Safe Water Enterprises in Kenya: are they really safe, sustainable and affordable?

Safe Water Enterprises (SWEs) have emerged as credible providers of high quality-safe water in a financially sustainable way.  However, there are significant differences among them, which is worth a closer look. Aqua for All’s Managing Director Sjef Ernes visited Kenya (Isiolo, Turkana and Marsabit) at the beginning of April to find out what’s working and what’s not. Sjef aimed to sharpen the focus on the service areas that are most needed: 3R, Safe Water Enterprises (SWEs) and Public Private Partnership (PPP) development and finance strategy.

The rainy season begins in April, which is good news because hunger, especially in the North, is becoming acute. The Kenyan government struggles to deliver relief and unfortunately, emergency assistance proves to be easier than implementing structural preventive measures. The Northern Counties remain central to the agenda of the development organizations  but unfortunately the aid initiatives lack sufficient coordination.

Private Sector is waking up

The good news, however is that private sector involvement in water management solutions in Kenya is growing, albeit that the need for improved communication and coordination among actors in the sector remains. During his visit, Sjef took inventory of the many interesting water-related initiatives which are ripe for a Public Private Partnership. There are plenty of promising, innovative ideas on the radar screen, like rainwater rooftop harvesting. Clearly there’s an urgent need to put Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and rainwater harvesting higher on the sector agenda. Water resilience becomes more and more important as a long term objective.

Keep an eye open for the PPP opportunities

Conveying the benefits of and opportunities for organizations to identify PPP opportunities and work together more closely is a considerable task. There’s a role for both public agencies and governmental bodies as well as for NGOs. The idea of paying for water is broadly accepted, as long as it’s on the basis of daily use (not on a flat subscription fee).

SWEs struggle competitively with the informal water vendors that freely tap water from the irrigation channels and deliver it to the homes for a lower price (and questionable quality).  A good example of a Safe Water Enterprise that really works is the  AfricAqua model;  Water shops which offer safe treated water at an affordable price (see: This model is ideal for carbon credits because the users are registered and traceable for audits.

Impressive models 

The visit to a Maji Milele kiosk (the first subsidiary company of Water Forever) with its own borehole, schools and a community house in the middle of a slum in Nairobi, was an eye opener: the operator as well as the customers were very content and there is hardly any wasted water because people only pay for what they tap. Charging the token they use now happens with cash but Maji Milele is investigating the possibility to pay with M-Pesa Mobile Wallet.

One of the four SACCO KIOSKS with prepaid metering run by self-help groups was also visited. The SACCO Microfinance Initiative is a chance for lenders to be part of a growing worldwide microfinance community.  Acceptance of the concept of prepaid has been a long and careful process. The biggest problem turns out to be the lack of water supply from the dam, powered by a spring. Water is rationed by prepaid tokens, this way they hope to prevent waste and create transparency.

Collecting promising innovations that are ripe for scaling and spreading best practices are definitely energizing, motivating ways in which Aqua for All contributes to the impact we achieve toward SDG #6.   

Aqua for All is taking full opportunity to serve as a sector aggregator between the parties involved in successful PPPs.

Are you interested in exploring how Aqua for All could assist you in achieving your water-related ambitions for the BoP? We invite you to give us a call:  +31(0)70 7200870 or send us an email: