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Mobile Technology Spurs Water Connections for Nairobi Slum

Mobile Technology Spurs Water Connections for Nairobi Slum
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Mobile Technology Spurs Water Connections for Nairobi Slum

Kenya's slum residents lack basic services -- like running water and electricity. But that is changing as the World Bank and the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company roll out a program to allow residents to pay their water bills by mobile phone.

The technology is the first of its kind in East Africa, and with the water company more confident it will be able to collect revenues, it is working to connect piped water to every household in the Kayole slum.

More than 100,000 people live in the Kayole slum.

For decades the now-deserted public borehole had been the only source of water.

Clean, abundant water

Now, the World Bank and Nairobi water company are advancing a program begun five years ago to provide clean and cheap water to residents. Thousands of people now have water piped to their homes and more are applying for water connections.

Veronica Njeri said the connection of water to her house provides many benefits.

"We use this water for drinking, washing clothes, cleaning houses and utensils. The water is clean. The borehole water, if you drink it that thirst is still [there] because the water is salty," she said.

Those who have piped water, like Njeri, say it has saved them time and has contributed to the general cleanliness and health of their families.

Mobile payments

The connected residents use their mobile phones to acquire and pay their bills. Mary Mwangi said it's now easy for her to pay her bills without delay.

"The innovative technology of paying the bill through my phone has made my work easier because before I had to queue sometimes I find the water office closed. Now I check my meter readings and pay my bills," said Mwangi.

This innovative technology has boosted the confidence of the water authorities to expand the distribution system.

The company has incurred losses in slum areas where there are illegal water connections and consumers are not paying their bills.

Changing model

Vicky Kimaiyo, who is in charge of the project in Kayole for the Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company, said the water company is finding it easy to operate in areas like this.

"The customer base for the utility has increased because this was a place where it was basically not accounted for, I mean they were illegal connections, people were getting water for free," said Kimaiyo. "But right now they get metered and they pay for the water. So of course for the utility that's a plus, and for us who work in such informal settlements we are happy about it."

With more people applying for water connections -- and high demand for clean water -- the company is facing a challenge to provide all the water that is needed. For now, they are rationing water by dividing the area into zones, and giving customers in each zone just a few hours to fill their containers.