Water rationing in Nairobi officially announced

Nairobi residents accustomed to water shortages reacted mutely to the announcement by the city’s water company that water rationing will officially begin this month.

The Nairobi Water & Sewerage Company (NWSC) says water rationing is necessary due to inadequate rains in the water catchment areas of the Aberdare forest. The company is also publicizing water conservation measures such as the use of bucket baths instead of showers and the recycling of laundry water.

Nairobi residents have been experiencing water shortages long before the official announcement of rationing. Many people are already taking bucket baths out of necessity rather than choice and the water company’s conservation tips seem laughable under the circumstances. The quality of water is also poor with a recent case of contamination with sewage causing supply disruptions in Umoja estate.

NWSC attributes rampant water shortages to illegal connections by roadside car washers most of whom have influential backers within the Nairobi City Council. NWSC is a subsidiary of the Nairobi City Council and was spun off from the former Water and Sewerage Department. However, the council still retains strong influence within the NWSC.

Nairobi’s water problems are compounded by the fact that one of the city’s three water sources is out of service. The Sasumua dam in Kinangop was damaged by floods almost five years ago and rehabilitation work has been slow. That means Nairobi is getting its water from Ndakaini in Thika and Ondiri in Kabete constituency.

Inspite of rapid growth due to rural-urban migration, Nairobi has not invested in new water production facilities since Ndakaini dam was commissioned in the mid 1990s. Both Sasumua and Ondiri were built by British colonialists before independence in 1963. To aggravate the situation, water supply for Nairobi has been extended to the Athi River Export Processing Zone as well as horticultural farms in the Athi River – Kitengela conurbation.

Though Ndakaini is a mega-project expected to serve the city for many years to come, it is suffering from the effects of climate change which has resulted in unpredictable rainfall patterns in its catchment area around the Aberdare Ranges. Apart from climate change, massive deforestation within the Aberdares has reduced the water retention capacity of the mountains. According to records, the Aberdares used to have abundant marshes of water where, reputedly, elephants were known to sink into the depths. Today, the marshes are all but dry.

The last time that a significant water rationing program was implemented in Nairobi was in the year 2000. A year long drought shrank water supply and hydro-electric dams resulting in both electricity and water rationing. Fist fights over water were witnessed in the estates while hotels and offices in the city had to hire trucks from Kajiado District to supply water fresh water. The effects of water and power rationing in 2000 caused a negative growth in the Kenyan economy for three straight years.

From the look of things, Kenyans will have to prepare for a return to that dark and dry era. Power shortages are increasingly becoming routine for the same reasons that water is being rationed, namely, a lack of investment in new power production.


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