On World Water Day, we take a look at how WSUP’s work with utilities in Kenya is helping more low-income customers gain access to clean, affordable water.

For Shuhudia Awadh Mohamed, who lives in the Likoni area of Kenya’s second city, Mombasa, securing water was a time-consuming – and expensive – task.

Shuhudia used to have to spend 2-3 hours queuing for untreated, salty water from a privately run borehole, and would then have to pay someone to carry jerry cans of water back to her house. On average, Shuhudia had to spend $45 each month on securing untreated, salty water.

Shuhudia’s experience in the city is far from unique. On the edge of the Indian Ocean, finding salty water is never a problem in Mombasa, but finding clean drinking water is much more of a challenge.

The city’s only utility has about one-third of the water that is needs to meet demand from residents.

“The water supply in Mombasa is a big problem,” says Peter Kimanthi, Managing Director of Mombasa Water Supply and Sanitation Company (MOWASSCO). “We don’t have enough water, and for this reason, we have to ration supply every day of the week, every season of the year.” This is particularly true in the city’s low-income settlements, where residents might only get water for just a few hours a day, two or three days a week.

This is further aggravated by a limited water supply coverage network and poor households’ inability to pay one-off connection fees. WSUP and Kenya Markets Trust (KMT) are working closely with MOWASSCO to minimise this problem in a number of low-income settlements in Mombasa.

Watch this video from KMT to find out more.

A key focus for WSUP in Mombasa is working with the utility to help them overcome this issue, building their capacity to serve low-income communities.

In 2014, WSUP supported MOWASSCO in the establishment of a department specifically focused on low-income communities, helping them to address water shortages for the hundreds of thousands of people living in informal settlements.

One issue we have focused on is easing difficult relations between civil society and MOWASSCO.

Entrepreneurs who ran privately managed boreholes such as the one used by Shuhudia were in conflict with the utility, to the point of attacking meter readers and even MOWASSCO staff. At the utility’s request, we have brokered a good working relationship between the two parties which continues to improve.

In 2016, we worked with MOWASSCO, the Mombasa County Government, the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank and Vitens Evides International to extend the water network into Likoni. Shuhudia was one of the people who benefitted, gaining a household water connection and reducing her water bill by 70% in the process.

“I currently don’t use saline water for any reason – all my jerry cans have been washed clean of any traces of salinity!” she says with a laugh.

With the more regular water supply, Shuhudia is now able to prepare fruit juices which she can sell to nearby residents – increasing her income on a daily basis.

We are now working with KMT and MOWASSCO to gain further understanding into customer needs for water. This is helping us to build a stronger business case for MOWASSCO, as Abdi Wario, Water Sector Lead for KMT explains:

“According to the study that has been done by WSUP, consumers are willing to pay for water services,” he says. “As long as they get reliable water services – good quality, and in good quantity.”

This message is something that WSUP finds throughout the countries we work in.

And as Shuhudia’s example shows, often residents are paying substantially more for water from private operators, and with a proper connection to the water network, can see their water bills drop substantially.

That’s why close engagement with utilities is at the heart of WSUP’s approach to improving water for low-income communities – not just in in the six cities and major towns that we operate in across Kenya, but in all of the countries where WSUP has a long-term presence.

Learn more about our work in Kenya