Thomas Edison, the great innovator behind the bulb, said: There’s a way to do it better. Find it! In its work with communities, PACIDA knew there had to be a better way to manage water usage.

In a bid to improve water access through improved management practices, the Strengthening Community Resilience in Marsabit County (SCRMC), PACIDA received support from the Food for the Hungry Kenya (FH Kenya) with funding from USAID/OFDA introduced the first ever pre-paid communal water system in Marsabit County. The organisation identified four areas to benefit from this project: Shauri Yako and Saku in Marsabit Town. To date, two water kiosks have been installed with the pre-paid meters and the Kiosk at Saku is operational.

This is how the technology works:

1. Every household in the targeted region is issued with a token (a small-chip powered gadget) by a Water Management Committee.  2. The user loads the token with an amount  3. Every time the user visits a prepaid water meter centre, the token is deducted automatically when pointed to a smart gadget affixed to the water kiosk. This means that the gadget can operate with minimal human intervention. 3. Water flows into the container based on the amount that is automatically charged. 4. When the money is fully utilised in the token (airtime), the gadget is reloaded with the amount that the households’ sets for instance Ksh 200. By ensuring that water only flows when the chip is loaded and used, this innovation also enabled communities not to waste water at the point of fetching.

Beneficiaries have seen this intervention as more reliable, bringing more water closer to people, contributing to improved health and well-being by reducing the burden on women and enabling them to engage their time more productively.

The Saku Water Kiosk is run by Saku Welfare Group for Disabled which brings together thirty two (15 Women, 17 Men). This group has been contracted by the Marsabit County Water Department to manage the kiosk efficiently. The chairman of the Group Mr. Ali Godana says that the older system was being managed by ‘a cartel’ that purchased water for sale at the expense of the poor.

“In fact, when the idea of a pre-paid water system was initiated, the cartels strongly opposed it. Interestingly as the management, we have noted that the system has fostered peaceful co-existence amongst communities as it has enhanced accountability. It has also boosted our daily revenue collection as we are now attracting 100% of revenue. We used to previously about Ksh 3,000 per day. We are now collecting up to Ksh 18,000 per day,” says Mr. Godana.

Hadija Ali is one happy water user: “previously, the waiting time was as long as 7 hours. Many are the times we went home without water due to lack of transparency and fairness. Currently, with minimal human intervention, every individual is able to collect up to 10 -23 litre jerry cans (230 litres) after 2 weeks.

Water in Marsabit town is a gem, with water vendors retailing a 20 litres jerry can at Ksh 30 ( $ 0.3) which escalates to up to KES 50 ($ 0.5) during the drought seasons. Although the water at the kiosk is highly rationed, beneficiaries pay only KES 5 ($ 0.05) for a 23 liters jerry can, which is substantial relief to the currently registered 9,938 beneficiaries.

Before the installation of the pre-paid water meter, communities would fetch water to as late as 8.00 pm due to congestion and unfair competition. Now though, the water kiosk is closed by 6.00 pm, as there is more order and transparency.

Water users get services on a first come, first served basis, provided their water tokens are loaded with enough water credit and the tank has water, which is also done at the kiosk. Unlike in the past, the committee does not have to be physically present to supervise the water sale as the system is automated. This has enabled members to have
sufficient time to engage in other productive ventures.

The prepaid meter system is a collaboration between various partners, programs and donors. While the SCRMC project invested in the soft components with a focus on improved management, the Kenya Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development (Kenya RAPID) Project implemented by FH Kenya with funding from USAID and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) revamped the water supply infrastructure (pipeline, 27m 3 elevated tank and kiosks) serving both Saku and Shauri Yako Kiosks. The County Government of Marsabit provides the day to day technical support and oversight to the system, while a private sector player Maji Milele Ltd supports maintenance of the the pre-paid meter technology. This public private partnership has been integral to the success of this project. For Mr. Godana the Saku Welfare Group for Disabled chairman, the system has further enhanced the relationship with the County Department of Water as the Self Help Group can now pay water bills in a timelier manner.

PACIDA’s Strengthening Community Based Resilience Project Manager, Mr. George Guyo is awed by how the system has turned out to work effectively: “On behalf of PACIDA and the communities we are working with, I wish to extend my gratitude to USAID/ OFDA and FH-Kenya who made us shine on this new technology. Many thanks too, to Maji Milele Ltd, the company that made this by developing and setting it up.”