One of the things that is increasingly important to us as our programme draws towards its end is to raise the profile of urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) – we’ve done great work over the past four and a half years, and it is key to ensure others take up the mantle.
So, over the next few weeks I hope to highlight some issues* that make urban WASH a vital, fascinating and challenging area of work – and highlight the issues that informal settlement residents face. I’m intending to tackle water first in a series of posts. If you find something particularly interesting or shocking, please do share it. If you have any questions about the post, or urban WASH in general, please comment.
The first issue to address is access. We can say everyone is accessing water somehow or other, but we take an MDG approach to access – improved water sources, implying safety and convenience, beyond merely obtaining something called water.
You might assume that access is ensured in urban areas and there is no reason not to connect. However, a connection charge of 5,000KSh to the utility is unattainable for most households in low income areas, such as Kibera (average household income around 3,000KSh/month**).
This means that these residents generally do not have what we could call improved access to water. An estimated 85% of Kibera residents rely on water vendors to obtain their water**. These vendors may charge high prices (post coming), whilst giving poorer services, because the vendors are unregulated.
There is another problem as well. Some vendors create illegal connections, leading to very high Non-Revenue Water (NRW) in low-income settlements (read about some of what we’ve done to combat this here). This in turn can make a utility reluctant to expand into such areas, so that even a household that can afford the connection fee may not be able to get a connection. This is a chicken-and-egg type problem, as the fewer people who are supplied formally, the more vendors and therefore higher losses expected and more reluctance to supply, even as the areas continue to expand rapidly.
One of our roles then, is demonstrating how to effectively reduce NRW in such areas, so as to convince a water utility that the area does not need to make heavy losses, but can indeed expand operations so that the entire city can gain access.
Alongside this, we also demonstrate models involving water kiosks – whereby those who cannot obtain a water connection are able to at least have access to a more reliable supply.
*Most of my examples will probably come from Kibera, Nairobi. There are very many other slums even in Nairobi alone, and it is not my view that Kibera should be given all the attention it receives while other areas are relatively neglected. However, it is an area I know better than any other, and it’s easier to get data, because of its high profile.
**Data comes from this paper.