KISUMU, KENYA —
The engine from the Nyamasaria Water Works is pumping muddy water from the Kibos River. It will be purified and stored until delivery to over 30,000 customers in the peri-urban district of Kisumu East. The company produces an average of 80,000 liters of water per day.
Access to clean and safe drinking water has been a scarce commodity to most people in Kisumu, Kenya, despite its location next to the world’s second largest fresh water lake, Lake Victoria.
Most people in the city can not verify the cleanliness of the water they purchase from vendors peddling water from handcarts. They deliver water in 20 liter plastic containers at the doorstep of their customers.
Nyamasaria Water Works in Kisumu, Kenya cleans water from the muddy Kibos River. (VOA/A. Khayesi)
Water delivery is usually the responsibility of the government. But Nyamasaria Water Works is the country’s first privately-owned water company, and is often cited by consumers for its efficiency and dependability. Development experts say there could be more non-governmental water pumping and cleansing stations if it were easier for private companies to get grants and loans.
Nyamasaria started in 2002 as a small scale irrigation project for farming tomatoes by Elly Onyando Odhong, a banker, and his brother Bernard, a professional clinical health officer. Within six years, it was providing clean water to households. But Bernard Odhong says the plant is now facing some challenges:
"We’re experiencing interference problems with our piping network, " he explained, "from the construction of roads, power outages, by real estate developers and lack of funds for expansion. While awaiting the completion of the highway road, the company has purchased power generators and it’s appealing to donors for financial support to expand the pipes to further places."
In the past, residents consumed water from shallow wells, boreholes, rainfall, streams or swamps. But today, households can access water from nearby points.
At one time, many people did not want to settle in the area because of the lack of a sufficient water supply. But business woman Jemima Akinyi Nyakano said that’s changed.
"The number of newcomers renting homes has increased since the water scarcity problem has been solved," she explained. "We no longer doubt hygiene and the source of domestic water."
Households with piped water, retailers, handcarts and trucks are served from 80,000 litre storage tanks. The water is sold at a rate that most people can afford.
Joseph Otieno, the plant manager, explained that piped households pay an average of $ US 3.60 monthly, while retailers pay US 25 cents for a 20-litre conainer. Water hawkers pay US 43 cents for full handcart loaded with a dozen containers while 10,000 liter trucks pay $US 9.15.
Tanker driver Nicholas Lihalwa delivers water to estates, hospitals, factories and social functions such as funerals, weddings and public ceremonies.
"The delivery charges depend on the distance from the source of water and if the lorry stays up to the end of the function." he said. "Some domestic and industrial consumers have storage tanks at their premises but those hosting wedding, funeral, graduation, sports or church cerebrations may connect pipes and use the water direct from the lorry. Here we charge extra amount of money."
Odhiambo said the plant is licensed by the Kisumu City public health department, and given permission to extract the river water by the Water Resources Management Authority. The filtered product is tested and approved for consumption by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.
The company manages its financial operations from the earnings it makes mostly from charging customers for water. The proceeds are used to purchase chemicals for purifying water and to pay the salaries of its employees.
Development experts say it’s a role model for other entrepreneurs throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Odhiambo said the company works in line with the goals of the United Nations and the government of Kenya to improve access to clean water
"Access to clean water is a goal of the Kenya’s national development program, Vision 2030, and also United Nations Millennium Development Goal Number Seven, which calls for cutting in half by 2015 the number of people without sustainable access to water and basic sanitation, " he explained.
Due to accessibility to clean drinking water, there has been a reduction in water borne diseases in and around Kisumu East. Odhiambo says clean and safe water has reduced bilharzia, fever, cholera, diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid. There have also been no reported cholera cases in the last five years in the area.