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Water harvesting slakes thirst at an innovative Kenyan inn

Faced with an expensive and unreliable municipal water supply, an entrepreneur collects rainwater for his inn in an underground tank, creating an abundant supply for the guest rooms, toilets, bathrooms, kitchen, and restaurant.

By Pius SawaAlertNet / July 23, 2012

Gaitano Likhavila supplies water for his KwelaKwela Inn in Kenya solely from the rainwater he collects and stores in an underground tank. He saves money and also ensures that he has a reliable, safe water supply.

Pius Sawa/AlertNet

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KAKAMEGA, Kenya

When Gaitano Likhavila was still working as an accountant at the provincial hospital in the west Kenyan town of Kakamega, he ran into a situation that got him thinking about water.

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“There was a serious water shortage that made the hospital administration almost close down the hospital. At the same time, a lot of rainwater from the roofs was wasted, running down to the River Isikhu, but nobody thought of getting hold of this free water,” says Likhavila.

In 2007, he left the hospital and set up a business, now known as the KwelaKwela Inn, along the Kakamega-Kisumu highway. The venue, which occupies three-quarters of an acre, is well-known for traditional African foods, cultural performances, drinks, and lodging, and has a large garden for outdoor functions.

But as he built his business he faced one big challenge: a shortage of water. At first he paid local women to carry water on their heads from the Isikhu River, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away, for cooking, drinking, washing, and other daily use.

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“It was very expensive for me, because I needed a lot of water to run my business on a daily basis. Not that the water from government was not available, but it was not reliable,” he explains.

But the Isikhu River also dries up between rainy seasons when there is very little precipitation, and the situation has been getting worse each year due to changes in the weather patterns, experts say.

“Today there is no predicting [the weather],” said Moses Agumba, head of the Lake Victoria South Water Services Board, which operates in the area. Increasing deforestation and climate change have made rainfall erratic, he said.

The Lake Victoria Water Development Authority, a government department that connects homes to piped water supplies, depends on the Isikhu River to pump water into its storage facilities. When water shortages hit, rationing becomes the only way to serve the population.

Likhavila didn’t see the point in applying for a water connection for his business, as it was expensive and unreliable.

“I saw that I needed a lot of water. I thought very hard and came up with an idea of harvesting my own water,” he says.

He paid some men to dig a hole 10 feet deep and 10 feet wide. He used the soil to bake bricks for the construction of an underground tank, and bought iron bars, wire mesh, and water-proof cement.

He then got a plumber to fit a network of pipes around the edges of his sheet-iron roof, channeling rainwater runoff into the tank.

Today there is a dining area for visitors on top of the underground tank, and all that can be seen of it is a lid and an electric pump in the corner that draws up water.

Likhavila has also installed plastic water-storage tanks on his roofs. He pumps water from the underground tank up to these roof tanks to supply the guest rooms, toilets, bathrooms, kitchen, bars, and restaurant.

“I get a lot of water when it rains,” he says. “I first fill the overhead tanks, which can take several weeks to empty.”

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