KenyaPower cuts, water shortage sendless cycle of disruption : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Power cuts, water shortages create endless cycle of disruption in Kenya August 16, 2000 Web posted at: 10:21 PM EDT (0221 GMT)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Flatbed trucks converted into tankers rumbled by pedestrians who staggered under the weight of plastic containers, all carrying what is a now precious commodity in Nairobi -- water.

Struck by the worst drought in 30 years, reservoirs around East Africa's largest city are drying up. The low water levels mean hydroelectric dams can generate little electricity, compounding the problem because, without electricity, the drinking water that is available cannot be pumped into the city.

On Friday, a carefully devised plan to ration water and electricity failed, resulting in water cuts to most of the city, including the central business district, supposedly exempt from any rationing. In some residential areas, the problem has been going on much longer.

"For the last two weeks, we don't have water in our house. You can't even use the toilet," said Roselyn McKoech, 23, as she sat on her plastic container waiting to buy water from the back of a truck parked three kilometers (two miles) from her house.

The Nairobi City Council blames the failure of its water rationing program on 12-hour a day power cuts. In turn, Kenya Power and Lightning, a government monopoly, blames the low water levels at its hydroelectric dams. Most Kenyans blame government mismanagement and corruption that has allowed the water and electricity systems to deteriorate.

"It is better to stay without electricity than to stay without water," said McKoech. "But to miss them both shows the government has failed us."

While some suffer, however, others are cashing in.

Hastily converted trucks ferry water from wells in the Ngong hills and deliver it to thirsty neighborhoods, selling 1 liter (quart) for 25 Kenyan shillings (30 cents), a high price for impoverished Kenyans.

"We are just filling in a gap." said Timothy Mwanzi, 25, a water seller. "It is very difficult to get a job nowadays. This is now my job."

Five days of water cuts have boosted the price, since high-priced hotels and downtown office buildings have been forced to buy water from the same tankers to fill rooftop tanks. The huge consumption of these buildings has prompted fears that the Ngong wells will go dry.

At Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital, an official speaking on condition he not be named, said the facility may be forced to accept only emergency cases if the water crisis continues because of sanitation concerns.

The water and electricity rationing have also taken an economic toll. Industries have been laying off workers because of the shortages and Kenya's Central Bank reported Monday that the economy grew only 1.0 percent in the past 12 months, down from 1.4 percent the previous year.

In addition, traffic in Nairobi -- already notoriously difficult -- has been made worse by Maasai herdsmen looking for green grass for their cattle. They have been driving their cows through the city center, letting them graze in parks and on flower beds. Last week, the herders took their cows to President Daniel arap Moi's official residence, where the lawn is lush and green.

The herdsmen were denied entry, and though there was no confrontation, riot police stood guard just in case.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 17, 2000

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