More than 100 water bowsers that operate from Dagoretti Corner and numerous water supply advertisements in dailies is the clearest indication of a failed supply system.
Water supply has become a lucrative business that has seen many mint millions of shillings with County Hall and Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, to which the service was outsourced to in 2002, seemingly unable to satisfy the city’s thirst.
According to bowser operators, some estates like Kawangware and informal settlements have perennial shortages, which have seen them make regular deliveries to vendors who then sell the water to residents at exorbitant prices.
Despite numerous declarations of grand infrastructure improvements by the supplier in the last decade, the number of lorries supplying water has grown tremendously on Nairobi roads
And it is a relatively easy trade to venture into with capital of about Sh2.2 million enough to set one up with 5,000 litres on wheels. The biggest cost is the engine for which a second-hand one will suffice.
Other costs are Sh350,000 for the tank, Sh60,000 for a pump, two pipes for Sh60,000 and the necessary permits, which cost Sh60,000 a year.
“Then all you are left with is building a client base. While we supply private residencies most of our customers are office blocks, hotels, schools, and car wash businesses among others,” said Peter Kamau who has operated from Dagoretti Corner for the last three years.
Deliveries around the area cost Sh3,000 for the 5,000 litre tank. Further towards the CBD, the cost rises to Sh5,000. This translates to Sh1 per litre, a steep cost by any standards.
On a good day, Mr Kamau will make 10 deliveries. The fuel costs and the amount for purchasing the water at the sources is not very substantial and leaves a Sh2,000-4,000 markup.
“The business is seasonal and during the drier months, the costs go up,” said John Njogu, another operator.
The bowser operators are however quick to deny any involvement in diverting piped water starving the estates they supply.
According to Mr Njogu, they source the water from more than 50 boreholes along Ngong Road. This notwithstanding, the safety of such untreated water is debatable.
In the past, there have been accusations of some rogue members of the city water administration collaborating with the water suppliers to create artificial shortages with the water cartels filling these supply gaps.