Small-Scale Water Providers in Kenya: Pioneers or Predators?
In 2008, 83 percent of Kenyans living in urban areas, had access to safe drinking water – down from 91 percent in 1990. This gradual deterioration in urban water access is mainly due to growing demand caused by rapid population growth, especially in the informal settlements. According to UN HABITAT, in 2010, more than half of Nairobi’s population lived in 200 informal settlements.
Small-scale private water providers have entered the market to fill the gap left in public service provision. This study examines what role they play in ensuring affordable, safe and reliable water supply. It finds that small-scale providers increase water supply coverage and reduce time poverty.
As predicted by the “poverty penalty” concept, however, low-income households pay high prices for water of questionable quality. For two-thirds of households, expenditure on water is above the affordability threshold. And 57 percent of households consume below the water poverty line. Water is also exposed to contamination by external toxic residuals, mainly during transportation and as a result of pipe leakages. Given their inability to store water, low-income households suffer disproportionally in times of scarcity and rationing.
As regards policy intervention, piped water connections on premises remain the most affordable and safe system of water provision. In the meantime, supporting fixed-point water suppliers such as public taps and water kiosks represents a second-best solution. Strengthening capacity within regulatory institutions is required to ensure affordability and quality of the water provided.