Kenya: Community Water Action Groups increase efficiency and accountability (by Fredrick Mariwa, Radio Maendeleo, for Farm Radio Weekly in Kenya)

| November 1, 2010

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Nyanza province in western Kenya sits on Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in Africa. Despite this, most of the province does not have piped lake water. But one community is different. Dunga is a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria. Most households in this community enjoy piped water. Others buy water from vendors at fixed and affordable prices.

But this was not always the case. The community faced various challenges in accessing water. Burst pipes were frequent, and service providers responded slowly. Illegal connections were common. Consumers connected to the water supply without the knowledge or permission of the water service provider. Local water vendors – the only source of water for people in the community who were not connected – changed their prices frequently.

To address these challenges, Dunga residents decided to form a group. Kenya’s national water regulatory agency, the Water Services Regulatory Board, soon came on board to support the process. A Water Action Group, or WAG, was formed.

The WAG represents the interests of consumers as well as the local water service provider, Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company, or KIWASCO. The WAG works with KIWASCO to improve the information given to residents who connect to the water supply for the first time. But the group also ensures that KIWASCO delivers their services according to the standards set by the Regulatory Board.

The water action group in Dunga monitors and reports on consumer experiences. It tries to resolve consumer complaints and make consumers aware of their rights and obligations. The group also reports illegal connections. It monitors and reports high tariffs charged by water vendors.

Rukia Atieno is a member of the Dunga water action group. She remembers when water from burst pipes would flow for several days without action being taken. She says, “This is a thing of the past. I can proudly say that we have sensitized [the] majority of our consumers and they are now responsible and accountable when it comes to water issues.” Consumers now notify KIWASCO quickly of any problems. They also know how to avoid activities that might damage pipes.

Peter Odero is a community member and smallholder farmer. He says that water vendors used to charge very high rates without being challenged. Service providers were very slow to respond to concerns. But now, he says, “Am happy that the service providers, KIWASCO, have a very quick response. Tariffs are also the same everywhere, as set by the service providers. And now all the vendors sell a 20-litre jerry can for two Kenyan shillings.” Mr. Odero walks only a short distance to buy water for his kitchen garden during the dry season.

Francis Ochieng works for KIWASCO. He says that the work of the water action group is a great relief to the company. The number of illegal water connections has dropped greatly. He says, “I can say that there were so many illegal water connections in Dunga, Nyalenda and Manyatta communities. But since the inception of WAGs, this has greatly reduced, because they report to us illegal water connections, [and] then we approach the consumer.”

Consumers, group members and KIWASCO are satisfied that the groups have been effective. Residents of Dunga now enjoy their water supply, knowing they contribute to keeping the system running smoothly and transparently.