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Market Assessment On Kenya's Decentralized Water Systems

Safe Water Network’s comprehensive report on the landscape and opportunities for the decentralized water market in Kenya, “Market Assessment: Commercial Provision of Water at the Community Level in Kenya,” evaluates the feasibility of commercial approaches to meeting the drinking water needs of the 17 million Kenyans without safe, affordable water. The report surveyed existing decentralized water systems and examined the opportunities and obstacles for new approaches to solving these challenges. 

An overview of the analysis and findings will be presented at the Water Sector Public-Private Partnerships Work Shop to be held at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi on November 7th and 8th, 2012. 

Dividing the market into urban and rural segments, the report assesses the current barriers to the growth of commercial involvement in the water sector. It also makes recommendations on how each segment can accelerate the availability of affordable water to off-grid populations.  

The report analyzes existing projects, including those funded by corporations, non-governmental organizations, public institutions and entrepreneurs. It also identifies what is working, and what changes are needed for the water sector to flourish. 


Commercial solutions currently play a minimal role in decentralized and community water provision in Kenya. Sector reform ushered in by the 2002 Water Act led to great improvement by the large Water Service Providers, which continue to expand network coverage for urban population centers. Nevertheless, the emphasis and priorities of this government-led reform are not likely to generate meaningful improvement in water access and safety for those Kenyans outside the reach of these existing networks.  The report outlines recommendations for a parallel effort to bring reform and encourage investment for community water systems. It outlines the significant hurdles faced by operators, including unrealistic pricing expectations, low willingness and ability to pay for treated water, and highly seasonal demand patterns driven by water availability, rather than quality. These economic hurdles are complicated by the high cost of treatment, particularly for the estimated 50% of the population living in areas of fluoride-contaminated groundwater. Additional factors include lack of financing, as well as multiple challenges surrounding the enabling environment. The report concludes that significant private investment will only be possible with a coordinated program that includes local and national government structures, NGOs, and financing partners. Sector reforms are required to attract serious operators for a transparent community public-private partnership model, as well as to ensure ongoing support through training and consumer education. According to Hew Crooks, head of Impact Initiatives at Safe Water Network and principal author of the report, “The hurdles are real and should not be underestimated, but we believe that there is a clear path to bring safe water to millions of Kenyans.”