Academic research made a real connection with the lives of poor residents of Nairobi, Kenya, when the Nairobi City Water and Sewer Company’s decreased the price for water bought at public kiosks.
“It’s important to look closely at the actual impact of well-intentioned policies,” says Prof. Jane Kabubo-Mariara, Coordinator of EfD Kenya. “Research at EfD Kenya showed that the existing system of tariffs for tap water was overlooking the needs of the poorest residents of Nairobi.”
Why wouldn’t subsidies for tap water be helpful for poor people? “It turns out that poor people, living in informal urban settlements without private connections for piped water, were paying more for water than households with private piped connections,” explains David Fuente, one of the researchers on the EfD Kenya urban water project. “Nairobi residents of informal settlements buy their drinking water from kiosks.”
These findings got the attention of WASREB, Kenya’s national water regulator, which incorporated this insight into its review of the Nairobi City Water and Sewer Company’s tariff application and decreased the price of drinking water from kiosks from two Kenyan shillings (KSH) per 20 liters to one KSH. The new prices went into effect in November 2015 and will apply for two years (2015/16 to 2017/18). The prices are reported in “The Kenya Gazette” of October 2, 2015.
This research-policy connection has implications beyond water, according to Prof. Kabubo-Mariara. When EfD Kenya held a workshop with policy makers in in Nairobi last year, stakeholders raised the concern that research can be disconnected from the actual challenges they face in developing and implementing policy and called for closer alignment between research and policy. At that workshop, however, Engineer Peter Njaggah, head of Technical Services at WASREB, indicated that he sees close alignment between EfD’s research and policy.
According to Engineer Njaggah, EfD’s research on subsidies and water pricing in Nairobi has shaped thinking on water pricing in the sector. When EfD presented their results during a workshop last year, it was very clear that households in informal settlements were paying more for water than households with private piped connections. This insight was incorporated into the review of Nairobi City Water and Sewer Company’s tariff application and decreased the tariff for water bought at public kiosks from 2 KSH/20 litres to 1 KSH/20 litres.
The stakeholders’ concerns and Engineer Njaggah’s comment led to a structured conversation about ways to ensure better synergy between research and policy. Reflecting on this interaction, Prof. Jane Kabubo Mariara, EfD Kenya Coordinator, stated “I couldn’t have been happier with the discussion we had at the policy workshop. Stakeholders from multiple sectors expressed a clear demand for high quality research that could inform policy formation and implementation. This is precisely EfD’s mandate and we were delighted to have an opportunity to explore how we can best do this, and even more important, how we can work with the multi-sector stakeholders in order to contribute to evidence based policy design and implementation.”