Opinion  :: Columns  :: Nairobi Notebook


Water is everybody's business
Eric Ombuk
Published: 21-JUL-06

Since the last quarter of last year, Kenya and indeed the East Africa region has been experiencing an unprecedented biting drought that has only abated since the second quarter of this year.

The long dry spell claimed several human lives as well as huge stocks of livestock. This also resulted in malnutrition, the able-bodied abandoning their families to go and look for food and pastoralist communities fighting over scarce pasture.

Finally the rains have come and we are all supposed to breathe a sigh of relief. Instead some parts of the country have been hit by severe water shortage as others wallow in floods.

As the raging waters destroy property in rural areas, sometimes forcing residents to relocate to higher ground, in urban areas the drainage system brings business to a standstill, resulting in massive loss of time. Both human and vehicular movement grind to a halt and everyone runs late, resulting in business meetings being cancelled and traders of anything but umbrellas registering less sales.

Although the United Nations has classified Kenya as chronically water scarce with the national coverage of safe drinking water estimated at 40 percent, this should not be the case. There is usually a lot of talk on harvesting water during the dry spells but nothing is done when the rains come, yet several parts of Kenya receive above average rainfall every year.

Communities can engage in roof top rain harvesting in both high and low rainfall areas. We could decide to go fl at out and begin a campaign to re-design roofs of existing houses to have gutters linked to tanks. This has the potential to make small households self-sufficient in terms of their water needs.

Drinking water for livestock can then be channeled and stored in underground tanks and on-ground water facilities can be designed to recharge ground water either directly through a borehole or indirectly where there are unconfined aquifers. If we harvested water, we would not have to worry about electricity being rationed due to low water levels in dams used for electricity generation.

If we harvested water, we would reduce the occurrence of water borne diseases. If we harvested water, we would be able to grow crops even in dry areas all year round and food security at household and national level would be enhanced.

At a large-scale level, industrial establishments should be encouraged to recycle water, instead of discharging it with toxic pollutants into the environment.

The immediate benefits of this could be a reduction in water bills for large commercial and industrial enterprises, besides improving the state of the environment.

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation which in recent years has received an increased budget to sink boreholes, wells and water panels could consider investing in water recycling centers, particularly in places where most of the scarce commodity runs off into waste after a downpour.

The urban drainage systems should be linked to a central holding facility, where the collected water could be treated and pumped back into the pipes supplying water to taps.

The government should provide tax incentives to individuals who choose to invest their time and money in piping systems, boreholes, water equipment such as generators and drilling machinery, water treatment chemicals, irrigation gadgets and other accessories necessary to ensure water is everyone�s business.

In one of its performances, a local stand-up comedy group once depicted a politician in the then ruling party, KANU, wondering why there was drought in parts of the country while the Indian Ocean at the Kenyan Coast or Lake Victoria in Western Kenya for that matter could be �extended� to provide water for irrigation in the affected regions.

It may sound like a far-fetched joke but the communities around these two water bodies have no excuse for water scarcity or any reason for not engaging in irrigation agriculture. The joke could be an opportunity to invest in desalting the waters of the ocean and purifying the waters of the world�s second largest fresh water lake. The joke could just create additional food basket regions for the country.

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