A two-year project to bring safe, affordable drinking water to more than 50,000 of the poorest residents in Nairobi, Kenya, has now been inaugurated after successful completion earlier this year.

The initiative was co-funded by OFID (the OPEC Fund for International Development), the UK Government’s Department for International Development and Borealis and Borouge through their joint corporate social responsibility programme Water for the World. Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) was responsible for implementation and project management.

An estimated 60% of Nairobi’s population live in informal settlements, with little access to water and sanitation. The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) has in the past found it difficult to invest in these services because of the haphazard design of the settlements, inadequate resources within the utility and a perception that residents would be unwilling to pay for services.  Residents without access to piped supplies therefore buy water from private street vendors, at much higher prices.

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The five partners came together to improve drinking water supplies in Nairobi’s Korogocho and Kahawa Soweto informal settlements. The initiative extended the existing network into the settlements, using high-quality polyethylene (PE) pipes. This allowed pre-paid water dispensers to be installed, which are now providing water for as low as one tenth the price that consumers used to pay to water vendors.

The inauguration in Korogocho
The inauguration in Korogocho

“Innovative PE pipes can play an important role in addressing the global water challenge,” says Dorothea Wiplinger, Borealis Sustainability Manager. “To avoid the loss of water due to leakages and assure residents receive clean water that they can afford, PE pipes are an excellent solution because they last three times longer than existing pipes, suffer fewer breakages and need less maintenance.”

Monica Wanjiru in Kahawa Soweto
Monica Wanjiru in Kahawa Soweto

“In line with our sustainability goals, we commit to addressing global challenges and adding value to people’s lives through sustainable plastics solutions,” says Craig Halgreen, Vice President Corporate Sustainability at Borouge. “At Borouge, we have experience in developing sustainable water systems for all kinds of environments and we are delighted to have supported this initiative based on our high-quality polyethylene materials.”

OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish says: “OFID’s contribution to the water and sanitation sector reached USD 1,151 million as of year-end 2016. These resources have supported a wide range of operations, from large-scale water storage, treatment and distribution projects, to village pumps and school latrines, as well as schemes for the rationalization of water use in arid regions. We are proud to have been part of this project and will continue to support sustainable development across the globe.”

“WSUP works with local providers to help them deliver the water and sanitation services and infrastructure that are so desperately needed by low-income urban communities,” explains Bill Peacock, WSUP’s Director of Programmes. “This project is a great example of how multi-sector partners can join forces and contribute their expertise to make a real difference to people’s lives.”

The official inauguration took place on 5 May 2017 and was attended by Engineer Philip Gichuki, Managing Director, Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company, and Engineer Kimori, County Executive Committee Member for Water, Energy and Forestry at Nairobi City County.

“Water is now closer and cheaper” – Monica Wanjiru’s story

On a typical day, Monica Wanjiru could be seen walking around Kahawa Soweto, an informal settlement on the edge of Nairobi, surrounded by children, looking for water to buy. She and the children would have to keep walking until they found somebody to buy from.

Some 40 children in the Mwamko Children’s Centre needed water: around 20 jerrycans per day. But without access to water close by, it was a daily struggle to find enough water to keep the centre operating. Monica, who has a full-time job running a vegetable kiosk, would have to help out at the centre, which is run by her daughter, meaning that her proper job was neglected for hours on end.

Monica sometimes had no choice but to ask the older children to help with fetching water, which was a problem: “Some neighbours would accuse us of mistreating the children when they saw them ferrying heavy water jerrycans,” she says. But there was no other option.

For local residents like Monica Wanjiru, the initiative has made a huge difference. Alongside her full-time job running a vegetable kiosk, she helps her daughter to run the Mwamko Children’s Centre in Kahawa Soweto – and it was a daily struggle to find enough water to keep the centre operating.

Now, with the new water network, things have changed.

There is now a water dispenser close to the children’s centre, reducing the workload and freeing up the volunteers to do more tasks like cooking and cleaning – or even working on their own businesses, like Monica. “Water is now closer and cheaper,” she says. “We no longer have to pile our laundry up for two or three days – we can do our washing daily.”

Monica concludes: “This project has really helped us. You cannot run such a centre without enough water. Our lives are now so much easier.”

And of course, Monica now has more time to tend to her vegetable kiosk. So, through better water access, Monica – and many others like her – can focus more on their livelihoods, creating more income for themselves and their families.