December 06 2013

Who is to Blame for Nairobi’s Water Shortages?

Do all people have access to the water they need? The City of Nairobi draft master plan of 2013 acknowledges shortage of water supply and lack of sufficient infrastructure for water provision as a major problem.

Nairobi’s water comes from Sasumua Dam, Thika Dam, Ruiru Dam and Kikuyu Springs, all located outside the city. Ground water through the drilling of private boreholes also supplements the supply. In spite of recent developments, like the installation of wider and more pipes from the dams to the treatment plants to increase supplies, the problem persists. Water management is handled by the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC).

A resident traps water from the roof

This shortage has been attributed by some to poor urban planning, while others point fingers at the cartels controlling the water supply. The water problem is found across all socioeconomic levels, from the leafy suburbs to the informal settlements.

The city has never provided services to informal settlements, and those in slums are forced to buy water from vendors and water kiosks. Due to the high demand and short supply, those in the slums may pay more for water than those in higher income areas.

Shortage of supply is normal for the other city residents. Densification programs in the upper and middle class areas have not been coupled with infrastructural improvement. Those who can afford to sink boreholes have done so; but it is normal for residents to install external water storage tanks to collect and store water when it is available.

Water Cartels are also believed to have a field day, with talk of artificial shortages by dealers at NCWSC. How the water tankers appear from nowhere when the taps go dry leaves many baffled. These cartels are believed to be in full control in parts of the more dense eastern part of the city. The NWSC also reported increased cases of sabotage to their supply infrastructure with many attempting to make illegal connections.

A water vending truck in the Nairobi traffic

On the brighter side, residents in one estate recently received piped water for the first time in ten years thanks to water supply projects of the NCWSC. A Feasibility Study and Master Plan for Developing new Water Sources for Nairobi and Satellite towns is also undergoing development thanks to Agence Francaise Development.

The city receives an average annual rainfall of 900 mm and the geomorphology slopes southwards with several rivers. Some urban planners believe that damming rainfall and surface water can take care of many of the water needs. It is also interesting that for many years, the City Council by-laws prevented residents from harvesting rainwater.

The name Nairobi comes from the Maasai word ‘Enkare Nyrobi,’ meaning the place of cool waters, which is the name the Maasai gave to the Nairobi River. How ironic is it that a place associated with water seems to face the biggest challenges in water supply.

Should all residents be forced to trap water whenever it rains? Should this be a global phenomenon to help in domestic water supply?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.

Constant Cap

Constant Cap has a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He holds an undergraduate degree from the same university. He regularly writes about urban planning issues online and in local dailies. Constant was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and is passionate about the planning issues facing African Cities. He has a deep interest in sustainable transportation, urban resilience and the application of ‘new urbanism’ in Africa. He intends to work as a planner on the African continent and assist in bringing about modern sustainable urbanism. He currently works at the Advancement Office at Strathmore University, Nairobi.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 6th, 2013 at 9:39 am and is filed under Constant Cap, Environment, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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