“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” wrote English poet Taylor Coleridge.
The 18th Century poet could well have had the residents of Kilifi County in Kenya in mind when he wrote those now-famous words.
For, while Kilifi is surrounded by Indian Ocean water, walking for more than 10 kilometres in search of the life-giving commodity has become the norm in the county.
And it’s not just the salty ocean water that Kilifi residents have in abundance –which they can’t drink.
Most of them are connected to the Kilifi Mariakani Water and Sewerage Company (Kimawasco), which continues to collect fees for tap water they don’t get anymore.
In Kaptukus, Ganze, Kaloleni and Magarini, locals are now living in fear of contracting waterborne diseases as they are forced to rely on open pans, which they share with livestock.
The residents have urged Kimawasco to stop levying the fixed monthly charge of Sh410 for services not rendered in some regions for more than four months now.
“We are paying for air in our taps. I have not received water in my tap for more than four months now, yet every month they send me a water bill of Sh410, which is unacceptable. The company is collecting fees yet it does not offer the service,” said Ms Khadija Kadzo, a resident of Kaptukus.
Locals now accuse companies of diverting water to their premises, leading to the shortage, an allegation Kimawasco has denied.
“The problem with Kaptukus is brought about by a valve, which we share with Kwale County. We have tried in vain to negotiate with them to allow the locals access water at least four days per week. We have no control since the pipe lies in their jurisdiction,” said Kimawasco director Hezekiah Mwarua.
“The allegation of some companies diverting water to their premises is not true but I will follow up with the Mariakani team to check where those allegations originated from.”
In Bomani village, Magarini sub-county, women are forced to stay up at night to fetch water from boreholes drilled by the residents.
Ms Amina Charo said the entire village depends on the boreholes, which don’t have enough water due to the prevailing drought.
In Rabai, residents blamed perennial water shortage in the area on cartels and implored the county and national governments to tame them irrespective of whether water services are devolved or not.
Mr Philip Mbaji noted it is illogical to have water shortage in an area where water business is booming.
“It is not only our people who are suffering, but all of us. Water bowsers get the commodity from Mazeras pumping station daily yet the residents lack that essential product. The blame game between officials of the two arms of government must end,” he said.
The situation has now affected schools, where learners are expected to wash hands regularly as recommended by the Ministry of Health to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Some communities in Rabai are still suffering even after the county government bought drilling equipment.
Kilifi County administration cannot provide piped water to the millions of its residents.
But, in an interview with the Nation, Water, Forest and Natural Resources executive Kiringi Mwachitu said the county is focusing on four thematic areas in efforts to address water shortage.
In its strategic plan, the devolved government aims to sink at least 100 boreholes across the county, but with special focus on regions that are experiencing a long dry spell, such as Ganze, Magarini and Kaloleni sub-counties. Some parts of Rabai sub-county will also benefit from this programme.
“We have decided to use three alternative ways of addressing this,” said Mr Mwachitu.
“The first way is expanding our piped water supply to the communities. Where that option is likely to take time, we have decided to first sink boreholes for them as we strive to give them piped water later. In areas where our feasibility study has revealed that sinking boreholes is not viable, we have embarked on constructing water pans.”
In the 2019/20 financial year, Sh1 billion was allocated for water development in the county while in the 2018/2019 financial year Sh2 billion was budgeted for water development in urban centres and the rural areas.
“Of the Sh2 billion, Sh700 million was from the World Bank (WB) and was channelled through the county water companies. Sh1.3 billion is what remained for the department to use on community water projects,” said Mr Mwachitu.
Out of the Sh1 billion allocated to the department in the 2019/20 financial year, Sh600 million was channelled through the Kilifi and Malindi water companies.