A standoff between the Homa Bay County government and Kenya Power over a Sh14 million unpaid electricity bill has caused a water crisis, with most residents now depending on untreated water for domestic use.
At least one million residents in Homa Bay are at the risk of contracting diseases associated with the use of dirty water.
Many families cannot access clean tap water after Kenya Power disconnected electricity to water treatment plants.
Kenya Power County Manager Ken Okumbe said electricity to the plants was disconnected after the county’s department of water services failed to pay the bill on time.
“The county government owes us a substantial amount of money which is yet to be paid. The money was to be paid last month based on our agreement with some senior county officials but we are yet to get anything,” he said.
Factoring in the current and previous bills, he said, the bill would balloon to Sh22 million next month.
But Homa Bay Water and Environment Executive Dickson Nyawinda claimed the county government owes Kenya Power only Sh2 million and threatened to report the matter to County Commissioner Moses Lilan.
Mr Nyawinda said his office recently paid Sh10 million to Kenya Power from an initial debt of Sh12 million.
“We promised to pay the remaining amount and agreed with the company to restore power. The utility firm is, however, yet to act as per our engagement,” he said.
But Kenya Power management disputed the claim.
Disgruntled residents have threatened to protest at Governor Cyprian Awiti’s office to demand answers, especially at this time when plenty of water is needed in the fight against Covid-19.
A 20-litre container of water now retails at Sh50, up from Sh20, with residents saying they cannot afford to buy water to take care of all their needs.
Some residents demanded changes in the water department, arguing that the problem is not new.
“If the county government collects bills from homes that are supplied with water, why can’t officers from the water department pay Kenya Power? This has been a perennial problem and it needs to stop,” said Polycup Nges.
In Homa Bay town, the crisis has affected several areas, including Sofia, Got-Rabuor, Kapita, Makongeni and Shauri Yako estates.
Taps at institutions like the GK prison and Homa Bay Police Station are also dry.
Prison Commander Robert Basigwa said the correctional facility is relying on water from a borehole.
Mr Nyawinda said his office was in talks with the county finance department to settle the debt.
“Kenya Power should be honest. They should know that the demand for water during the Covid-19 pandemic is high and water should not be disconnected. I will ask the county commissioner to compel them to restore power at our facilities,” he said.
The county can only supply two million litres of water per day to Homa Bay town residents against a demand of nine million litres, said Homa Bay Water and Sanitation Company (Homawasco) Managing Director Evans Nyagol.
The town has at least 120,000 people.
To ensure everyone gets some water, Homawasco normally resorts to rationing.
The current crisis has made the situation worse as some residents now use water directly from the lake.