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Water in Kenya: Water Supply, Resources, Scarcity, and Sanitation



Kenya is a water scarce country and water pollution is very common and thus requires a lot of sanitation to make it fit for human consumption. Surface waters resources cover only 2 per cent of the total surface area. The climate varies from tropical along the Kenyan coast of the Indian ocean to arid in the interior and two thirds of the country is covered by semi-desert or desert land.

Per capita available water is about 650 m3/year.  Future projections show that by 2025, per capita water availability will drop to 235m3 as a result of population growth.

The level of water scarcity in some regions is a serious limiting factor for development activities. Consequently, the need to change the scattered structure and functioning of the water management system has arisen.

In 2002, major reforms were initiated with the revision of the Water Act, which defines clear roles for the different actors involved in the decentralised institutional framework that separates policy formulation from regulation and services provision. Where possible, the participation of stakeholders in the decision making processes was promoted by involving communities and other actors such as NGOs, community organisations and the private sector.

In 2009, water services boards undertook to develop urban water supplies infrastructure, while the National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation provided water schemes in rural areas. The major works were on expansion and upgrading of the water supply systems. To provide clean water to households, the Kenya Government continued to maintain water purification points across the country.

To improve availability of water to more Kenyans in rural areas, the Government of Kenya has constructed major dams such as Chemususu, Badasa, Kiserian and others in Koibatek, Marsabit, Kajiado and Kitui districts.

Water in Kenya – Water resources in Kenya

All Kenya’s major river drain from the central highlands, divided by the rift into those flowing westwards into Lake Victoria and those flowing eastwards towards the Indian Ocean.

There are five major drainage basins: Lake Victoria, the Rift Valley, the Athi-Galana-Sabaki River (and Coastal areas to its south), the Tana River and the northern Ewaso Ng’iro.

Kenya only has a small part of Lake Victoria’s water surface, but the Kenya catchment contributes a disproportionate 33% of its surface inflow, some 470 million cubic meters a year.

The rift valley contains several basins of internal drainage, forming a chain of endorheic lakes from Lake Natron on the Tanzanian border, through Lakes Magadi, Naivasha, Turkana, Elementaita, Nakuru, Bogoria and Baringo.

These lakes vary in alkalinity; from fresh water Lake Naivasha to the intensely alkaline Lake Magadi.

Lake Turkana is notable as a major volume of (more or less) fresh water in an otherwise arid and barren part of the county, while a number of rivers, including the Turkwel, Kerio, Athi-Galana, Tana and Northern and Southern Ewaso Ng’iro, flow for long distances through dry parts of the country.

Water in Kenya

Water in Kenya

Water Supply and Sanitation in Kenya

Exiting Articles

Water supply and sanitation in Kenya is characterised by low levels of access, in particular in urban slums and in rural areas, as well as poor service quality in the form of intermittent water supply. Only 9 out of 55 water service providers in Kenya provide continuous water supply. Seasonal and regional water scarcity exacerbates the difficulty to improve water supply.

The Kenyan water sector underwent far-reaching reforms through the Water Act No. 8 of 2002. Previously service provision had been the responsibility of a single National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation as well as of a few local utilities established since 1996. After the passage of the act service provision was gradually decentralised to 117 Water Service Providers (WSPs). These are linked to 8 regional Water Services Boards (WSBs) in charge of asset management through Service Provision Agreements (SPAs). The Act also created a national regulatory board (WASREB) that carries out performance benchmarking and is in charge of approving SPAs and tariff adjustments. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation is in charge of policies for water supply and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation is in charge of policies for sanitation.

Although urban water tariffs are high by regional standards (US$0.46 per m3 on average in 2007) the level of cost recovery is low due to a high level of non-revenue water (average of 47%)and high costs. Costs are high due to the need to tap distant water sources (e.g. Mombasa is supplied from a source located 220 km from the city) and due to high levels of staffing (11 workers per 1000 connections or more than twice the sector benchmark). Investment in the sector increased fivefold from US$55m in 2004–05 to almost US$300m in 2008–09. 58% of this amount was financed by the government with its own resources, 31% by external donors and 11% was self-financed by utilities.

