In February 2022, Commonwealth Alumnus Samwel Odongo Ouko delivered three dialogue sessions to representatives of community Water Management Committees (WMCs) and Water Resource User Associations (WRUAs) in Bunyala Sub-county in Kenya. The sessions were designed to strengthen the climate resilience management capacities of these two groups through the use of Community Score Cards (CSC). Samwel is a Program Manager working with a local NGO that promotes increased access to safe drinking water amongst vulnerable communities targeting girls and women. He was supported by Pascal Ondato Wanyama, Chairman of Bunyala Water Users Association, and Victor Magina, Water Officer in Bunyala sub-county, Kenya.

WMCs provide access to water services at the community level and WRUAs ensure water resources are maintained and provide access to safe water.

According to the Kenya Red Cross, floods continue to be the most devastating natural disasters posing significant risks to most parts of Kenya. The UN Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in 2020 that flooding occurred in approximately three-quarters of Kenya’s counties. This makes it one of the most flood-prone countries globally and this trend is expected to worsen in severity and intensity in the future because of climate change and other factors. Inadequate resources to cope with flood emergencies also continue to hinder early action, risk management, and resilience in the country.

At the same time, Kenya is classified as a water scarce country due to limited water resource endowment, rapid population increase, the impact of climate variability, neglect of the management of the water resource base, and continued degradation of water resources. The sustainability of water projects, especially those funded by the public, depends on the efficient implementation and management of local water systems. Therefore, a concerted effort to monitor and manage water projects to ensure their long-term impact whilst adopting climate resilient approaches to water resource management is required.

Implementing Community Score Cards

Community Score Cards (CSC) are a monitoring and evaluation tool used to strengthen accountability and service provision at the community level. They have been used across multiple sectors, including education, nutrition, and water and sanitation to enhance service quality for communities.

Samwel’s ACEF activity adopted CSC as both a governance and advocacy tool to identify areas for development in the rural water service sector. Through the activity and the use of CSC, Samwel engaged communities, local governments, and sector service providers to identify specific areas for improved access to quality, sustainable water services and increase accountability for improved service provision.

The Local Context

The activity was conducted in Bunyala Sub-county in western Kenya. The region is a low land area known for its vulnerability to flooding due to its proximity to Lake Victoria and the lake’s rising water levels. Between February-May 2020, Kenya experienced long rains which affected most of the country. However, in Bunyala-Sub county and those surrounding Lake Victoria, the rain did not stop and the area experienced severe flooding.

The main cause of the flooding was due to the back flowing of water in Lake Victoria, attributed to increasing water levels in the lake. The most affected populations were from Bunyala South and Bunyala Central. Over 1,296 households, accounting for more than 6,480 people, were affected and had to be moved to over 30 evacuation camps.

The need for an adequate and coordinated response to secure access to safe water services in the event of flooding and displacement is critical to supporting communities during this time.

Evaluating roles and responsibilities

The ACEF activity engaged community WMCs and WRUAs in evaluating their roles and responsibilities to make community water points reliable and identifying ways to implement climate resilient approaches to water resource management. The activity was delivered through the organisation and facilitation of three dialogue sessions with the two stakeholder groups. The sessions were led by Samwel and Pascal Ondato Wanyama, Chairman of the Bunyala Water Users Association, and Victor Magina, Water Officers in Bunyala sub-county, Kenya.

The dialogue sessions were delivered to 16 participants, representing five community WMCs and five WRUAs. The first two dialogue sessions brought together representatives from the WMCs and WRUAs separately. During these sessions, they analysed their roles and how they contribute to the provision of water services, referring to the agreed service indicators.

The final session was an interphase between both groups. Using notes from the previous dialogue session and the CSC, the WMCs provided a score of the local WRUAs in promoting and supporting water service quality standards. Together, participants were able to use this and further discussions to develop an action plan to address the identified gaps.

Action points for the future

As a result of the dialogue sessions, a joint monitoring committee representing both WMCs and WRUAs was formed to follow-up on actions agreed during the sessions. Government water officers were co-opted in the joint monitoring committee to provide technical support and facilitate the engagement of government offices. A measurement framework was proposed to monitor the action points. This will consist of ratings against the identifiable deliverables of WMCs and WRUAs.

The tentative indicators identified included the number of:

  • Water points visited to assess the status of their climate resilience in the selected ward
  • Public education sessions held on environmental conservation and responsible water use in the selected ward
  • Government offices visited by the joint monitoring committee for collaborative engagement and to support opportunities in water resource conservation and management
  • Water points adopting cost effective climate smart operations and maintenance schedules aimed at improving reliability of water service management in the selected ward
  • WMC and WRUA members seeking further information on their local roles in water resource and service management

Reflections from the sessions

Following the sessions, participants from the WMCs and WRUAs reported that they now understood and appreciated the synergies that exist between their roles in enhancing the efficient management of water resources and water services through local partnership and collaborative engagements. WMC participants also reported that they better understood the link between sustainable water service management and the adoption of climate resilient approaches in their respective operations and maintenance plans for water points and catchment areas.

Looking to the future, there was a positive consensus amongst participants to establish local, regional, and national platforms for WRUAs and WMCs to support better governance in the water resource conservation and management.