Working with their partner, Christian Aid, Kenyan NGO Northern Aid will soon be trialling an innovative water payment system in north eastern Kenya. This project will be implemented in drought-prone Mandera Central District, in El Wak town and its surrounding villages. Communities living in this area have no clean running water in close proximity. The town’s wells often dry out during dry spells and they are routinely contaminated by human waste when the water table rises. There is sufficient borehole water to meet the population’s needs all year round, but it contains calcium carbonate and sodium chloride and is not safe to drink. People are forced to choose between walking for miles or buying water from a donkey cart, which can be very expensive.
Northern Aid believes that mobile phones and reverse osmosis technology may be able to address the problem. More than six million households in Kenya have access to mobile banking; three times the number of households with access to a traditional bank account. The number is growing rapidly. Studies have shown that people prefer mobile transactions over traditional banking and keeping cash in the house because transactions are instant, money is more difficult to steal, and charges are relatively small and upfront. In El Wak alone there are more than 200 mobile banking centres, managed by locals, which people already use to pay their bills.
The demand for water is high in Mandera district and people are used to paying for it. Christian Aid and Northern Aid are therefore undertaking a trial initiative which will enable people to use a mobile banking payment system to pay for their water. Reverse osmosis (RO) technologies will be applied to the water system to make it safe to drink. 10,000 households in El Wak town and its surrounding villages will have access to clean and affordable drinking water as a result. Any profits generated by the project will then be put into a community development fund to be managed by a locally-elected committee.
Indigo is providing funding for the mobile component of the project, while other project costs are being met by a number of different organisations. If successful, the project could prove to be a model of sustainable water resource management for other regions and countries. We’ll look forward to hearing how it goes.