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Progress through piped systems in Nairobi

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I find myself in strange, somewhat unchartered, territory of late.

Having started up and run One since 2004, I’ve handed over the reins to our former Commercial Director, now Managing Director, so I can focus on a new project which has long been my passion – the Global Investment Fund for Water (or as it’s now to be known; Water Unite).

The parallels between One and Water Unite are similar, and yet totally different. Both are focussed on helping to end water poverty & both involve bottled water, but with Water Unite it’s about trying to bring the whole global sector to the table. If successful, in theory, it could generate up to $5bn a year for clean water and sanitation by simply creating a levy of 1 cent per litre of bottled water sold.

Unlike running One, taking on this project requires a very different skill set to mine, so after a global search of 120 candidates we found a fantastic new CEO to lead the organisation who has a track record in running successful funds in the development sector. And so I went to meet him in Nairobi recently to show him some of One’s projects first hand and introduce him to a few of the key people we know in the region.

What I hadn’t envisaged was just how blown away I would be by seeing some of the work being done by our partners out there.

Having been to Rwanda and seen the move towards piped systems (rather than borehole and handpumps) I had a pretty good idea of what I thought I’d see. But it was what I didn’t see that amazed me.

The pipe used to serve the settlements with clean water. The pipe is specially designed so that illegal connections are unable to be made from it.

The pipe used to serve the settlements with clean water. The pipe is specially designed so that illegal connections are unable to be made from it.

We have funded two pipelines around two informal settlements (or slums as they used to be known): one 23km long, the other 18km long – both encircling the settlements and buried deep underground. Nothing too exciting about that you might think, but if I told you that three-quarters of all the people living in these settlements had proactively asked for connections into their properties, I hope you’d be a little wide-eyed. People who live in pretty desperate circumstances prioritising water into their homes.

And here’s the best bit: the old world involved walking to a water vendor, paying 5 Kenyan Shillings (about 3.7p) and carrying back a full 20 litre jerry can. The new world involves turning on a tap in your own courtyard and paying just 0.04 Kenyan Shillings per 20 litres (about 0.04p); over 100 times cheaper for a regular, safe, sustainable supply of water.

A water meter and tap in one of the settlements that the new piped network serves.

A water meter and tap in one of the settlements that the new piped network serves.

Progress is coming, and if the new CEO and I can make a great success of Water Unite, hopefully we’ll make it all happen a little faster.

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