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Planning for equitable and sustainable water and urban sanitation services in ten counties in Kenya – a start

Published on: 15/07/2015

In the context of the devolution of political powers and responsibilities to the counties in Kenya, planning for water and sanitation services has to step up.

Like many other countries Kenya has an ambitious WASH vision for 2013: access to safe water and sanitation for all population. Looking at the latest data (JMP 2015) on the current sector status in 2015 only 57% of the rural population has access to an improved water source and 49% to improved sanitation, one cannot conclude otherwise than that there is still a huge leap to make. While the new policies and legislation are still held up in parliament for approval, the counties have started to receive their first partial budgets, including those for WASH services.

One of the formal conditions to receive the full budget is to have a strategic plan in place that forms the basis for the annual planning and budgeting cycle. SNV Kenya and IRC have been asked by ten counties in Kenya to support the development of these strategic plans. It was agreed that a number of innovations would be incorporated into the planning process:

  • Planning for impact: targets are set in terms of number of people that (still) need to be served – instead of the traditional way of planning for the number of infrastructure that needs to be developed.
  • Planning for equity: take into account the differences in access to services within a county
  • The plan aims to address explicitly the fact that the water and sanitation services are to be continuously and indefinitely – avoiding 'slippage' of service levels and non-functional infrastructure. The financial focus therefore is not only directed to building infrastructure, but also considers what budgets are required to operate and maintain, to rehabilitate the systems and to support the water service suppliers, water management committees or operators.

The biggest challenge in the making the plans, has been to work around the enormous gap of reliable data. Although some general data on access exists, these are still highly inaccurate for planning purposes. Information is lacking on the assets, on the quality of the current services, on who is accessing what level of service, on unit costs for new development and rehabilitation, on maintenance and costs to keep the county system (staffing, logistics, institutions) needed for functional services going. The main way this has been addressed is by making best guestimates, using scarce data and knowledge from the field in workshops.

The following are a number of generic recommendations that have come out of the process:

  1. First of all, it is important to consider the fact that in order to be able to come up with the above figures, many assumptions and simplifications have been made, in particular on the actual number of people served and with what levels of services. A very important improvement to the planning process can be made by starting to collect key data on service levels and performance of water service providers. This in fact requires a sector information system that should be the same for the whole country, and will require therefore national coordination and leadership.
  2. For the sustainability of the water services it is crucial that the expenditures for daily operations and small maintenance costs are covered, preferable by user fees. The average water tariff in for example Siaya county will be between 13-75 KES/head/month (depending on the service level). It will require a main effort to convince water users, politicians, civil society and government officials and staff that these levels of water fees will have to be raised for reaching water services that last.
  3. Another very important cost item is the expenditures for major repairs and rehabilitation of the assets. Because there is often no provision for these expenditures, water infrastructure falls in disrepair after a period of time which is much shorter than its designed life-span. Planning for the capital maintenance is paramount for sustainability. At the long run this could be covered by the water fees, but it will also require sound financial management by the water service providers and operators. On the shorter term provisions may need to be made under the county budget.
  4. By disaggregating the different types of expenditures it becomes easier to make strategic choices for the county. For example if coverage is still very low it is expected that the county will prioritise on new development. When coverage starts to become higher, e.g. above 65%, there is more infrastructure to look after and therefore the budget for capital maintenance will have to increase. With these higher coverage figures it will also become clear that the county may no longer be able to cover these high budgets for rehabilitation and this burden may need to shift to the water users in the tariffs. It is also to be expected that a sector with higher coverage figures is more mature and has a higher chance of having more professional water operators in place that are able to plan financially for the major repairs.
  5. The county needs to start to think strategically about service levels and the technologies used. People are often more willing to pay for a better service, in particular when this means less distance or time for fetching water. Therefore on the long run infrastructure like piped schemes that brings water closer to the user than point sources, may have a higher chance of financial sustainability. Of course the consequences for the management model and a balance with the required investments for new assets for people without any service need to be considered.
  6. It is important to have people understand the difference between planning and budgeting for results (people served) and having a budget based on inputs (infrastructure built) – it is expected that the approach of planning for results will support fund raising efforts.
  7. The disaggregation of service data by e.g. ward allows the county to start planning for equity in geographical terms. Another important equity parameter is the distance to the source for water fetching, because the burden comes mainly on the shoulder of women and children. This is another argument in the discussion about technology choices.

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