Kenya: How to End Nairobi's Water Crises

(file photo).
23 December 2019

According to the 2019 national population census, Nairobi is home to 4.4 million people -- almost twice the number since a similar exercise 10 years ago. In spite of this steep spike, the capital city still consumes water sourced largely from Ndakaini and three other smaller dams.


With dilapidated water and sewerage infrastructure built decades ago to cater for a fraction of the current population now exacerbated by an unpredictable climatic regimen, the challenges can only get worse.

Against this bleak backdrop, it is not surprising that the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) recently announced that water rationing in the city will continue despite the heavy rains. Even with the dams at full capacity, the NWSC said, there is still a daily water supply deficit of over 263,500 cubic metres.

Where, then, does a solution to Nairobi's water crises lie? For starters, it is important to appreciate that there is no silver bullet that will magically address all water problems in the city overnight. Neither will burying our heads in the sand help!

A radical approach -- replete with new thinking -- geared towards delivering sustainable water supply to the city is nigh. That new thinking should create fresh impetus to establish a multipronged solution template that will decentralise water supply and multiply sources of potable water.


The lowest hanging fruit in the search for more water sources for Nairobians is the Northern Collector Tunnel Water Project. Once the first phase is completed and commissioned next December, Nairobi will have an additional 140,000m3 of water. But that will still not plug the 263,500m3 deficit.

The situation is compounded by the fact that the population continues to grow even as new sources of water are sought.

Fast-tracking additional dams -- such as Karemenu, Maragwa 4 and Ruiru II -- will, certainly, be of significant help in the endeavour of increasing the volume of water for Nairobi. The sooner construction of these dams is commenced and completed, the better the city's prospects for sustainable water supply.

Much as Nairobi has dozens of boreholes complementing water supply from the dams, wanton sinking of boreholes can easily siphon out the city's aquifers, ultimately creating even more water problems.


As we expand our freshwater sources, Nairobi should also take a long hard look at desalination. While this is a pricey option, it should remain on the table as a possible sustainable water source. Mombasa is on the verge of setting up its Sh16 billion water desalination plant at Shimo la Tewa. The success of this plant will inform how fast Nairobi can ride the crest of desalination to boost water supply to her residents.

Countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rely heavily on desalination. This option, therefore, does not belong to the uncharted territory.

Nairobi's overburdened water and sewerage infrastructure is, surely, in dire need of an overhaul. After 40 years, leaks are common, leading to wastage of water and revenue.

The Sh362 million that the county government set aside in the 2019/2020 budget for the management of water and sewerage services should mostly go towards revamping the city's ailing water infrastructure. Afterwards, there should be regular repairs and maintenance from a designated fund sourced from both the public and private sectors.


The infrastructure is vital not just in channelling water to household or industrial taps but also wastewater to treatment plants. Lest you forget, for every 10 litres of water that we use, at least eight end up as waste.

That is precisely why the Ruai and Kariobangi Sewage Treatment plants must be drastically revamped and expanded. We need to take a leaf from Israel, where 90 per cent of wastewater is treated for reuse.

Because the journey of the water consumed in Nairobi starts from the water towers like the Aberdares, we must triple our conservation efforts of these catchment areas. Without them, there will be no water to flow into dams and, ultimately, our homes.


Lastly, even the best water supply and most excellent water distribution infrastructure will still be sabotaged if corruption persists. For instance, word has it that as many as 40 per cent of private water distributors in the city sell diverted NCWSC water in tankers at exorbitant prices. That must stop with immediate effect and the culprits prosecuted. Not even a drop of the city's water should be diverted.

Ms Kagure, the Kenya Universities Students' Association (KUSO) patron, is a youth and women empowerment crusader under the Agnes Kagure Foundation.

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