The Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company (KIWASCO) manages water supplies in both formal and informal settlements of Kisumu County. Currently, the company serves 83 percent of approximately 457,000 people in its service area and offers management support to two smaller water companies – Gulf and Nyanas. With a large customer base and a strong corporate commitment to expand household connections and extend its networks to unserved communities, KIWASCO had to adapt to stay afloat and continue to serve its customers when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“The COVID-19 outbreak sparked fear among our staff and consumers. Our technical staff feared conducting water pipeline patrols while our customers dreaded meter reading. At some point, we were unable to update our systems, and this had a direct impact on our billing and revenue collection,” said Elda Odongo, Acting Head of Communications at KIWASCO.
When many of KIWASCO’s largest customers – schools, churches, bars, and hotels – closed to help contain the spread of the virus, the company’s monthly revenues decreased from an average of US $800,000 to US $600,000. “The closed businesses comprised only 20 percent of our consumer base but contribute to 80 percent of our revenues,” said Kevin Ogonda, Pro-poor Programme Coordinator at KIWASCO. The company held a crisis meeting to evaluate the situation and put in place precautionary measures. “As a company, we shelved all planned service extensions and expansions to cut the cost burden,” Odongo said.
USAID’s Kenya Integrated Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Project (KIWASH) worked with KIWASCO and 12 other water companies across Kenya to continue to provide reliable clean water to communities when they need it most. KIWASH conducted financial stress analyses to better understand the pandemic’s impact on the companies’ finances and operations. It then provided additional trainings in financial risk management, customer relations, corporate governance, and strategic management. In addition, KIWASH facilitated a COVID-19 awareness training for the water utilities aimed at teaching simple and effective methods of water treatment and hygiene promotion to reduce transmission of the virus.
One direct benefit from the trainings was the establishment of a virtual call center to address customer concerns once KIWASCO’s walk-in customer care center closed. “The virtual call center now enhances our timely engagement with our customers,” said Odongo. "The swiftness in rectifying bursts due to timely reports on social media and metering all our connections has also contributed in reducing our commercial water losses,” he added.
KIWASH continues to support the company to implement its business continuity plan that aims to achieve the safety of staff and reinstatement of normal operations. “The effects of COVID-19 have delayed the implementation of our strategic plan by one year. However, with a strong road map in place, the company will regain its momentum,” said Odongo.