Accountability in WASH Case studies from Kenya
Access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation is a
basic human right and a prerequisite for effective poverty reduction efforts.
1 However, poor individuals, households
and communities often spend a disproportionate
amount of their incomes on water services, as well as on
healthcare, due to water- and sanitation-related illnesses.
2 The concept of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)
combines the overlapping issues of clean drinking
water, proper sanitation and awareness of hygiene, since
addressing these issues together can achieve a positive
impact on public health and economic output. Universal,
affordable and sustainable access to WASH is the focus of
Sustainable Development Goal 6.
Access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation
remains a development concern in Kenya, affecting
both urban and rural populations. With most parts of
the country being classed as arid or semi-arid, Kenya is
a water-scarce country
3 characterized by low rainfall. A
2013 study by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics
and Society for International Development
4 notes that only just over 50 per cent of Kenyans had access to an
improved water source,
5 with people living in urban areas
(72 per cent of the population) registering better access
than those in rural areas (44 per cent of the population).
The report also shows that 61 per cent of the population
had access to improved methods of waste disposal,
6 but the proportion of the population in rural areas with
improved sanitation was 53 per cent compared with 78
per cent for urban areas.
Efforts aimed at enhancing efficient, effective and
affordable water and sanitation services in Kenya, whether
by private entities or public institutions, are needed
to fulfil Kenya’s constitutional requirement that every
person has the right to clean and safe water in adequate
quantities, and to accessible and adequate housing and
reasonable standards of sanitation.
7 Improved access to
water services necessarily requires ensuring efficient and
effective governance in water services to include all key
Over the past decade, various national and devolved
public institutions have played a visible role in governing
water supply and sanitation services in Kenya. Reforms
in water governance
8 have been anchored in water sector
policies, legislation and regulations spearheaded by these
institutions. Most prominent is the Water Act 2002,
9 which remains the principal institutional framework
for the management, conservation, use and control of
water resources, and the regulation and management
of water supply and sewerage services in the country.
The Water Act 2002 decentralized Kenya’s water supply
and sanitation services to local levels and created new
institutions such as the Water Regulatory Services Board
(WASREB)and Water Services Boards. In addition, the
Water Services Trust Fund supports efficient provision
of water and sewerage services by the water service
providers. These include water and sanitation companies,
community groups, water projects, non-governmental
organizations, and autonomous entities established by
local authorities or other persons. The new structure
was meant to remove bottlenecks in the national water
administration and improve efficiency of service delivery.
Prior to reforms in the water and sanitation sector,
and water resources management in Kenya faced huge
challenges, including institutional weaknesses, inadequate
funding and conflicts due to overlapping roles and
responsibilities among key public institutions.
10 Kenya has enacted one of the most progressive
constitutions in the world in terms of human rights,
with Chapter Four (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution
recognizing water and sanitation services as a basic
human right. The Constitution of Kenya also provides
for public participation in the management of resources.
However, various factors limit participation by the poor
and marginalized. Participation imposes substantial
transaction costs, particularly for the poor, and they may
not view this as worthwhile, due not only to problems
in organizing collective action but also to the risks
of manipulated and meaningless participation, and
policies that transfer responsibility without authority.
11 The constitution does not provide for a mechanism
to measure the extent to which the government is
progressively realizing these rights.
12 Concerns over human rights issues have gained traction in
the global development agenda over the past two decades.
The emergence of the human rights-based approach to
development has changed the way many development
issues are conceptualized through important human
rights principles such as accountability, participation and
equality, and non-discrimination.
13 It has also provided an entry point for working with economic, social and
cultural human rights.
In 2010 and 2014, Forum Syd implemented two projects
– Tushirikishe Jamii and Jua Jimbo– in Kakamega,
Kisumu, Machakos and Nakuru counties. The projects
aimed to empower poor and marginalized communities
to demand their rights, including access to clean water
and sanitation, through participatory community
needs identification and prioritization exercises.
to safe water and sanitation services was singled out
2 | Accountability in WASH – Case studies from Kenya
as a primary need for the target communities. The
two projects promoted accountability mechanisms to
support communities gain public space in policy-making
processes, including on water and sanitation services
provision (See Chapter 4).
In 2015, Forum Syd, the International Institute for
Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Water Governance Facility at the Stockholm International
Water Institute (SIWI) co-hosted an event at World
Water Week entitled Democratizing Water through
Accountability – from Norms to Reality. The event
presented the Jua Jimbo project as a means to generate
discussion on how efforts to promote accountability
relations (both social and political) can help improve
water and sanitation service delivery.
After the interest generated during the event, SIWI and
Forum Syd decided to carry out a study to document
knowledge and lessons learned from the Tushirikishe
Jamii and the Jua Jimbo projects in Nakuru county, where
local communities deployed collective action in pursuit of
their human right to clean water and proper sanitation.
1.2 Study aims and objectives
The aim of this study was to better understand the social
accountability mechanisms that can improve the delivery
of water and sanitation services. It sought to answer
the question of how local communities engage with
decision-makers to realize their human right to water and
The study had two interlinked objectives:
• To identify the applied social accountability
mechanisms employed by communities to demand
better water and sanitation services.
• To document how the delivery of water and sanitation services can be improved through social accountability mechanisms.
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