Bureaucracy stalls Sh16 billion Mombasa desalination project

Hundreds of Bangladesh residents take to the streets to protest over acute water shortages in Mombasa. They blocked the main highway to the city, leaving hundreds of motorists in a traffic jam.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit I Nation Media Group

Two years after President Uhuru Kenyatta approved the acquisition of more than 10 acres of land for the construction of Kenya’s first desalination plant, the Sh16 billion project is yet to kick off.

The county government has been blaming bureaucracy at the national government for the delays in approving the construction of the plant. 

However, Water, Sanitation, and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki assured Kenyans that Governor Hassan Joho’s desalination project to address the perennial water shortages in the region is still on course.

“The water desalination is a project that has been brought to us through a privately initiated proposal. It is a proposal which is currently with the National Treasury to be able to assess its feasibility, economic viability, and sustainability,” explained Ms Kariuki.

In an interview in Mombasa, Ms Kariuki explained that once the National Treasury conducts its assessments from both engineering, technical and economic impact, they will advise her ministry on how to progress the project.

“These are among others privately initiated proposals at the National Treasury through the Ministry of Water, Sanitation, and Irrigation,” Ms Kariuki said.

Mombasa residents will now have to wait for the approval of the desalination plant by the national government. The county government plans to set up the desalination plant, the first in the country to address the perennial water shortages at the port city.

The project got an impetus when President Kenyatta approved the acquisition of more than 10 acres at the Shimo La Tewa Secondary School for the plant.

It will be Kenya’s first public desalination plant. It will have a capacity to produce potable quality water of 100 million liters per day, according to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

“We are hopeful that we are progressing positively, we expect at least in the next six to eight months we will get an approval from the National Treasury for us to proceed,” the county executive in charge of finance Mariam Mbaruk said in a recent interview.

Mombasa has been grappling with water shortage which has been attributed to inadequate supply from freshwater sources from the three counties and direct theft of non-revenue water and illegal connections forcing the company to ration the commodity.

The tourism hub gets an accumulated average of 30,000 cubic meters against a demand of 200,000 cubic meters from the three counties according to statistics from the county government.

The large-scale facility is set to be the region’s first public desalination plant and will be constructed by two international companies, Almar Water Solutions of Spain, and Switzerland’s Aqua Swiss. Aqua Swiss has been awarded a contract to build a smaller desalination plant in Likoni that can purify 30,000 cubic metres per day while Almar Water Solutions will put up the desalination plant in the north of the mainland.

The project was supposed to start in June 2019 and take at least 24 months but has been delayed due to bottlenecks. The desalination plant was set to be up and running by the end of 2021.

For several months now, counties at the Coast have been grappling with water shortages due to the old and dilapidated pipeline constructed in 1953 which can no longer effectively transmit water supply to the growing population in the region.

Coast Water Works Development Agency (CWWDA) explained that the 220 km Mzima pipeline can longer effectively transmit water supply to a growing population in the region because it is old, dilapidated, and prone to leaks and bursts. 

The pipeline supplies more than 75 percent of freshwater to Kilifi, Kwale, and Mombasa counties who have now been forced to use borehole water as an alternative

Mzima pipeline constructed in 1953 is old and dilapidated and prone to leaks and bursts. The agency said the pipeline can longer effectively transmit water
supply to a growing population.

Nema said the plant which will be located on Mtwapa Creek within Shimo la Tewa Secondary School compound in Mombasa County will be developed under a Build Operate Own and Transfer scheme (BOOT).

Nema has already received an environmental impact assessment study report for the proposed project.

The project will comprise engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) and Operation Service for 25 years for the Mombasa-Seawater Reserve Osmosis Desalination Plant.

The project is set to end perennial water shortage at the Coast especially Mombasa, Kenya’s tourism hub that lacks its freshwater source. The county depends on water from the three neighboring counties, Kilifi, Kwale, and Taita Taveta. The tourism hub has over 5000 boreholes with some illegal as they are contaminated. 

Governor Joho said the plant will supply fresh water to more than one million people in the county.