Non-Revenue Water management a high priority for Kenya
"There are opportunities to partner with the private sector... to address NRW management"
High levels of Non-Revenue Water (NRW) infringe on the human right to water, stated James T. Lopoyetum, the principal secretary of the Kenyan Ministry of Water, Environment and Natural Resources (MEWNR). He made his remarks during the launch of an ambitious project to support water service providers (WSPs) in Kenya to reduce non-revenue water levels in order to enhance their financial sustainability and improve access to water services to their consumers.
The new project, "Addressing Non-Revenue Water in Kenya", will run through the end of 2015, during which at least 10 county WSPs are expected to benefit. The project is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Netherlands (DGIS) and implemented by SNV Kenya in partnership with Vitens Evides International (VEI), and capacity building support from the Kenya Water Institute (KEWI). Key water sector institutions such as MEWNR, the Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB), and the Water Service Providers Association (WASPA) will play a key role in coordination, regulation and sustainability of the project processes.
According to Nancy Ndirangu and Cliff Nyaga, two of the WASH advisors actively involved in implementation, the project will enhance the capacity of water companies to increase revenues, meet their operation and maintenance costs, finance infrastructure developments and, ultimately, contribute significantly to increased access to safe water for all Kenyans in line with the country's Vision 2030.
During the launch, Lopoyetum noted that NRW levels remained high for the Kenyan water sector at an average of 45% for urban sub-sector, more than double the recommended best practice of 20%. Converted to money, this translates into losses of over KES 10 billion (some €86 million) annually due to NRW, despite the overall limited availability of water resources for development. He saidNRWs undermine cost recovery and sustainability and lead to unjustified burdens on consumers, thereby infringing on their right to water services. Subsequently, he led the sector participants in making a commitment to reduce NRW to the target of under 20% by the year 2017.
The high NRW levels are not only unacceptable, Lopoyetum reiterated, but also a breach of the constitutional obligation of WSPs to deliver efficient services (in line with Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010), and urgent measures are needed to reverse the trend. He challenged the participating WSPs and Senior Government Officers in attendance to make every effort necessary to push NRW down to the 20% target in the coming 3 years. "With the right mind-set, passion, commitment and full willingness from all stakeholders," he said ‘‘we can achieve this target". He referred participants to the newly launched national standards on NRW management that were developed with the support of JICA, to guide them in addressing NRW issues.
In his opening remarks, Harm Duiker, the SNV country director, pointed out that, among other things, NRW hampers the return on investment of possible private sector investments or loans, and this is crucial because Kenya is heading towards becoming a middle-income country in which there will be a shift from grants to loans or, at least, a blending of the two. He encouraged participants by noting that there are good practices piloted in various countries, including Kenya, with impressive results in bringing down NRW levels.
Duiker shared the fact that SNV has supported over 20 WSPs to improve their technical and financial performances by implementing "socially responsible commercialization". This approach improves access to sustainable water and sanitation services, including to underserved communities in low-income areas. More recently, SNV partnered with Vitens Evides International to address NRWs and other technical aspects of WSPs’ performances in several areas across Kenya. He noted other issues that still require intervention are associated with corporate governance and commercial practices of the WSPs.
Meanwhile, Stanley Kamau, the director of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Unit of Kenya’s National Treasury, highlighted the fact that some countries have made substantial progress in managing NRW.
"There are opportunities to partner with the private sector in introducing efficient technologies and management practices to address NRW management", Kamau said. "However, if we are unable to improve our governance practices and efficiency, they will not be able to do much".
In conclusion, Chiranjibi Tiwari, the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector leader for SNV Kenya, thanked all the participants and indicated that SNV is committed to addressing NRWs and promoting PPPs to improve service delivery in the country’s water sector.