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Amidst a pandemic, water supply in Nairobi got cut off -but, why is no one bothered?

When Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company closed down its main water treatment plant at Ng’ethu at the start of the month, water supply interruption to Nairobi residents was to last just two days.

However, what was to be a two-day water interruption for city residents according to the May 1 notice by the urban water utility firm has now turned into a nightmare for most residents.

Days have now turned into weeks with the promise to restore normal water supply in the city with the biting water shortage currently being experienced in Nairobi set to continue.

A week later, Sasumua Dam treatment works were also shut with no specific date given for the return to operation of the plant.

Worryingly, is that even areas which have not had water problems before have now been affected since the closure of the two water treatment plants.

Grappling with lack of water

In Lang’ata and Kibera, residents are still grappling with lack of water in their taps and are forced to survive on water vendors.

In Mukuru kwa Reuben, residents lamented the high cost of water as they have to purchase the commodity from water vendors in the area as there is no free water from Nairobi Water as had been promised.

The situation is no better in Tassia where residents get water only twice a week as before.

To make matters worse, Nairobi Water acting Managing Director Engineer Nahashon Muguna said areas supplied by Sasumua treatment plant, which lie west of Uhuru Highway, will still experience water problems for between two and three weeks as relaying of new water pipes to a new route not prone to landslides continue.

“The materials are yet to be transported to the site to begin the work. This will take between 14 and 21 days to be complete,” said Mr Muguna.

For city residents east of Uhuru Highway from the CBD to Eastlands supplied by Ng’ethu waterworks, the wait is only up to mid this week with the plant currently able to take up more water as clogging intake and high water turbidity have reduced.

The response has been slow, to say the least.

He said the current problem is ensuring the stability of the system to maintain production for 24 hours with water production at the plant gradually increased to 18, 300 cubic metres per hour against water intake of 19, 200 cubic metres per hour over the last few days. The normal production is 19, 550 cubic metres per hour.

“If we can sustain the current production for 24 hours then some of the problems we have been having in Eastlands will go down by next week,” said Mr Muguna.

Water rationing since April 2017

Together, the two water treatment plants supply 96.6 percent of water used by Nairobi residents with Ng’ethu accounting for 85 percent and Sasumua 11.6 percent.

Ng’ethu supplies 396, 016 cubic metres of water to Nairobi daily while Sasumua accounts for 61, 000 cubic metres per day.

This has left over four million Nairobi residents to rely on Kikuyu Springs and Ruiru Dam, accounting for just 3.4 percent of the entire water supply to city residents.

Nairobi has been experiencing water rationing since April 2017 with water demand continuing to outweigh supply.

The demand has grown to more than 810, 000 cubic meters daily against an installed production of 525, 600 cubic meters of water daily.

The interruption of normal operations of the two major water treatment plants has left almost entire Nairobi without supply of water, a crucial commodity especially at a time when the country is fighting coronavirus pandemic which has seen at least 781 Kenyans test positive for the novel virus with Nairobi as its epicentre.

WHO advises washing of hands with running water and soap as key in the fight against the virus. People who can’t access water and soap are advised to use alcohol-based hand sanitisers. The search for water by most people also goes against the advise of social distancing as people, especially in low-income areas, tend to crowd in water points.

The acute water shortage being experienced in the capital is unprecedented with consumption increasing as a result of most people being at home.

The result is most residents, who are already cash-strapped, are being forced to dig deeper into their pockets to purchase the commodity from vendors.

Not earning any meaningful income

Majority of Kenyans are not earning any meaningful income due to restrictions of movement and curfew orders.

Most vendors charge not less than Sh1 per litre (Sh20 for a 20-litre jerrican) way too high compared to the rate of Sh53 per 1000 litres charged by NCWSC for those consuming less than 60,000 litres monthly, a consumption segment covering the majority of the city’s households.

To make matters worse, the promise by the utility firm to enhance water supply to informal settlements, in particular, Mukuru, Kibera and Mathare to five times a week in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has not properly taken root with many residents still without access to enough water needed for handwashing.

But Mr Muguna denied claims that the shortage of water in Nairobi is always artificial and caused by water cartels who divert water from the company to sell to residents through water bowsers.

“It is not possible to divert water for our lines as water supply in the city is an integrated network that it is not easy to intercept. We have also discouraged connecting individuals on the main distribution line,” he said.