By Phillip Odwuor Odete
It is not in question that water is a basic need in Kenya. The promulgation of the new Constitution on the 27th August, 2010 marked a defining moment in the history of this country. Kenyans had for decades struggled for the birth of the second republic, and with this birth came the right to water. Article 43(1) (d) states that every person has the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities while Article 43(1) (b) provides for the right to accessible and adequate housing, and to reasonable standards of sanitation. With these rights well stipulated, no individual or entity should seize the power to arbitrarily control the price of or access to this source of life.
The situation on the ground is however shocking; many families especially in the informal settlements such as Kangemi in Nairobi, suffer acute water shortages because some landlords have illegally continued to control access as well as the cost of water without approval from the water service provider or the regulator. Such landlords determine when their tenants get water, how much water they get and how much money they pay for the water. This they have made certain by locking the yard taps which are the main source of water for their tenants.
This illegal act by the landlords, coupled with other factors like poor governance practices in the water service sector, lack of water as a result of climate change and poor water resource management, has left the poor tenants at the mercy of greedy landlords whose main goal is to make maximum profit at minimal costs.
In a survey conducted by Transparency International–Kenya under the ‘Transparency in Service Delivery in Africa’ (TISDA) project, an illegal trend emerging in water management at the informal settlements was exposed. The survey established that the cartels in these settlements implement their own selfish rules, which are not in accordance to the rule of law.
In Nairobi’s Kangemi estate, up to 97% of the household respondents indicated that they paid for water services through their landlords. Majority mentioned that they paid an additional cost of between Kshs 500 and 1000 on top of their rent to cater for water services. The houses in Kangemi are clustered together in small plots of land, each with about 17 households with an average of five people per household. Normally, there is only one yard tap that serves the entire plot of 85 people with clean water. This single source of clean water is nonetheless controlled by the landlord who maintains a padlock on the yard tap to restrict access. This continues to happen despite the fact that tenants pay a monthly sum that is supposed to guarantee sufficient and constant water supply throughout the month.
The respondents indicated that most places in Kangemi receive constant water supply for three days in a week from the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company. The situation is however different on the ground as tenants receive water once a week, and in certain areas, they go without water for two or more weeks. The supply is restricted not because water is not available, but because the taps are locked by the landlords, with the aim of reducing consumption which will make them pay lower water bills.
The survey further highlights that, an average consumption per household is 78.7 liters per day, translating to 2.4m3 per month, which according to the water service provider should cost about Kshs 45. With the additional cost of Kshs 500 to 1000 that the tenants pay for water services, a landlord makes a profit of at least Kshs 455 per household, which when multiplied by 17 households in a single plot amounts to Kshs 7,735 per month, tax free. The amount could be higher considering the taps are us usually opened once a week or after two weeks in extreme cases.
Many residents in Kangemi live on less than a dollar (Kshs 80) a day, yet they pay more for water than their counterparts who live in well-off residential areas in Nairobi. Sadly, avenues to address the challenges of water access and cost, faced by the poor and vulnerable groups (women and children) in these informal settlements are either limited or not available.
Landlords such as those in Kangemi have continued to ignore provisions in the Rent Restriction Act; for instance section 23(1) of the act prohibits landlords or their agents from directly or indirectly depriving their tenants from accessing water. The act is not sufficiently punitive to law breakers and only provides a light punishment – a fine of not more than Kshs 6,000 or not more than six months imprisonment, or both. Section 31 of the Water Act provides guidelines for the pricing of water but many landlords have completely ignored the law and have unilaterally gone ahead to set high prices for their tenants.
Article 56(e) of the Constitution mandates the State to put in place affirmative action programmes designed to ensure that minority and marginalised groups have reasonable access to water, health services and infrastructure. The Kenyan laws prohibit water restriction and overpricing, however, the culture of impunity has pervaded Kenyan society thus the poor have continued to suffer even in accessing basic needs in life. Concerted advocacy and enforcement measures by members of the public, non-state actors and the government is paramount in ensuring that most Kenyans progressively enjoy their constitutional right to clean, safe and adequate water.
The writer is a research assistant, TISDA Project, TI-Kenya