Rural Women get Cheaper Water in Turkana, Kenya

Throughout the African continent women and girls have the primary responsibility of replenishing the household water supply and maintaining a clean home. The burden of fetching drinking water from outdoor sources falls disproportionately on girls and women. Girls are twice as likely as boys to bear the responsibility of household water supply in instances where children collect water. Access to safe water and sanitation facilities affects women and girls most acutely, considerably reducing the time they have available for other activities such as childcare, income generation and school attendance.

The AECF is taking a lead in using finance as a tool for social change, particularly on gender, by forging strategic partnerships with key stakeholders to increase positive outcomes for women and youth. Investing with a gender lens has become a critical basis on which the AECF’s investments are made with a special interest in private sector interventions that positively impact marginalised groups such as women and youth in the communities they operate in. One such investment is Maji Milele Limited, in which AECF invested in the company to increase communities’ resilience to climate change through better access to water for home and agricultural use. Maji Milele Limited is a start-up company that specialises in pre-paid water meters and online monitoring solutions for communal water supply infrastructure. Their two main sources of income are sales of pre-paid water meters and online software solutions as well as sales and full service maintenance for rural communal water points. The model includes revenue collection, revenue sharing according to negotiated agreements and planned preventative maintenance by the company.

Maji Milele Limited has come up with an innovative sustainable solution to addressing access to water in the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, where much of the installed infrastructure breaks down quickly following installation and where the management models are usually difficult. Through its innovations, the company has assisted rural communities to adapt better to climate change. One such community is the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) settlement in Lodwar, Turkana County, a semi-arid region located in the northern part of Kenya and home to 1,545 households. Lodwar has been the centre of post-election violence rehabilitation, with 610 IDPs relocated in that region. To ensurecommunity integration Lodwar Water and Sanitation Company (LOWASCO), partnered with the civil societyin the construction of six communal water kiosks for the affected households. Given the value proposition of the initiative on gender, AECF, as a key financier, leveraged on this partnership, by investing in Maji Milele Limited for the installation of pre-paid water meters at these communal water kiosks. Through this investment, 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 Lodwar, freeing up more time to engage in economically productive activities, school attendance and childcare.

Prior to the construction of water kiosks and installation of pre-paid water meters in Lodwar, women and girls used to travel up to 2.5 km to the nearest water point provided by LOWASCO, and spend up to six hours queuing for water which was not guaranteed as the water was rationed due to low water supply. This often resulted in conflicts at the water point amongst the community members. In addition, the limited access to water was compounded by illegal connections along the line affecting the water pressure as it was pumped. The community water committee tasked with the administrative burden of managing the water point engaged in corrupt activities that consequently intensified conflicts at the water source, reduced access to water by the community and reduced revenue collection for LOWASCO. However, with the introduction of pre-paid water kiosks, there has been an increase on revenue collection.

The water kiosks, located within a kilometre radius of each other, provide convenience for women and girls to fetch water without travelling long distances. LOWASCO’s water tariff is affordable for the community at a rate of US $0.05 per 20 litres compared to US $0.10 per 20 litres charged by individual water suppliers and the US $250 flat rate that was previously levied on a monthly basis. The introduction of prepaid water metres has dealt with the challenges of time spent queuing for water by women and girls as it takes on average 15 minutes to collect water at the kiosks. The women 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. LOWASCO 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 water tokens and hygiene and sanitation is provided for the community water committee, which in turn trains the community members. A complaints mechanism is in place through a customer care desk at LOWASCO to ensure satisfactory water service provision. Through this investment, the lives of women and girls in Lodwar has improved significantly by allowing women more time to engage in economic activities and allowing the girl child to spend more time on her school home work.

As an organisation, AECF has adopted a strategy that seeks to increase the number of women benefiting from the business initiatives it funds. This year AECF, we shall launch a competition that specifically targets women in agribusiness. We invite you to join us to make this a reality.

Written by Tinotenda Pasi, AECF Gender Advisor