In March 2020, Kenya reported the first coronavirus disease case in the country. The virus has since spread from the capital Nairobi to 46 other counties with over 36,000 people infected according to the Ministry of Health’s data dated September 13, 2020. Besides the disease burden, the pandemic has caused immense economic impacts characterized by the volatility of the Kenyan currency, poor performance of financial markets, and general job losses hence affecting many livelihoods. As the Government of Kenya (GoK) mobilized its response to the pandemic, USAID was able to support its efforts through extension and re-alignment of its Kenya Integrated Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (KIWASH) project.
KIWASH had been successfully accelerating access to clean water and improved sanitation in nine Kenyan Counties since 2015 – now it was re-tailored to not only shore up its development gains in the face of crisis but to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations.
Protecting Development Gains and Building Resilience
The Government of Kenya has dedicated years to thoughtful and deep reforms to the water and sanitation sector including a push for devolved service delivery and an emphasis on the financial viability of service providers. KIWASH has been a partner in that work by promoting efficiency and professional management of WASH services, adoption of strong, inclusive policies and laws for the sector, and preparing water service providers to access to commercial finance for expansion and improvement of services. COVID-19 threatens the progress made by GoK and all its partners as consumers face a declining ability to pay for services just when they most need access to water for proper hygiene. In fact, the Water Service Providers Association (WASPA) estimates that revenue collection dropped from 93 percent to 50 percent since March 2020. The Government itself prioritized access by issuing a presidential directive in April 2020 that prohibited disconnections and mandated a free supply of water to the most vulnerable populations.
Despite these challenges, the foundational work accomplished by counties with USAID support to build sustainable and professional WASH services is paying off during this time of crisis. In Kakamega County, KIWASH has been working with the main water service provider, Kakamega County Urban Water and Sanitation Company (KACUWASCO), to transition to automated metering and billing systems to improve its efficiency and revenues. Little did they know the transition was perfectly timed for a global pandemic. “We are currently reaping the fruits of proper planning. Since automating our systems, we have reduced physical interaction with customers, especially during this time of the pandemic,” said Michael Ogola, the technical manager at KACUWASCO. “The company's ability to provide reliable water services at this critical time has been made possible by the adoption and implementation of a forward-thinking approach,” he added.
Expanding services amidst a crisis in Busia County
In Busia, a bustling town along the Kenya-Uganda border, the water service provider, Busia Water and Sewerage Company (BUWASCO) has increased its daily water production during the COVID-19 pandemic nearly 150 percent to just under three million liters to meet increased demand from its customers.
“We are not taking any chances on availability of clean water at the height of coronavirus in Kenya,” said Collins Omondi, the Technical Manager at BUWASCO. The company has dealt with the increase in demand by increasing the hours it pumps water each day. The improvements mean that water consumers now have an additional three hours of daily water supply.
BUWASCO is one of 13 WSPs, and 231 water enterprises (privately and community-managed schemes) that have worked with KIWASH to increase access to sustainable water and adequate sanitation and hygiene services. Over the past five years, the service providers have increased investment in water infrastructure, and more critically, increased local capacity to provide reliable and uninterrupted water services.
Behavior change and water access to contain the spread of COVID-19
During a global pandemic, WASH behaviors like handwashing and the use of latrines are more important than ever. To help spread this message, the Kenya Ministry of Health, USAID, and other partners have designed comprehensive communication and community engagement strategy to help contain the spread of COVID-19. KIWASH will help amplify and expand these critical messages and capacity to control the spread of infection – focusing on unreached populations and critical hot spots like border crossings, points of population density, and health-care facilities. USAID’S contribution to the strategy will focus on WASH behavioral campaigns to improve personal hygiene habits, promote access to water services in health facilities and public spaces.
Now more than ever, communities in Kenya need access to clean and reliable water. As the number of COVID-19 infections steadily increases, the demand for water companies to provide clean and uninterrupted water services has increased. To ensure the progress made by the service providers is sustained during the pandemic crisis, USAID, through KIWASH will continue to partner with water service providers to help minimize water losses, maintain revenues and sustain their services to communities.