Kenya, known for its market-based economy and favorable trade policies, has the potential to become a regional trade and finance hub. However, to achieve sustained economic growth and address wealth disparities, investments in key areas are crucial. One such area is the financing of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) infrastructure. By improving access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, Kenya can unlock numerous benefits that will contribute to its economic development and social well-being.
The Benefits of Investing in WASH Infrastructure:
Despite Kenya’s relatively high GDP per capita, the country struggles with significant wealth inequality, especially between urban and rural areas. The demand for safe and clean water has outpaced supply, leading to water shortages even in urban centers like Nairobi. Insufficient logistics infrastructure further compounds the problem. Investing in WASH infrastructure can address these issues and bring about a range of benefits.
From a humanitarian perspective, access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right and can significantly improve public health. Diarrheal diseases, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis are major causes of death in Kenya, while cholera remains a persistent threat. By improving WASH practices, such as safe water supply and sanitation, the country can combat these diseases and prevent the loss of lives.
Moreover, the economic impact of WASH service provision is substantial. Improved access to clean water and sanitation leads to lower morbidity rates, increased productivity, and enhanced education opportunities. Adults hindered by water-related diseases are unable to work or pursue professional endeavors effectively. By providing access to WASH infrastructure, individuals, especially women, can engage in more productive activities, contributing to economic growth. Studies have shown that increased investments in household water access correlate with higher GDP, demonstrating the economic benefits of WASH infrastructure.
The Case for Kenya:
For Kenya to sustain its economic growth and urban expansion, investment in WASH provision is essential. The country has made remarkable progress in achieving 100% primary school enrollment. However, the quality of education can be greatly enhanced by ensuring proper WASH infrastructure in schools. Clean water and improved sanitation facilities create a conducive environment for learning, leading to improved educational outcomes and increased economic contributions from educated individuals.
Furthermore, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of sanitation in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Investments in WASH infrastructure align with global health priorities and can significantly reduce the burden of health crises on the economy. The cost of outbreaks like Ebola and SARS has had severe economic repercussions in the past, emphasizing the need for proper WASH services as a long-term cost-saving measure.
Despite the recognized importance of WASH access, progress in Kenya has been slow, and government focus on the issue has been relatively low compared to its wide-ranging positive impacts. Budget allocations for water and sanitation have not matched the scale of investment required to achieve universal access to WASH by 2030. Foreign aid, although substantial, has also not been effectively translated into proportional impact.
Improving WASH Management:
Kenya’s National Water Development report has highlighted mismanagement of water resources and ineffective water allocation practices. While efforts have been made to devolve water services to the county level, challenges remain, particularly in terms of public participation and education. Better management of resources, inclusive approaches, and sustainable practices are vital to bridge the gap between WASH supply and demand, resulting in a healthier and empowered population that can drive positive impact across all sectors.
Financing WASH infrastructure is a vital component of advancing Kenya’s economy and reducing wealth disparities. By improving access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, Kenya can unlock significant benefits in public health, education, productivity, and economic growth.