents needed to start work.
So, whether an investor is building a factory or is putting up residential apartments, the process of getting connected to power and water is as straight forward as that. And that is good.
The bad news, however, is that while it is very easy to get water connected to your home or business, EWSA appears to be struggling to cope with the growing demand from by new investments.
Last week, senior officials EWSA admitted that they have no capacity to pump water to all who need it as Kigali City continues to expand up on hills.
That admission of lack of capacity could undermine the current confidence investors have in the country as being conducive for businesses to prosper.
Today, water has become the scarcest basic commodity in Kigali with some areas going without it for two months. This is certainly going to have negative effects on the booming construction industry if the problem persisted for more months.
And there seems to be nothing so far to suggest that a permanent solution is in the offing. While explaining this unprecedented water scarcity in the city, EWSA says it is finding it hard to pump water to the hill tops where some residential areas are located. With Rwanda being largely a hill country, EWSA has no options but get water to the hill tops. Rather than see them as obstacle, EWSA should look at hills as an asset--the kind of basic infrastructure it actually needs to make water distribution in the city easier and cheaper.
Hills are an asset because it is cheaper to spend a few hours pumping water to reservoirs on the highest possible ground. It is from the hills that water should thereafter flow down hill to homes by natural forces of gravity. This saves on the amount of electricity used to constantly pumping water from the source and directly to people's homes.
Just like it is done with electricity where by a new transformer is installed to take power to a neighborhood, the water department ought to move in tendon with the pace of the development of the city by providing water reservoir facilities on top of hills to supply specific neighborhoods.
Commercial viability of such infrastructure however has to be taken into account. In other words, water consumers in a given area should be adequate to optimally utilize the services of a reservoir allocated to it. Otherwise it can be a waste of resources to install, for instance, a 50 million cubic meter tank for a neighborhood of five homes patched on top of some isolated hill.
In some parts of neighboring Uganda, with the topography similar to that of Rwanda, hills are being used to distribute water to villages through gravity. In fact the only villages in Uganda with running water are those in hilly areas like Kabale that borders Rwanda and the Mount Elgon area on the border with Kenya.
For the case of the Elgon ranges where rivers actually originate from the hills, water is channeled into a reservoir and direct to pipes for distribution to villages downhill.
With a little more investment, the hills will cease being a problem and instead provide help in a bid to meet one of the millennium development goals of universal access to clean and safe water.