“I am less stressed now, I do the cleaning of my wares from the comfort of my home”
As a small-scale trader dealing with recycled hair extensions, Susan Nyambura requires regular supply of clean water to wash her second-hand products before selling them in the local market.
Susan, 45, lives in the informal settlement of Dandora, in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. Dandora is home to one of the largest rubbish dumps in Africa, sprawling across 30 acres.
The dump was officially deemed full up 20 years ago but is still in active use, with residents relying on the site to find and re-use waste – despite the high health risks due to high levels of toxins in the site.
For Susan, the rubbish dump is the main source of her income. Every day she trawls the huge site looking for old hair extensions that she can re-use.
Until recently, Susan – and the other residents of Dandora – had to wake up as early as 4am to look for water. This involved walking long distances and queuing to access water from a borehole that was salty and of poor quality.
Instead of receiving piped water directly into their homes, more than 90% of the water supplied to the area by the water utility, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), was often illegally diverted or lost due to leakage.
This non-revenue water was a problem for both the customers and the utility. Many parts of the water system were controlled by water cartels, who intimidated residents and charged very high prices.
To address this challenge, WSUP has been working with NCWSC under the SWIFT programme, to upgrade the area’s water supply system and improve access for the residents of Dandora.
The DFID funded programme operated under a payment by results framework, which meant that WSUP had to make good use of its strong relationship with NCWSC to ensure it could achieve the demanding targets.
With WSUP’s support, the utility laid out a new 23.5 km water supply network and the old system that had many illegal connections was disconnected. As a result, nearly 50,000 people are now using safe, reliable water from the new pipe network and are enjoying better health, more free time and higher disposable income. The cost of water has also significantly reduced from typically KES 143.5 (£1.08) to KES 100 (£0.75) spent by a household per week. In addition, the average time taken by the customers to fetch water has more than halved.
The water connection has been of great help to Susan – cleaning her recycled hair extensions has become convenient and affordable. She doesn’t spend a lot on detergents anymore as the water quality is better, and she is able to get her goods to her customers on time. Her health has also improved as she doesn’t have to walk long distances to collect water. With the opportunity to save money, Susan has been able to expand her business; she now sells more recycled hair extensions and second-hand shoes. She also has more time to take care of her family and concentrate on growing her business.
She says, “I am less stressed now, I do the cleaning of my wares from the comfort of my home…I’m very happy; I’m enjoying the service!”
Improving overall health in the community
Reliable access to water has also helped change hygiene behaviour in the community. A 21% increase in the number of people washing their hands with soap has been reported, thus reducing the risk of diarrhoeal and other waterborne diseases as well as respiratory diseases.
Other developments have also been seen in the area such as new buildings and businesses that depend on water are increasing. For example, a new dispensary with a maternity wing has now been set up and the decision to locate it in Dandora was due to the availability of clean water.
Map of Dandora with the dumping site in the middle of the community
Connecting people to the utility
Due to a history of poor quality of service, residents in informal settlements are often hostile towards utility companies. Despite selling expensive and often poor-quality water illegal water cartels are often the only option available to residents in areas where the utility does not have a presence. A key part of the success of this project has been the opening of a site office in Dandora by NCWSC, with the support of WSUP. Through this office, which serves as a customer care and complaints centre, NCWSC is now for the first time able to engage much more directly with the community and with its customers.
Following the success in Dandora, this is a model that NCWSC is now replicating in other informal settlements in Nairobi. WSUP also helped NCWSC to set up a project task team, with members representing all sections of the community, and the team has embarked on a mass promotion to build customer demand, ensuring that connections to the network are both legal and metered.
The team has worked to build trust of the NCWSC brand, particularly amongst low-income customers, and to differentiate NCWSC’s services from those of the illegal vendors and cartels.
As well as providing benefits to the community, for NCWSC it is further proof that providing good quality services in informal settlements can be financially viable – they are now able to get a monthly collection of KSH 500,000 (£3,760) from Dandora, where previously the collection was zero.
Since 2014, the Sustainable WASH In Fragile Contexts (SWIFT) Consortium has been working to provide access to water and sanitation and to encourage the adoption of basic hygiene practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in Kenya.
Various partners implement SWIFT’s actions in both target countries, in collaboration with governments as well as water providers, including utilities. The consortium is led by Oxfam, and includes Tearfund and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) as global members.
The SWIFT programme is funded by UK aid from the UK government under a Payment by Results (PbR) contract.