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Water business thrives in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya Oct 14 – “I was into the construction business where my lorries ferried construction material. But when the water company started rationing water, I bought a tank, had it fitted on my lorry and it became a water bower,” says Amos Chege a water vendor.

He has been in this business since water rationing started and has managed to rake in extra coins to stay afloat during the harsh economic times. With the water shortage, his business venture is a clear indication that necessity definitely birthed invention.

Water bowsers have increased in number in the city; proof that large scale water vending has gone a notch higher. The likes of Amos are clearly making a kill out of it.  

“When I was a young boy, I had to fetch water and bring it home. Back then parents would work children like donkeys. Today’s children are spoilt and fetching water is unheard of. Modernisation has made us lazier and people would rather call us to deliver water to their houses which we gladly do,” declares Amos.

Amos explains that he sells water to both small and large scale users and that his customers range from the common mwananchi to hoteliers in town. He says that he sometimes vends his water to places as far as Kajiado where rich pastoralists buy the commodity for their animals.

“I get my water from a private seller who owns a borehole at Kalimoni Green Water along Ngong road at a price of Sh1,200 per 10,000 litres which I in turn sell at Sh7,000 around Nairobi,” he reveals.

But why such a huge difference between the buying and selling price? Isn’t that a bit inflated? I ask.

“If you factor in transport, labour, fuel costs and maintenance you realise that the difference is somehow insignificant. All the same I am not complaining. Bila maji huwezi survive na maji yako on demand kila saa. So vile kuna rationing, biashara ya maji inaiva kuiva (without water we can’t survive and water is always on demand so with the rationing programme, the water business keeps thriving,”) says Amos.

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I ask him what his plans are now that the country expects the El Nino rains to which he replies: “I would not pray for the lack of rains but if they do fall I will come up with another business initiative. Being a water vendor would come and go depending on the weather patterns. Therefore the falling of the long rains would not make any difference to me. I would just revert my lorry to its original use,” he states.

Amos promises that his water is fit for consumption strongly condemning those who sometimes convert sewage bowers into water bowers. He says that his water is certified by government bodies.

There are also other business oriented people who have converted their land parcels into borehole-shambas. This is common in areas that have no government water connections. Amos however states that he has not yet sunk a borehole as the costs are too high.

“Kule sisi huenda kuteka maji, huwa tunapanga laini sana (There is always a long queue when we go to get the water) so the owner of the borehole does make a lot of money but the costs of setting up the borehole are what I cannot afford for now,” he explains.

Amos advises the government to sink boreholes as a long term water security measure. He blames the government’s lack of planning for the biting water shortage.

“If they had planned adequately we would not have this rationing. They should be able to foresee and plan for their citizens. Otherwise if they fail to construct boreholes especially now that we are expecting rains, the country will experience another water shortage. And I shall not hesitate vending it,” he declares.

Eng Joseph Kimani Technical Director at Nairobi Water Company says water vendors should not sell uncertified water adding that consumers should demand for clearance certificates from their water vendors.

“We are aware that vendors might take advantage of desperate consumers because of the water scarcity and sell bad water. So we are telling consumers to make sure that the water they are buying has been approved by the ministry of water and Nairobi Water Company,” he advises.

He explains that the two bodies enquire about the source of the vendors’ water as well as the quality of the ferrying truck before certifying the vendors.

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“We get the borehole specifics and check how clean the truck is. Should we feel that some of the requirements are wanting, we will not certify your water and it will be wrong for you to continue selling it,” he declares.

Eng Kimani states that there are about ten toll stations in the country that conduct spot checks on randomly selected lorries. This he says is a measure to ensure that the water being sold is of high quality.

“We have stations at the Karen roundabout on Ngong road, the GSU roundabout on Thika road, at Dagoretti corner and other city inlets. If we suspect your water to be of low quality, we will either pour it, or give you powdered chlorine to make it safe for consumption,” he reveals.

He adds that it is impossible for the government to regulate the price at which vendors sell their water.

“These people operate on the principle of willing buyer and willing seller. If you have the money they will sell it to you. If you don’t have the money, they will look for someone who has. So we cannot dictate the selling price,” he says.

Eng Kimani proposes long term measures as a means of curbing future water shortages in the country. He says Kenya should look into re-cycling water to curb future water crisis.

“Kenyans should learn to conserve the little water they have and though the costs of recycling water might be a bit high, golf resorts and hotels should consider this method so as to get extra water. Besides that we should drill more boreholes and dig dams to store excess water,” he observes.

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