Mary  Sinuni, a mother of two, was born and raised in Kahawa Soweto, a slum in eastern Nairobi, where she operates a retail shop near her home. She used to buy water from local water vendors, spending around KES 50 per day for the water and almost as much again on transporting it to her house. In 2014, Kahawa Soweto had three public water collection points connected to the main network, constructed by Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC): the first is owned by a women-run community-based organisation, the second by a youth group (facilitated by the area Member of County Assembly), and the third by a private operator. Costs fluctuate according to whether it’s a regular or water rationing day, and the quality of water supplied by NCWSC is generally good. However, the poor quality of other illegal connection pipes has sometimes resulted in breakage, causing water leakages and hence water scarcity, as well as contamination.

“There was normally plenty of water available but the cost of bringing water from the fetching point to my house was too expensive,” says Mary. “It costs KES 5 to transport one 20 litre jerry can to my house, and it could cost more if your house is further from the fetching point – some people pay KES 10. I cannot afford that – I need 10 jerry cans a day for my family.” She was also concerned about water quality, with poor quality pipes being prone to bursting and badly laid.

Recently, NCWSC has worked with WSUP to introduce new prepaid water dispensers – and Mary says the impact has been huge. The prepaid meters charge KES 0.50 per 20 litre jerry can of water, a massive saving on the KES 10 Mary used to pay to access and transport the same amount. The water company provides tokens loaded with the customer’s preferred credit amount and they can then use this at any meter they choose. NCWSC are now using GI metal pipes dug 1.2 metres underground rather than the old, poorly laid plastic ones. As well as helping people like Mary, the new system is also helping NCWSC with appropriate billing and cost recovery, allowing them to monitor usage and leakages more effectively. “Not only is it cheaper to fetch water, it’s unbelievably convenient,” Mary says. “There is a prepaid dispenser around every corner and the furthest anyone has to go to find one is 100 metres.”