Clean Water – the problem politicians do not want to talk about.
The number of people in Kenya without access to clean drinking water is currently 16 million and increasing by nearly 3000 every single day. By 2030 the number of Kenyans without access to clean drinking water will be in excess of 35 million – yet there is no mention of this in the Vision 2030 Document – nor is there a realistic strategy for addressing it.
This is not just a story made up to frighten people – it is well documented and researched fact – apparently too uncomfortable for any government to talk about publicly.
Certainly part of the problem is drought caused by climate change. Significant areas of northern, western and south western Kenya have experienced reductions in annual rainfall by as much as 25% over the last 15 years. This has reduced flow rates in rivers and streams – caused lakes to shrink and groundwater to dry up – and in turn caused wells and boreholes to fail.
However the major reasons for the water crisis are entirely people driven. They are deforestation, pollution, poor management and planning of and for existing water resources and unsustainable population growth. All of these are dramatically affecting the quality of Kenya’s water – and all are ballooning problems that are simply not being tackled.
Deforestation and chemical fertilizer run-off have increased salinity and acidity levels and lowered the ph content of water throughout Kenya – often rendering it unsuitable for human consumption. Charcoal harvesters continue to do massive damage to Kenya’s forests and major water catchment areas. Sewerage, mining and industrial pollution is at unprecedented levels. The country is experiencing a population explosion that is unsustainable – and water management has probably never been so ineffective. These are the indigestible truths.
New carefully planned and explained strategies and programs are now urgently needed to meet the crisis. The drilling of boreholes and digging of wells by government, NGO’s and international aid agencies is no longer enough – and has probably not been for the last decade at least. There is evidence that half of drilled boreholes fail anyway due to poor management. Boreholes are no longer the solution in many places – they are too expensive – too difficult to maintain – and increasingly too unreliable.
So what is the solution? Perhaps the first thing is some public honesty about the gravity of the situation. It is a national problem and it will require a national effort to address. Everyone has to take a more responsible attitude to water. Politicians have to start talking about it – as do the media. Certainly governments, business and industry all need to place it much higher on their priority lists – and individuals – farmers – graziers – and householders all have to become more aware and more responsible.
The actual solutions – both small and large scale are probably very similar – ground and roof-top rainwater harvesting – storage – and treatment. Certainly new technologies are available to easily capture enough clean rain water to meet Kenya’s needs. On a small scale they can be very cost effective at a family and community level – and on a larger major public capital works scale they are essential to meet the needs of rapidly expanding urban populations and rural townships.
It even makes economic sense to invest in clean water – economic studies show that every dollar invested in clean water returns between nine and eleven dollars in public benefit. There is probably no better investment for government.
But the first thing is some truth about the enormity of the water crisis. It will be far easier to address if everyone understands how serious the problem is – and people will be far more likely to play a role in its solution if they know their well-being depends on it.