Nairobi water mixes with sewage – again

A cholera outbreak is imminent in Nairobi’s Umoja suburb after the city’s drinking water once again got entangled with the sewer system.

Part of the fast growing Umoja Innercore suburb of Nairobi.

Part of the fast growing Umoja Innercore suburb of Nairobi.

Should such an outbreak emerge, hundreds of thousands could be affected in the densely populated suburb, about 12km east of the Kenyan capital.

It is the third time in less than a year that the scandalous mix up of fresh water with sewage has occurred. In previous episodes, the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) blamed haphazard construction of high-rise flats for breakdowns in the sewer system.

Owners of the houses have however blamed the Nairobi City Council for allocating land without informing developers that they are actually building on top of sewer lines. As a result, demolition of properties built on sewer reserves cannot legally proceed because developers were issued valid documents by the City Council.

As the NCWSC attempts to yet again rectify the situation, water supply to Umoja has been shut down. Residents can be seen moving from estate to estate in a vain search for the precious liquid. Certainly, this is a waste of productive time.

Water vendors have emerged to exploit the crisis. A single 20-litre container of water is retailing at Shs40 (US$0.52). Considering that an average household requires at least 5 containers a day, the costs of water are straining family budgets at a time of rising food and fuel prices.

Meanwhile, Nairobi’s water supply is fast diminishing due to drought. The main water reservoir at Ndakaini is at alarmingly low levelS. The second reservoir at Sasumua, which is in Kinangop, is all but dry. In any case, part of Sasumua dam collapsed six years ago and has never been repaired. Nairobi is getting less water compared to ten years ago when suburbs like Umoja had just a fraction of their present population.

With ongoing shortages of food and fuel coupled with power blackouts, the patience of Kenyans will soon stretch to its limits with calamitous consequences.

Previous articles:

Sewage and water mix-up draws anger

Nairobi water shortages to get worse

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Food, fuel shortages worsen Kenyan life

As though life for the ordinary Kenyan wasn’t hard enough, inefficiencies in government are causing shortages in maize, petrol and LPG gas.

What makes it painful is that the products are in the country but are unable to reach the shops thanks to political interference intended to create lucrative business opportunities for well-connected personalities.

Unreasonable taxation by the Kenya Revenue Authority has impeded the movement of fuel from the Mombasa port into the interior. The harsh measures are intended to increase government revenue and pay high salaries for the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament.

At the moment, President Mwai Kibaki earns almost as much as US President George W. Bush even though Kenya is at the rear end in terms of economic, social and political indicators.

Kenyans will, thus, have to pay more for food and fuel because of an artificial shortage designed to line the pockets of a corrupt ruling elite already wallowing in ill-gotten wealth.

According to the Saturday Nation, maize millers are unable to obtain supplies from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), which is a state organization. The millers say they are forced to negotiate with brokers, who buy the maize from the NCPB then sell it to millers at 26% commission. The brokers are likely to be people with high level connections.

As a result, consumers are buying a packet of the 2kg Jogoo maize flour at Shs87 (US$1.2). With Christmas holidays just a month away and demand expected to soar, the price of maize flour is bound to break the Shs100 barrier. As always, the poor will be hardest hit. Consumer inflation will exceed the 31% recorded in the middle of this year.

The obvious solution to such a crisis would be to import from regional countries, especially Tanzania and Malawi. However, the Ministry of Agriculture is making it cumbersome to import foodstuffs, arguing that Kenyan farmers need to be protected. The gains of a liberalized market are slowly being reversed for the benefit of a few.

Shortages in LPG gas are inflicting major losses on hotels and restaurants. 5-star restaurants now resemble rural kiosks as they resort to using firewood and charcoal to prepare meals. Of course, the results are nothing to boast about and customers are turning away in droves. The use of firewood and charcoal is extremely expensive on a large scale. The gas shortage has been attributed to inefficiencies at the Changamwe Oil refinery and tax measures.

Interruptions in the supply of petrol have become alarmingly frequent in the past year. A decade ago, Kenya’s oil industry prided itself on its efficient distribution network that made it easier to buy fuel than to find clean water. That is no longer the case. Multinational oil companies, fed up with a short sighted government, are deserting the country.

In a move that only a Kenyan politician can dream of, the government wants to create a new oil monopoly in the form of National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK). The government has 100% shares in NOCK and multinationals leaving the country are being pressured to sell to NOCK. It is feared that, in the next few years, shares in NOCK will be sold to highly placed individuals disguised as “strategic partners.”

At the same time, individuals close to the centre of power have their eye on departing multinationals. They took over the operations of Mobil Kenya by creating a new company called Oil-Libya. The deal was sealed following shuttle diplomacy between Kenya and Libya.

What does this mean for Kenyans? More fuel shortages and higher prices for the little that is available.

In addition to supply shortfalls in food and fuel, Kenya is currently experiencing shortages in electricity and water supply. Utility companies – all owned by the state – have failed to keep pace with a growing population. Industries are worst hit and must maintain expensive fuel-powered generators just to keep going. Now, even their generators may grind to a halt because fuel does not arrive on time.

Kenyan winter ended in dramatic style

Nairobi residents are once again enjoying sunny weather, just a week after an unusual ice storm in Nyahururu marked the end of the cold season. Heavy coats, scarves and knee-length boots have been discarded as warm weather favors lighter clothing.

People walk outside the Khoja Mosque on Moi Avenue to a backdrop of clear, blue skies.

People walk outside the Khoja Mosque on Moi Avenue to a backdrop of clear, blue skies.

Statue of Kenya's first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, taken as sunny skies return to Nairobi.

