I just returned from an excellent exchange with colleagues in Mombasa, Kenya who are working on creative ways to increase access to safe and affordable water in the city and surrounding communities.  Common Cause is partnering with the group in conjunction with Sister Cities International to assist in putting together the campaign.

     The water situation in Mombasa is grave.  Mombasa doesn't have a nearby source of fresh water and has to rely on water from Mzima Springs which is hours a way (a beautiful place where the hippos live).  The water has to travel through antiquated pipes and when it reaches Mombasa it is distributed through an equally aging and leaky water infrastructure, a problem that is further exacerbated by some residents taping into the pipelines illegally and selling the water at high rates.   

     The water is under the authority of the Mombasa Water and Sewage company.  Their goal is to distribute water to residents who don't have water taps, or whose taps aren't producing water because of the deficits in the system, by contracting with vendors around the community. There are rules the vendors must abide by like;  they have to sell the water (20 liters) for 2 shillings, they have to maintain the kiosks in a hygienic manner, they have to post their licenses, they may not tap illegally into the water system.  Many vendors violate these rules and sell the water at inflated prices, poorly maintain their kiosks, and fail to post their licenses lending to community doubt as to whether they are properly licensed to sell the water.  These problems are wide spread throughout the city.

     Amina Zuberi, the leader of the group and her colleagues Saad  Yusuf, Mishi Hamis, and Farida Rashid are running a dynamic campaign to work with the community and the water company to ensure that vendors are following the proper guidelines and fulfilling their vital role in providing safe water to the community.  Of the 50 or so kiosks we examined on my trip throughout Mombasa, only one of the kiosks followed the proper rules....and it was closed.  

     To address the issue the group is taking advantage of local resources.  Kenyans love their cell phones, they pay bills on them, bank with them, send money to one another on them.  To take advantage of the technology the group is using the  Ushahidi platform (it means "witness" in Kiswahili and was developed in Kenya during the election related violence in 2008) to encourage residents to report abuses via their cell phones.   When a resident sends a text message to the platform the information is displayed on a map and allows everyone to monitor where the problems are so that water officials can address them.  You can visit the website here.  http://mombasawater.crowdmap.com/

If you want to learn more about the campaign and follow its development you can visit http://www.mombasawateraccountabilitycampaign.org/index.html where the leaders will be blogging about their experiences.