Access to safe water and sanitation are essential to human health, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. For Marsabit County to get to the desired level, great strides have to be made by different stakeholders including embracing the communal pre-paid water meters which ensures equitable access to water regardless of your social standing in the community, besides of course boosting revenue collection from water sale. With prepaid metering, the consumer is in control of their own water usage, as they decide how much water to purchase. The prepaid metering solution ensures that the consumer can now budget for their water bill as per their purchasing power.

PACIDA through Maji Milele Limited with funding from USAID through Food for the Hungry has come up with an innovative sustainable solution to addressing better access to water in at least three locations within Marsabit County through installation of communal pre-paid water meters at water kiosks. Through its innovations, Maji Milele has assisted rural communities to adapt better to climate change. One such community is Dirib Gombo in Saku Sub-county, Marsabit County, located in the northern part of Kenya and home to 2,000 households. A total of two pre-paid meters have been installed at the Dirib Gombo communal water kiosk managed by the 9 -members as Dirib Gombo Progressive Association group. The area Assistant Chief Mr. Katelo Galgallo says, “even though the entire community is now jubilating over the fruits of the pre-paid meters, the reception at first was horrible. In fact, I vividly remember one time when members who were opposing the embrace of the new technology, roughed up a trainer who had come to train the kiosk operator, the committee members and the community members on the usage of the pre-paid meter and tokens including receiving the floats from Maji Milele limited to their shop hub to top up user tokens.”

“Through this investment, men, women and children are able to reliably access clean, safe water within reach of their communities. This has reduced the time burden of water collection faced by women and children in Marsabit, freeing up more time to engage in economically productive activities, school attendance and childcare,” says the group’s treasurer Mr. Wako Liban. He adds, “as a matter of fact, I now find time to attend to my livestock and consequently engage in livestock trade, generating more income for my family.” Previously, all the nine management members could spend literally a whole day closely supervising water collection just to ensure there was no one who fetched water and failed to pay.

Prior to the construction of water kiosks and installation of pre-paid water meters in Marsabit, the queuing time was six hours; people fetched water and failed to pay. An individual could come with 20 jericans each of 20 litre capacity to fetch water and end up only paying 20/= instead of 100/=; it was as good as free. The Chairman says over 120,000L of water was consumed on a daily basis but at the end of the day when calculations were done, little revenue was realized. Mr. Gurach Mega, a community member says, “since the kiosk is a Muslims only managed group, over lunch hour, they could go for prayers and the water kiosk remained locked until they came back. This resulted to congestion at the kiosk and sometimes conflict arose.” “Now, all I need is a token loaded with money, I now fetch water at my own convenience and at no given time will I find a queue, life is good,” he bursts out into laughter as he makes his way to the water kiosk.

Mostly, women are grateful for the new technology and have welcomed the establishment of the pre-paid water system, highlighting key benefits such as guaranteed access to safe, clean water upon demand; reduced waiting time and flexibility with regard to water collection as water is readily available throughout the day and even at night. Because less time is spent fetching water, women now have free time to engage in IGAs and even practice small-scale farming. Additionally, the system ensures that there is 100% online transparency, reduction of non-revenue water to 0%, no operators needed to operate the taps.

The communal pre-paid meter was installed in October 2017 and operations started immediately during the drought During this time, Dirib Gombo borehole was the only water source with water and served people from as far as 20km away. Currently, the committee collects KES. 6,000 daily and KES.180,000 monthly. As the months progress, the committee anticipates that the system will gain momentum and more revenues will be realized. In September 2017 prior to installation, they could collect KES 3,500 daily, and in a month KES.105, 000. The committee members literally ran after individuals who had not paid for water. Mr. Qalich Yattani, one of the committee members, recounts how he once was hit by a donkey and seriously hurt while trying to bar it from running away with unpaid water. He says many committee members have been hurt the same way but that now bothers none of them, as they don’t have to literally be present. Mr. Wako Liban says, “the extra money that we have so far realized has been used to pay school fees for the bright needy students, hospital bills for needy community members, plans to independently purchase a pre-paid water meters purely for livestock use and for water bowser collection point is also underway.” PACIDA has put in place a weekly corrective maintenance system with the help of Maji Milele Limited to ensure effective troubleshooting of any technical problems. In addition, training on the use of the user tokens is provided for the community water committee, which in turn trains the community members.