The early afternoon sunlight engulfs this statue of Jomo Kenyatta outside the Kenyatta Conference Centre

The intersection of Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru Highway.

The intersection of Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru Highway.

September is usually a sunny month but, this year, significant amounts of rain have fallen in Nairobi and its environs. The rains are a big relief to city residents, currently experiencing the worst water rationing since the year 2000. Meteorologists say that rains that usually come between October and December will be enough to replenish the city’s dwindling water reserves.

Nairobi water shortages to get worse

We were standing on top of a new flat in Pipeline estate, about 15km south east of Nairobi’s city centre and within view of the Jomo Kenyatta International airport. “Twenty years ago, this place was a grassland,” says Mr Anthony Mbugua, the owner of the flat.”

Today, Pipeline estate resembles the inner city projects of the United States. Row upon row of soaring flats, each with dozens of tiny cubicles housing workers from nearby industries and from the airport. Flats extend in every direction as far as the eye can see, merging with the Industrial Area to the north, Doonholm to the north east and Embakasi to the east. To the west, the Pipeline conurbation has touched Mombasa Road. It is the rapid growth of these residential areas has put a strain on Nairobi’s water supply.

The city of Nairobi is experiencing severe water rationing as rains at the water catchment areas failed in recent months. However, observers say that the city’s water supply has simply been overtaken by demand. If anything, Nairobi is getting less water today than it was getting 10 years ago, as colonial era supply systems broke down from neglect. The rapid expansion of residential areas such as Pipeline means the situation will be getting worse.

The growth in population of Pipeline Estate is replicated is such areas as Mathare North, Dandora, Kayole, Ongata Rongai, Kitengela, Zimmerman and Uthiru. Yet, city authorities have no immediate plans to expand water supply. The last major addition to Nairobi’s water supplies was in 1995. At the time, most of the places mentioned above had only a fraction of their current populations.

Mr Mbugua and his fellow landlords have had to hire trucks in order to keep tenants happy. “If I don’t do this, nobody will want to rent my flats,” he explains. But tenants are wary of the quality of the water as the sources are unknown. “The landlords say the water comes from Karen boreholes but it could actually be from anywhere,” says a tenant, “we only use the water for washing and flushing toilets. For health reasons, I prefer to drink bottled water.”

Nairobi’s water supply comes from Ndakaini Dam in Thika, Sasumua in Kinangop, Kikuyu springs and Karen boreholes. There’s also an additional supply from the Ruiru River. Of these, Ndakaini is the newest and largest of all, having been constructed with European Union funds in the early 1990s.

Sasumua Dam was built by British colonialists but is now out of service after it was destroyed by floods in 2002. It hasn’t been repaired since. Therefore, most of Nairobi’s water is coming from Ndakaini but deforestation in the Aberdare mountains has reduced inflows into the dam. Currently, Ndakaini is operating at less than 50% capacity. Ruiru Dam and Kikuyu springs are relatively small sources of supply.

Karen boreholes are being pumped dry as hundreds of homes and businesses in the area tap into the same aquifer. The Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company says that it has been forced to drill deeper into the earth’s crust to strike water.

As the city’s water supply diminishes, demand extends far beyond Nairobi. The Athi River Export Processing Zone and nearby flower farms are all getting water from Ndakaini. The growing town of Mlolongo and the surrounding residences on Mombasa Road and Syokimau are adding to pressure on Nairobi’s water. Further to the east, construction in Ruai and Kamulu means that very soon, there won’t be enough water for anybody in Nairobi.

The government plans to stop Nairobi water from flowing to Athi River and Kitengela, arguing that the water authorities in those areas should develop alternative supplies. But this may only be postponing the problem. The Kilimanjaro water supply, conceived in the 1980s for these areas was diverted to horticulture farms belonging to allies of ex-President Daniel arap Moi. Whatever little remains is used to wash trucks on Mombasa Road.

Clearly, the solution lies in rehabilitating to full capacity all the sources of Nairobi’s water supply. There is need to restore the forests of the Aberdares in order to attract rain and help store water through natural means. It will be necessary to disconnect fresh water supply to flower farms, whose produce anyway does not benefit the ordinary people. The Nairobi Water Company should become more efficient by stopping illegal connections that deny the city of revenues needed in maintaining the water system.

More importantly, a culture of pro-active planning should be nurtured in Kenya.

What do these fountains mean?

Nairobi’s City Council is inaugurating two new fountains in the capital, while dwindling water reserves raise fears of severe cuts in supply.

The new fountain at the roundabout of Moi and Haille Selassie Avenues.

The new fountain at the roundabout of Moi and Haille Selassie Avenues.

The first of the new water fountains is at the roundabout of Moi and Haille Selassie Avenues, opposite the Railway station, and is already operational. The second fountain is at the roundabout of University Way and Muindi Mbingu Streets, near the Central Police Station. It is still under construction.

Nairobi’s leaders are yet to explain to city residents the significance of these new aesthetic works.

Previous water fountains built in the city were meant to commemorate an important person or event. Outside Parliament, near the Hotel Intercontinental is the King George memorial, built in the 1950s. At Uhuru park is the Peace, Love and Unity monument built in the 1980s. Also at Uhuru Park is another fountain that feeds the artificial lake. At Central Park is the Nyayo Monument, built in 1988 to mark the tenth anniversary in office of Kenya’s second president, Daniel arap Moi.

Most of these fountains had fallen into disrepair throughout the 1990s, until the NARC government of President Mwai Kibaki took over in 2003. Today, the monuments have been rehabilitated and are major crowd pullers. However, the City Council of Nairobi decided to add two monuments of its own in the past year.

The question on everybody’s lips is: what do these new fountains signify?

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.