Where's the Water?

Where's the Water?

Publication info

Peter Lochery

Visiting a community in Kenya in April 2018, we were excited to see the physical infrastructure in place: two kiosks for collecting water, yard taps for some lucky households close to the kiosks, overhead tanks with a combined capacity of 20 cubic meters and, we were told, an infiltration well, pump and diesel generator near the river.

But, the taps were dry.

We approached a woman in the nearest compound. She was clearly very proud of the water tap in her yard. When we asked her where the water was, she told us that they only had water twice per week. Didn’t she want water every day? Yes, but she and her husband could only afford $2 per month and the rest of the community were similarly challenged. There simply was not enough money to fuel the generator more than twice per week according to the women.

Only one (a man) in the project team spoke Somali, so the conversation was slow. The women was a little uncomfortable with the team asking so many questions in the absence of her husband. 

She told us she and her husband had paid $38 for the house connection, (water tap in their yard) and that every household in the community paid $2 per month – whether from the community kiosk or from their yard tap). The kiosk didn’t look as though it was used very often; there was sand on the concrete platform below the taps and the taps didn’t show much signs of use.

My colleague went off to use the latrine that was about 20m from the compound in which we were talking. The latrine was clean and the superstructure (walls and roof) built out of corrugated steel sheets. This family had made a significant investment in water and sanitation.

The project team looked downcast. Even the armed guards who were escorting us looked frustrated by the lack of water. The rehabilitation of this water scheme with the county government was one of the project’s early successes, to which they brought visitors.

So what happened in this community of 500 households?

This did not appear to be the usual case of a water scheme failing because of poor or no maintenance, i.e. something not fixed when it is broken. We asked ourselves whether the poor service was due to weak governance, which resulted in low fee collection or in fees being collected but diverted to personal or non-authorized use. Alternatively, was the design of the system such that the fuel needed for daily operation of the generator to power the pump was beyond the means of the community? We didn’t have time to seek out the WASH committee members and our questions went unanswered.

We wondered what the woman really thought about the twice a week supply. Who could she hold accountable for the poor service?

The answer is all of us (donors, government, implementing agencies, and community leaders) who are associated with the project and have the power to influence and monitor planning, design, governance, user awareness, and last but not least opportunities for women’s voice. We have the tools to improve performance. We can do better!