Pastoralist Community Initiative and Development Assistance (PACIDA), through possible funding from USAID through FH Kenya in a bid to improve water access through introduction of private water provision services, has introduced first ever pre-paid water meters in four sites (Dirib Gombo & Odda boreholes, Shauri Yako & Saku water kiosks) of Marsabit County. The minimum population set to benefit from the new technology is 28,500 people. So far, two water kiosks (Shauri Yako and Saku) have been installed with the pre-paid meters and are operational. The system is seen to have sustainable service which brings water closer to people’s homes, contributes to improved health and well -being by reducing the burden on women and enabling them to engage their time more productively hence increasing resilience for the entire community. The project also ensures that water projects are sustainable and continue to serve communities by improving integrity in the management and go vernance of the water facility.

Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) is one of the four sectors of a two-year project; Strengthening Community Based Resilience Project in Marsabit County. The project ensures there is full inclusion of all groups in the society as well as promoting accountability in the project components . The Saku Water Kiosk is run and managed by Saku Welfare Group for Disabled that has a composition of 15 women and 17 men.

Hadija Ali is one happy resident who with the initiation of the new technology, says it has brought fairness in water access and provision. “Previously, there was a group of people specifically the then management who would be the only ones to fetch,” she says with a long face. “They could even fetch up to 2,000litres and most of us could go home without water. The waiting time was as long as 7 hours. Many a times people went home without water. What used to happen t hen was, she poses as she holds her chin. “Everyone had their own watering time allocation. If your time was scheduled for 10.00am, you could only come in at that time. Problem is, due to the poor management and lack of transparency, other people who were not initially on the day’s list of watering came and fetched water since the management wanted extra coins for their pockets. So ideally, it did not matter whether you came early or not as you ended up waiting for longer hours. Currently, every individual can only get up to 10 20Litre jericans after 8 days.”

Water in Marsabit County is a gem that is treasured. One would cover many miles to literally spot a water point. Normally, a 20L jerican retails at 50/= while at the peak of drought, it escalates from b etween 100/= to 120/=. Before the installation of the pre -paid water meter, communities could fetch water to as late as 8.00pm. Now though, the water kiosk is closed by 4.00pm daily, as there is more orderliness and transparency. The use of list is now a t hing of the past as unlike the previous system, it is based on first come, first serve basis. As long as your chip is loaded with enough credit, a household can access 230 litres per watering time until after an average of 12 days.

Benefits of the New Technology

The Chairman of the Saku Welfare Group for the Disabled, Mr. Ali Godana; the group that manages Saku water kiosk says the past management turned into a cartel and many people underwent much agony from lack of water before. Others, who could affo rd, bought water from water vendors while others suffered silently. “When the idea of a pre -paid water system was initiated, the cartels strongly opposed the idea because they knew they would stop benefiting. But as the management, the system has fostered peaceful co-existence amongst communities. In fact the system installation was quiet timely just during the election year. We consider it a connector for communities living around Marsabit town. In terms of revenue collection, we are attracting more than 100% of revenue we use to previously collect; from Kshs. 3,000 to now Kshs.9,000,” says Mr. Godana with a huge grin on his face.

The Chairman says they are now collecting Kshs.9,000 per day, up from the Kshs.3,000. Pre -paid system enables us collect 100% of revenue for supplied water and it enables the user control water consumption leading to significant savings. In terms of time consumption he says, the committee does not have to be present physically to supervise the water sale. He as the chair , only makes a technical appearance to ensure all is running smoothly as he doesn’t need to be physically present as in the past where he literally spent the entire day at the kiosk, trying to settle out grievances . All members of the Saku Welfare Group now are able to engage in significantly productive businesses hence increasing individual economic base. In terms of partnering with the water department, Mr. Ali says they are more responsive with this new system as compared to the previous one. In the past the management could delay paying the water department their dues as they could collect less money and had to wait for some time for the revenue to accumulate, before paying. This bred bad relations. With the new system, the transformation that is witnessed is massive as they have surplus money being collected. Moreover, whenever there was pipeline breakdown of the 8 inch pipe, it could take as long as 3months for the department to repair the pipe, currently though, it only takes one day for everything to be up and running, so there is enhanced collaboration with the water department and the management is grateful for the support.

Boosting Livelihoods

The pre-paid water meter is also seen to promote sustainable livelihoods, as women are now able to engage and spend more time on their income generating activities.

“I have a grocery shop, it never used to do as well as it does now. In the past, I could wake up too early to make my way to the water kiosk. On a good day, I could take four-hours and on a worst one, seven hours. In the meantime, all my regular customers could go purchasing from my competitors, in fact they saw me to be quiet unreliable and I ended losing a great number. And since the grocery business is the main source of income in my family, many times w e lacked the daily basic needs, “ says Ms. Saumu Salesa in a trembling voice. “No more suffering now,” the beaming Ms. Saumu says. “I only spent a maximum of one -hour at the water kiosk, that is if I don’t make it as early and find more people at the water point, otherwise it is immediate, as all I need to do to touch the system with the chip and voila! I have water. My business is now beaming; all my previous clients have come back as am always present at my grocery shop making me a reliable one. The system has also enhanced close relations with my family as there is more bonding time and I fully participate in nurturing my children and this is true for close to 100% women . Oooh! And before I forget, isn’t my husband grateful for this new effective system? We have enough water as previously he saw the agony I went through in search for water. I consequently have more time for him. Now, there is equal water access regardless of your standing in the community. On my behalf and that of the women folk who use Saku Water kiosk, receive our gratitude, says Ms. Saumu almost going down on her knees.

Eliciting Interest

The first ever new water technology has attracted many actors who at the initiation of the idea were pessimistic of its realization. Many stakeholders are coming to witness if it’s properly operating and have wished the same system adapted in their operation areas. Ms. Amina Isacko, WaSH Manager PACIDA says since the system was installed, PACIDA has received more visitors inquiring on the success of the project and wanting to witness how the system runs. “In one of the sites where the system is yet to be installed; Dirib Gombo, the water committee has seen the amount of revenue collected, efficiency, transparency in the system and say once up and running, they will purchase put up one more kiosk to ease water access to the huge population. The motivating factor with the boreholes is the fact that water access is 24-hours as long as the operator is present and this they say is the best idea ever, “says the soft -spoken ever optimistic Ms. Amina. She adds that convincing the four locations for the installation of the pre -paid meters has been an uphill task but the community having seen the benefits it comes with, are even more grateful to the actors who made it possible.

Looking at the system, I wonder why all the praise for the system and Ms. Amina does not hesitate to give me these convincing reasons. She says the system is designed to calculate water consumption where water payment is made in advance by purchasing a 6-digit code that enables one use a certain volume of water set by the administrator. Also, there is no more unpaid water bills and zero risk for water theft. Additionally, there is no possibility of fraud as the code has to be entered in a particular sequence. For the end-user, the expenditure is controlled, easy to use and very convenience . The purchase of the volume of water is dependent on ones need at the point. The system enables usage of the debit limit set by the administrator in advance. When the credit is low, the system sends an alert immediately.

A Heart of Gratitude

The Strengthening Community Based Resilience Project Manager, Mr. George Guyo Yattani is owed by how the system is effectively working. “On behalf of PACIDA and the community, I wish to extend my gratefulness to USAID through FH-K who made us shine on this new technology. Thank you too to Maji Milele who has made it possible, especially with the trainings they have taken us through and now to the system that is now up and running, says Mr. Yattani.