Gauteng and NW Province

Kenya: Water Shortages Driving Growing Thefts, Conflicts

As droughts become more frequent and water shortages worsen, Kenya is seeing an increase in water thefts and other water-related crime, police records show.

The most common crimes are theft, muggings and illegal disconnections of water pipes by thieves who collect and sell the water. Many of the crimes occur in urban slums, which lack sufficient piped water.

“Since 2003, we have made piped water available to at least half of the slum residents in the entire country, but we are faced with severe hurdles as populations continue to grow and demand for the commodity continues to increase,” said Peter Mangich, acting director of water services in the Ministry of Water.

Police statistics show that in Kibera – Nairobi’s largest slum with over one and a half million inhabitants – there are as many as 75 reported incidences of water-related theft daily.

Police say slum residents, instead of stealing from others in the slum, sneak into Lavington to steal water. Affected Lavington residents have asked the government to intervene.

Studies currently being conducted by the University of Nairobi suggest that water scarcity may drive worsening domestic and international conflict.

“What we are witnessing in the slums is very serious. Some think that water theft is petty, but we are living with a time bomb,” said Makumi Mwagiru, a professor at the Institute of Diplomacy Studies at the University of Nairobi.

Most cases involving water crimes rarely make it to court, he said, largely because Kenyan police view water theft as a petty offense.

But “there have been incidents where people have been killed that relate to water,” he said.

Gladys Murimi, who lives in Korogocho slum in Nairobi, says home break-ins and water thefts are an ongoing problem in her neighborhood. She regularly has her window panes broken and three times has had thieves steal plastic containers of water from her home.

“I am currently looking for a better place to stay since my job is well paying and do not want to reside in the slum anymore. My immediate neighbors have also been affected,” she said.

Kenya police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said that last year more than 16,000 water crimes were reported to police. He said the crimes were taken seriously and many thieves were prosecuted.

Gitonga Njeru is a science journalist based in Nairobi.
6 August 2012

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