Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Great Water Rip Off

More proof (if more proof is needed) that people in Kibera are being ripped off, and possibly sickened by the way water is distributed. Inter Press Service reports that a new study shows that Kibera residents people in informal settlements pay about eight times more for water than those living in wealthier areas.

Of course this has been known for years. As I wrote in Shadow Cities, A World Bank Water & Sanitation Project study done more than four years ago proved the same thing.

IPS reports that the Nairobi Water Company has invited water kiosk owners in Kibera to join the system legally. They have, of course, resisted because of the high profits they make retailing water. Daniel Makau, one of the water vendors, told IPS he makes between $58 and $72 a month selling water. Truly big bucks, considering that most Kibera residents I knew earned between $30 and $40 a month.


John Barrie said...


I saw your TED talk. Nice work. I am working with a development group - we are contemplating a simple, narrowly focused project for Squatter Cities. We can provide energy efficient light bulbs at very low cost, much cheaper than regular bulbs. A home that has 60 watts can run 5 bright lights.

This extends the power infrastructure, provides more light and opens the door for further work in communications.

Mexico City or Guatemala City are both being considered the location to roll out the program. Any suggestions?

Thank you,

John Barrie

rn said...

Thanks for the question.

The key thing to find out is how people get their power now and how they pay for it.

In many communities where people pirate power, they may buy degraded service from a nearby person who simply strings a wire to their house. For this, they pay a fixed amount every month. Thus they would not be interested in the savings created by energy efficiency. I also don't know what impact wavering and fluctuating current would have on the bulbs.

But -- the good news! -- they might be very interested in brighter lights, as that enhances security.

I'm here in Lagos, Nigeria right now, a city which has hardly any muncipal electrical power. Most people who do have electricity get it from gas-powered generators. Their cost is the diesel and the energy efficient bulbs would offer no savings, as the generator consumes the same amount of fuel and produces the same amount of electricity no matter what fixtures you are running. People here would definitely be interested in brighter lights, though.

Of the cities I've lived in, Rio and Istanbul seem obvious targets, because many squatters have legal, metered electricity and would appreciate both the savings and the brightness offered by your bulbs.

Hope this helps.

John Barrie said...


The cost would be cheaper than traditional bulbs. The effect on a large scale is that there would be more power to go around. I will keep in mind the degraded and probably brown out prone nature of the power supply. This summer I'm off to Mexico and Guatemala to check out life at the base of the pyramid.

Thanks so much, hope you enjoy Lagos.

John Barrie

Unknown said...

Greetings from across the Atlantic. While not surprised to have read your latest post on Kibera, I must admit that it never ceases to amaze me how even with a growing awareness of such issues, exploitation continues to take place on a grand scale.

I have been following your work for over a year now. I began reading your blog shortly after having read Shadow Cities. I was particulary fascinated and inspired by your experiences in Kibera, considering I have been volunteering there on and off since 2003. I used to volunteer with KICOSHEP and shadowed a social worker who was with the World Outreach Centre in Olympic.

I am actually planning to return to Kibera in September to conduct my dissertation research for my phd. I'm working on my doctoral degree in social and cultural anthropology at Oxford University. Thus, I would love to talk with you in more detail about your experiences in Kibera. If you wouldn't mind, would it be feasible for me to email you?

Thank you for all your wonderful work. Your blog has been a fantastic resource for me and a continual source of inspiration. Take care.

All the best,
Michelle Osborn

rn said...


Let's definitely compare notes on Kibera. Though I haven't been back since 2004, it's a community that remains very close to my heart.

I was locked out of your blogger profile, so I don't know how to reach you. So I'll risk a ton of spam and give you mine:


John: Good luck lighting the interior of the bottom of the pyramid. Keep us posted.

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