Enhancing water sector capacity in Kenya

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Enhancing Water Sector Capacity in Kenya



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope


Government of Kenya



Background and Significance

Demand management strategies are lacking, and water resources allocation decisions related to surface and groundwater abstractions are made without adequate data. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of water abstractions are illegal. Moreover, water metering systems are used in few projects, and as a result, revenue collection is very low and corresponds to just 55 percent of the total operation and maintenance costs. The percentage of people with access to safe water is 68 percent in urban areas and 49 percent in rural settlements, according to the most recent data from 2003. In urban areas, almost 40 percent of water goes unaccounted for, lost through either leakage or illegal connections. Access to sanitation in urban areas is at 65 percent compared to 40 percent in rural areas. Accordingly, water-borne or sanitation-related diseases make up the majority of Kenya’s morbidity rate and are responsible for over 60 percent of premature deaths. The most common instances of disease in Kenya are malaria (32.6 percent), respiratory system infections (24.6 percent) and diarrhoea and intestinal worms (17 percent).

The level of water scarcity in many regions of Kenya has become a serious limiting factor for development activities. There is a great need to change the scattered structure and functioning of the water management system. Moroever, whilst approved standards for drinking water quality and effluent discharges exist, the relevant rules and regulations are not strictly enforced due to a lack of skilled personnel and limited funds. As a result, water pollution from urban and industrial wastes continues to degrade water quality; the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture leads to deterioration of surface water and underground resources; deforestation for firewood production continues at an increasing pace; and the overall exploitation of the country’s resources remains an imminent threat to ecosystems.

In addition, the level of poverty in Kenya is steadily increasing, and recent surveys reveal the problematic food security situation is getting worse.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

In order to alleviate poverty levels, the Kenyan Government proposed the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS), which charts the country’s economic course from 2003 to 2007 and asserts that past institutional arrangements were simply insufficient to win the battle against poverty. The ERS promotes initiatives that would facilitate the achievement of MDGs, recognizes water as a pivotal element in poverty reduction and emphasizes the importance of providing services to the poor while ensuring adequate water for competing demands. It suggests undertaking comprehensive institutional reforms to facilitate ‘pro-poverty water and sanitation programmes’. In this context, Kenya’s poverty reduction strategy programme, initiated in 2000, commits the government to providing water and sanitation services to the majority of the poor at a reasonable distance (less than 2 km). The proposed strategy is to involve communities and local authorities more actively in the management of water and sewerage systems and services.

In terms of changing the scattered structure and functioning of the water management system in response to the growing water scarcity Kenya faces, major reforms were initiated in 2002 with the revision of the Water Act. This defines clear roles for the different actors involved in the decentralized institutional framework that separates policy formulation from regulation and services provision. When possible, the participation of stakeholders in the decision-making process is promoted by involving communities and other actors such as NGOs, community-based organizations (CBOs) and the private sector. Under the revised system, the Ministry for Water Resource Management and Development (MWRMD) is responsible for formulating the National Water Policy and for carrying out reforms by bringing together all the stakeholders in the water sector. This is achieved through transferring the responsibility of water management to River Basin Organizations. Furthermore, since 2004, the provision of water and sanitation services are being transferred to private companies as a part of the decentralization process.

In a further attempt to enhance water sector capacity, water education in Kenya is being carried out through university degree programmes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition, the Kenya Water Institute provides short-term courses tailored to meet the specific needs of clients in the water and sanitation sectors. These courses train approximately 600 candidates per year on topics like water meter installation, servicing and reading; the operation and maintenance of pumping and treatment plants; and water pollution control assistants. Although these efforts are a good way to build up the necessary technical human resources base, a detailed analysis of the water sector has not yet been done to identify current existing gaps in capacity (i.e. required skills, levels of competency and experience), which makes it difficult to estimate the impact of higher-level water education and short courses for technician training.

Results and Impact

Kenya is a water-scarce country, and yet future projections show that per capita available water, currently at 650m3/yr, will likely drop to 359m3/yr by 2020, as a result of population growth. Urgent action is needed to increase the capacity of the water sector to improve the availability and accessibility of clean, safe drinking water, as so far, access to safe water and sanitation services has not caught up with the needs of the growing population.

Access to safe water and sanitation services have not caught up with the needs of the growing population. Inadequate funding curbs the rehabilitation and expansion of the water supply and sewerage systems, and as a result, many diseases claim the lives of poor people every year. The need for domestic, industrial and agricultural water supply is growing, but the absence of demand-management strategies means that the increase in demand will likely outstrip the available supply.

Looking to the future, the construction of new dams is essential for providing the energy needed for development and meeting the increasing demand for drinking and irrigation water. However, the absence of international funding remains a major obstacle for development efforts and must be overcome by attracting and sustaining international donors. Only with sufficient funding will the capacity of the water sector in Kenya have any chance of being improved.

Lessons for Replication

Adequate and sustained funding is vital for the rehabilitation and expansion of the water supply and sewerage systems in Kenya. Currently, inadequate is a great impediment, and is causing water-related diseases to claim the lives of poor people every year.

Comprehensive demand-management strategies are vital to prevent demand outstripping available water supply.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)


See also

Additional case studies in Kenya
  1. Enhancing water sector capacity in Kenya/Map
  2. The Nile: Moving Beyond Cooperation
  3. Water Conflict and Cooperation/Nile River Basin

External Resources


Case Study summary

Full case study report Kenya.pdf  Kenya National Water Development Report.pdf

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