The Ogallo Community Project is one of hundreds of small and rural community water projects constructed by Kenya’s 47 county governments to meet the country’s commitment of ensuring all citizens have access to water. While this should be viewed as a positive step in meeting the needs of its citizens, less emphasis has been placed on sustaining and maintaining these water schemes and services.
As a result, systems like the Ogallo Community Project perform below capacity while others completely fail within a very short period of time. The Ogallo Community Project was designed to serve an estimated 6,000 people in Elunyiko village in Busia County in northwestern Kenya near the border with Uganda. The community elected a committee to manage the project, but those elected did not have the requisite knowledge to manage a such a water project. A general lack of understanding on how to handle and effectively finance water operations and maintenance and the lack of clear county policies and regulations for rural water schemes has seen many of these schemes fail. For Ogallo, the notion that the county government would always assist them settle operational costs like repairs and electricity bills created a dependency that was not sustainable for the venture.
The current committee Chair Josphat Ochiel paints a clear picture of the situation. “We believed that the government would always fund us to meet maintenance and other recurrent expenditures. To our surprise, in 2013 when our mortar broke down, we literally had to beg the county government to have it repaired. All this while, water supply was greatly affected.”
In 2015, USAID’s Kenya Integrated Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (KIWASH) Project started working with the Ogallo Community Project and 230 similar projects with a goal of strengthening their management with the goal of building sustainable water systems. Working with the county water departments, KIWASH is helping these schemes to put systems in place to handle billing and revenue collection, reduction of wasted water within the system from leaks or theft, customer relations and overall operation and maintenance. “One of the first areas we focused on after the trainings was customer data consolidation and digitization. This helped us have a correct and updated database on the number of people we serve,” says Ochiel.
“We have noticed significant change. Our revenue has increased by 106 percent and the number of new individual connections has also grown by 263 percent,” the Chair proudly states. The committee has also put in place an electronic payment system to curb funds mismanagement and to enforce prudent financial management. On customer relations, a service charter is in place to enhance timely delivery of services.
In Busia County, KIWASH supports the main water utility, Busia Water and Sewerage Company, alongside 20 small water enterprises like Ogallo to professionalize their operations by strengthening their business practices and increasing linkages with financial institutions. The support also includes infrastructure rehabilitation and installations such pipeline extension, construction of storage tanks, and water meter installation. The integrated approach has not only ensured more Kenyans have access to clean and reliable water, but these county government investments deliver sustained water services.