In the many ways we think about water shortages, we seldom think of gangs stealing water and providing it to the poor at higher than public service rates. This subject came under consideration at the World Water Week forum in Stockholm today along with tsunami recovery.

These stories are excerpted from World Water Week Daily, a daily journal of the World Water Week conference in Stockholm.

Nairobi water company tackles illegal water connections

In the session on pro-poor water and sanitation provision, Dr. Mary Kimani, Vice-Chair of the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company, said that the biggest challenge to provision of water in the slums of Kenya’s capital has been criminal gangs.

The population of the informal settlements at 0.6 million people makes up 28 per cent of the total city population and gangs are exploiting the lack of services by making illegal connections and charging 2 to 20 Shillings per 20 litres of water compared to the 18 Shillings per cubic metre charged to those in formal settlements.

The water company is fully aware of the inequities of this system and has formed a specialist department to spearhead development in the informal settlements. “The informal settlements are our biggest opportunity for customer growth,” said Kimani.

By providing extension pipelines into the slums with yard taps, and by constructing water and ablution kiosks, the gangs can be circumvented. The key is to encourage management at the community level. “Communities need to take charge of these services and manage them so people cannot take them away,” said Kimani.

In Ahmedabad, India’s seventh largest city, the city government has provided a model for delivering water and sanitation services to slum dwellers, which can be scaled up throughout the country and on a more global basis, according to Professor Dinesh Mehta of CEPT University in Ahmedabad.

In terms of sanitation, the city government began a subsidy programme in 1981 providing 80 per cent of the cost of building toilets in informal communities. This was raised to 90 per cent in 1991 and now 87 per cent of the city population has access to toilets. From 1 per cent of the city population in 1996, now 90 per cent of citizens have access to water.

An important part of the programme’s success has been to treat the slum dwellers as an integral part of the city and not to treat them apart. The knock-on benefit has been that, in Ahmedabad, informal settlers have upgraded their housing to a much better extent than any public housing could achieve. “Infrastructure is a key driver to unleashing the wealth that exists in the slum community,” said Mehta. According to Mehta, Nairobi and other cities can learn from the case of Ahmedabad. “Reaching out to the poor is not impossible and in 15 years you can cover a large number of slum dwellers,” said Mehta.

Not every city will enjoy the commitment that Ahmedabad’s government has shown with 10 per cent of city funds being dedicated to pro-poor funding. As well as the need for strong political will, it is important to scale up quickly and not to rely on pilot projects or worry unduly about land tenure. “Anyone who wants a water tap, give them one,” said Mehta, who added that simplifying the actual process to get connected was also an important factor in securing take-up for water and sanitation connections.

A final lesson from Ahmedabad for other cities was to seek to provide individual not community services. “Individual toilets are more cost effective in the long term and families will maintain those services,” said Mehta.

Tsunami recovery better than expected

Early reports show that hydroecological processes – soil and groundwater – and socio-economic systems for agriculture were revived between one and three years after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, but that sociopsychological conditions only improved after a longer period of five years.

“Even though relief and farm land recovery took place within two years, rehabilitation and building are still incomplete,” said Dr. K. Palanisami of the IWMI-TATA Water Policy Program. “Investment in long-term measures, notably infrastructure, will help in building resilience in coastal zones.”

Palanisami said that community-based disaster preparedness, new educational programmes and alternative employment were needed to “help residents recover from post-traumatic stress disorder syndromes and the challenge of rebuilding their lives”.

Yoshiyuki Kawazoe of the University of Tokyo said that the tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year had led to a need to find a balance with nature when rebuilding villages and cities. “We should learn from that and create a new balance between nature and the environment,” said Kawazoe.