Daniel Mbone, a resident of Ulu Market on the border of Kajiado and Makueni counties, remembers when there were fights in the town over water. “Water was a scarce commodity and a source of conflict between two neighboring communities.” Exacerbating the existing tensions, the government had sub-divided land, disrupting existing water projects and leading to even greater water scarcity.
In 2009, a small group – led by Daniel – decided to start a community water project to help resolve the conflict over water scarcity. They drilled a borehole with funding assistance from the Kenyan government and the Tanathi Water Works Development Agency, which is mandated to provide bulk water and sewerage infrastructure in Kajiado, Kitui, Makueni, and Machakos counties. The drilling marked the birth of the Ulu 3 Water Project. Over the years, the project expanded its system by extending its pipeline and acquiring and installing a modern water pumping system and a storage tank.
Despite the infrastructure growth, the project suffered from poor management. A lack of training led to improper record-keeping and financial mismanagement. As a result, the enterprise had little available money to maintain its systems or address water theft.
Inspired by the Ulu 3 Water Project’s potential, the USAID Kenya Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (KIWASH) Project started supporting the enterprise in 2017 with training aimed at professionalizing their operations for long-term sustainability. The training covered topics such as ways to reduce commercial water losses, financial management, record keeping, and customer relations.
“From the training, I noted that we had been casually running the water business. Now we have put in place accounting and reporting systems. We are thankful that KIWASH has enabled us to get financial training,” said Daniel.
It did not take long before the support bore fruit. The enterprise managed to curb illegal water connections and reduced commercial water losses. These improvements meant higher monthly revenues and more reliable service for their customers. In August 2020, Ulu 3 managed to collect a record US $3,500 in monthly revenues compared to a previous average of US $700. “We used the extra savings to extend pipeline by over six kilometers to underserved villages in Kajiado County, increasing our piped customers from 48 to 148 customers,” said Daniel.
The high yield of their borehole, with a capacity of 60,000 liters per hour, along with the water project’s improved management, led the County Government of Makueni to install a solar-powered pump system to reduce its electricity costs and interruptions in supply occasioned by power outages. The project also received funding from the National Drought Management Authority to construct over two kilometers of water pipeline.
The successful water project has brought peace to Ulu Market. “When people have water, the villages are peaceful. We are happy that our water project is a source of peace on our land,” said Ben Katunga, the enterprise’s chairperson.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as high default rates of water bills, the Ulu 3 Water Project is confident the business will continue to expand and be sustained into the future. The group’s members have their sights set on building a greenhouse and even venturing into the water bottling business soon.