Water supply. Estimates from the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) show that in 2008 59% of Kenyans (83% in urban areas and 52% in rural areas) had access to improved drinking water sources. 19% of Kenyans (44% in urban areas and 12% in rural areas) are reported as having access to piped water through a house or yard connection. According to the JMP estimates, access to improved water sources in urban areas decreased from 91% in 1990 to 83% in 2008. In rural areas, however, access increased from 32% to 52% during the same period. According to a different definition called “weighted access” (see above), the 2009 Impact Report estimates that in 2006–2007 only 37% of Kenyans had access to sufficient and safe drinking water close to their homes at an affordable price. Significant regional differences in access were reported: the highest level was registered in the area served by Tetu Aberdare Water and Sanitation Company (72%) whereas the lowest was recorded in Muthambi in Meru South District (4%). In the capital Nairobi access for the same period was reported at 35%, as opposed to a less realistic figure of 46% reported for 2005–2006.[2]

The poor, in particular women and girls, spend a significant amount of time fetching water in both rural and urban areas. For example, the 2007 Citizen Report Card survey showed that users of water kiosks in cities fetch water 4–6 times per day. In Kisumu, this meant that a poor household spent 112 minutes per day to fetch water at normal times, and as much as 200 minutes per day during times of scarcity.

Lack of access to basic water sanitation in Kenya

Countrywide estimates for 2008 by the JMP indicate that 31% (27% of urban and 32% of rural) Kenyans had access to private improved sanitation. In urban areas an additional 51% of the population used shared latrines. In rural areas, open defecation was estimated to be still practised by 18% of the population. In 2006–2007 it was reported that half of the Kenyan population within the service area of 55 WSPs had access to improved sanitation facilities (this definition includes flush, pour flush toilets connected to a piped system, septic tanks, VIP latrines and pit latrines). In Nairobi, sanitation coverage was about 23% in 2006–2007. The Kenyan Integrated Household Budget Survey of 2006 reported a much higher sanitation coverage 84%, including shared latrines and shallow pit latrines.

Water in Kenya – Water Problems in Kenya

The Kenya water crisis is the current struggle that Kenya faces to supply clean water to its population. 13 million Kenyans lack access to improved water supply and 19 million lack access to improved sanitation. 

Kenyans  depends heavily on water resources, not only as a drinking water but also for crops, agriculture and livestock and fishing. Human populations throughout Kenya have been affected by a lack of clean drinking water due in large part to the overuse of land and increases in community settlements.

The destruction of trees throughout the forest has caused massive soil erosion, which pollutes the water. This phenomenon exists all over the country and with the addition of animal and human waste into already polluted water, it has made finding clean water more difficult for Kenyan citizens. The current water conditions have caused a number of issues including many diseases and tribal conflicts over the remaining water resources. Additionally, as clean water becomes harder to find, women are forced to walk for many miles each day to find the water needed for the family.

Another huge problem with clean water in Kenya has been an influx of individuals moving to large cities such as Nairobi, which creates large slum areas that have some of the worst living conditions and most polluted water in the whole country. This interaction between humans and water is currently at a crucial point in Kenya as the nation faces a major shortage in the ability for citizens to receive the water they desperately need. Only significant improvements in land management and environmental policies can help make sure this country has the water it needs on its way to becoming a developed country

Water-related challenges in Kenya are not limited to water supply and sanitation services.  Kenya is classified among the most water scarce countries in the world.  Water shortages are experienced by users across the country  Kenya is plagued with chronic cycles of flooding and drought that are increasing in frequency and severity, in part exacerbated by climate change, and coupled with population growth, significant upland watershed destruction, and non-equitable distributed of water resources.  The GoK has recently taken some controversial steps to protect upland watersheds.

Water and sanitation in Kenya will be realised through specific strategies, such as:

  1. raising the standards of the country’s overall water resource management, storage and harvesting capability;
  2. rehabilitating the hydro—meteorological data gathering network;
  3. constructing multipurpose dams(e.g. on Nzoia and Nyando rivers);and
  4. constructing water and sanitation facilities to support a growing urban and industrial population.

The policy priorities of the sector are centred on the following areas:

  1. Expansion of water coverage to move towards achieving Vision 2030, MTP and MDGS.
  2. Expansion of sewerage facilities for both safe and good living environment.
  3. Scaling up water storage to improve water security.
  4. Scaling up irrigation to reduce dependence of rain»fed agriculture and address food security.
  5. Catchment conservation targeting the main water sources/ tower


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