With support from Dutch utility company VEI, through Water Operator Partnerships (WOPs) – part of the WaterWorX initiative, three utility companies in Kenya are being transformed. This development is part of the building of wider cooperation in the region to better cope with the impacts of climate change.
Dutch utility company VEI is supporting 3 water and sanitation companies in Kenya's Nakuru County – NAWASSCO and NAIVAWASCO, which serve the City of Nakuru and Naivasha Town, respectively, and NARUWASCO, the rural utility company serving the wider county.
VEI is providing its support as a member of the WaterWorX partnership, which is the Dutch water utility companies and Ministry of Foreign Affairs' international SDG6 Utility Support Programme.
WaterWorX Resident Project Manager Jan Spit explains that VEI has been present in the area for almost a decade. Since 2017, the support has been conducted through WaterWorX. Working through Water Operator Partnerships, this initiative aims to harness the abilities of Dutch public water operators and secure sustainable water and sanitation services for 10 million people by 2030.
As Resident Project Manager, Spit brought extensive international experience to the role, from having studied at Delft University of Technology, during which time he spent time in deprived urban areas in Tanzania, to focusing more recently on sanitation and faecal sludge management. VEI employees and experts from other organisations contribute their time and expertise to the WOPs but, apart from Spit, the project team on site consists of 6 local people.
"The first and most important aim is to make the companies more financially healthy and support them in improving services," says Spit. This means working on issues such as reducing non-revenue water and increasing billing and income, which is being supported by a new Enterprise Resource Planning system.
Given WaterWorX' wider goals, there is a particular focus on ensuring there is water and sanitation for people in low-income areas. "We are installing prepaid systems, so that people have water at a reasonable price and the utility company also has an income from low-income areas," says Spit.
With 80% of the population having onsite sanitation systems such as latrines and septic tanks, which require emptying, this is another area for service improvement. The WOPs support the utility companies in identifying investment needs and preparing project documents; the utility companies then take on responsibility for seeking investment.
The support of the WOPs is having an impact on the national rankings that the utility companies are achieving. According to the 2019-2020 ranking of regulator WASREB, NAWASSCO ranked as the second-best performing utility company in the whole of Kenya and was classified as a very large utility company. NAIVAWASCO was ranked as the best performing medium-sized utility company in the country, and 20th in the overall ranking. Meanwhile, NARUWASCO was ranked 11th in the large utility company category and 25th in the overall ranking.
Water resources have become an important focus for the work, especially since an anticipated dam project in the region did not materialise. "Nakuru is growing very, very fast and the people need water. Existing resources are not enough, so it is also necessary to make sure there is sufficient water in the future," says Spit.
He also describes local Lake Nakuru, famous for its flamingos, as 'a bathtub': essentially, water goes in, but not out. "It is important to clean wastewater before it goes into the lake," adds Spit, noting that the high level of sodium makes the water unfit for drinking water purposes.
Climate is now an increasing focus as well. "Kenya suffers a lot from climate change. Last year, we had twice as much water as usual, while in other years there is very little," says Spit. This calls for a much more resilient approach. "We introduced the idea of the 'sponge city', in which more water is stored and infiltrated so it is available later," he adds.
Increasing water resource needs and, in particular, growing concerns around climate change have meant it has become important to connect with other stakeholders. This was a change for the utility companies, usually focused on their own activities.
"This is really something completely new for them," says Spit. He lists Nakuru County and the Ministries of Forestry, Irrigation, Tourism and Natural Resources, as examples of stakeholders. "All these other groups have to come on board to make this work properly," he says. "Most important for us is the Water Resources Authority," he adds, "as well as farmers and the wider local population."
A stakeholder forum has been created to bring these groups together. Importantly, Spit notes that the activity of the forum has been included in Kenya's National Gazette. "Even when the project is finished, this will continue, as it is gazetted," he says.
For Spit, there are clear signs that the long-term approach of the project, with a sustained presence, is having an impact. Beyond the progress of the utility companies themselves, he notes that the sponge city is being embraced.
"That the County has published an article on sponge cities without our involvement shows that we are more or less on the right track," he says.
He mentions how it has provided time to build an important relationship with the County's Minister of Water. "By being on the spot for a longer period, having a relationship with the local authorities really helps," he adds.
I would wish that the model that we have developed in Nakuru would be replicated in other places, because it works very well.
Mr Festus Ng'eno
Nakuru Minister of Water
James Gachathi is NAWASCCO's Managing Director. For him, the WOPs' most important contribution to date has been the impact on non-revenue water, "the continuous adoption of local solutions towards management of non-revenue water through north-south water operator partnership," he says.
In addition, he notes that the partnership has yielded investments in low-income areas through adoption of a social connection policy. This aims to provide reliable, affordable and sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to people who are underserved.
Gachathi sees a number of priorities ahead. "Improved energy efficiency performance and compliance with energy efficiency measures is a critical area which the utility company aims to address," he says. This has made addressing the current and future water demand a high and immediate priority. "Water resources are dwindling and the pressure to meet the water demand for the increased population and social-economic activities ultimately need to be prioritised," he adds.
Festus Ng'eno is the County's Minister of Water. The County is the utility companies' main shareholder and Ng'eno is its primary contact for their strategic oversight. "We work as a team," he notes.
His role is particularly important with respect to the widened focus on water resources and sponge cities, especially in terms of approaching key stakeholders, including other ministries. "Everything that happens comes through my Ministry," says Ng'eno. He sees that the WOPs have provided a foundation for making these connections. "The WOPs have helped us look at the wider perspective," he says, adding: "There is a team that is well coordinated, and it came as a result of these WOPs."
Ng'eno highlights the way the WOPs have also helped create a foundation for wider sanitation management in the area. "One of key things to mention is that the other partners who are doing WASH programmes in Nakuru are all organised within what VEI and ourselves have put in place," he says.
There is a number of priorities ahead, including progress with the sponge city approach. But Ng'eno is clear that the work to date has demonstrated the value of the cooperation: "I would wish that the model that we have developed in Nakuru would be replicated in other places, because it works very well."