John Cleave: Coast Swimming in Sewage, Water Woes - The Star

Water and Irrigation Minister Charity Ngilu has been in the news a good deal recently.

First there were accusations of dams not being constructed and then of missing funds, followed by an amazing story that she was sabotaging another Cabinet minister by supplying too much water to his constituency. These were followed by a newspaper advertisement by her ministry to rebuff these reports.

Whatever the facts, and regardless of current Coastal flooding, we all know that clean water, delivered from a household tap, is a basic human right in the same way that earning enough money to buy food and sustain life is essential. Sewerage, also part of the Water minister's mandate, is equally important.

Water services are, or should be, a national priority and it is certainly not possible to blame the Ministry of Water and Irrigation for the destruction of the Mau water tower through massive deforestation, nor for the depletion of our lake levels. This must fall on the ministers for Environment and for Forests.

However, I note that little attention concerning water has touched on the Coast or Mombasa.

This seems strange, considering how the Coast Province historically languishes so far behind others in infrastructure and maintenance investments. Here are some of the facts.

The Coast water supply structures are ancient and dilapidated leading to leakages, with small-size pipes delivering low volumes of water that suffer immense vandalism by local communities. The Mzima Springs pipeline is over 60 years old, and although built from pre-stressed concrete suffers almost daily breaks and leakages.

Hamisi Mwanchai, chairman of the CWS Board, said theft and leakages are so bad that it is a miracle any water reaches Mombasa which relies primarily on sources from outside the island.

Mombasa's daily demand of 200,000 cubic metres of water cannot be fulfilled by the 130,000 cubic metres available from those surrounding districts.

As a result 35 per cent of households rely on groundwater sources such as wells and boreholes for their potable needs. A major challenge for Mombasa Island, therefore, is the impact of sewage on groundwater as residents sink their own boreholes due to the lack of council-supplied water.

Malindi has no sewerage treatment and of the two treatment plants in Mombasa, only the
Changamwe plant works and then only partially. It does not filter grey water after removing solids and there is no designated place for the sludge to be disposed of, leaving the ocean as the site for disposal.

There has been interference with pump stations with developers building over them. The location reserved for a treatment plant at Mkomani was sold to a private developer, hampering the intended development of a sewer system to serve the North Coast.

With various pump stations not working efficiently, the situation is critical but only temporary measures are in place.

Only one third of the total Coast region has sewerage system facilities, being a section of Mombasa City Council, and sections of Voi and Wundanyi because sewerage facilities were never planned.

Mombasa uses a sewerage system put in place many years ago. Most sewerage treatment plants do not function because they are either broken or there is no money to maintain them. In addition, a ballooning shanty-town population has virtually no sewage treatment while storm drain systems have been illegally converted for sewerage runoff.

It is proven that sewage is responsible for various water-borne diseases including cholera, dysentery, typhoid, diarrhoea, intestinal worms, diseases of the skin and eye infections.

Some years ago, a burst sewer line contaminated the main water supply causing an outbreak of cholera and typhoid with several reported deaths.

The entire Mombasa sewerage system is so old and dilapidated that repairs are no longer a valid option and a complete new system has to be designed.

The study for this has not yet started and the implication is that it will be many years before Mombasa has an acceptable sewerage system estimated to cost Sh20 billion.

No one understands the plan to reduce six local water companies to two when the six are considered ineffective. Why can we not solve problems rather than allow them to pile up?

An expanding tourism industry and the expanding Coast population of water consumers need effective decisions and strong leadership with an urgent realisation that the Coast and Mombasa water supply and sewerage are both in need of immediate attention.

Failure to act could lead to the Coast being shunned by investors and tourism suppliers alike.

Cleave is the acting chairman of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators.

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