Kenya's water insecurity problem

NAIROBI – For most people in Kenya, getting clean water is a daily struggle.

Geographically, the country is located in a region in which rainfall varies, falling in different quantities over different parts of the country.

Water abstraction – both to supply urban areas and to feed agriculture – has increased significantly in recent years, leading to water scarcity.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that, in most parts of Kenya, women and children spend roughly one third of their day fetching water.

"Through the phenomenon of deforestation and degradation of water sheds, Kenya has diminished nature's capacity to provide the quantities of water that it provided in the past," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner told The Anadolu Agency.

"The forest cover area has been significantly reduced, which means the ability of nature to harvest and store rainwater over the course of the year has significantly diminished," he said.

Steiner went on to point out that, in a country like Kenya where 70 percent of water used goes to the agricultural sector, the government must invest in better systems of water distribution.

"We need to look at how we can use water more efficiently… by introducing more drought-resistant crops," he said.

"We can practice water harvesting and also learn to maintain the water sheds that very often provide the runoff in the rivers that supply agriculture," the UN's top environment expert added.

He said Kenyans, whose numbers are estimated at some 44.3 million, should understand the importance of harvesting rainwater, significant amounts of which are usually lost to waste.

"If they don't do this, that means that 90 percent of your wastewater isn't available for human use anymore," Steiner warned.

-Wise-

The UNEP chief, meanwhile, praised the Kenyan government for its handling of recently discovered water aquifers.

"There is a certain significant amount of water that has been discovered in Turkana. The question is, what kind of economy do we want to build around that availability of water?" he asked.

Steiner added: "The Kenyan government is wise in trying to look at the development plan that could sustain the growing economy in the Turkana region and, at the same time, check that the management of water resources isn't done as if there were a limitless water supply."

In 2013, Kenya discovered large water aquifers in Turkana County in the country's northeast, one of Africa's driest and hottest – and poorest – regions.

The county is known for being home to Kenya's pastoralist communities. Most residents live on the blood, milk and meat they obtain from the livestock they raise.

Yet two years after the discovery of the vast water reserves, which could reportedly keep the country in water for 70 years, the local community nevertheless remains thirsty.

Steiner, however, hailed the government's decision not to rush the development project.

"Having said that, however, there are people who have lived there for hundreds of years. They are mostly pastoralists who have learned to manage water scarcity as part of their tradition," he said.

"The government should not only put boreholes in the area and make them sedentary, they should enhance water points – both for animals and people – that the local communities can benefit from," the expert added.

Steiner went on to say that, by 2030, one third – or more – of the world's population would experience water scarcity.

"It is high time that we recognize that water scarcity and water security are critical issues to our harmonious existence within our communities, and also with neighboring countries," he added.

Last week, water experts from around the world met at the UN's offices in Nairobi to discuss global water security.

According to a report issued during the three-day meeting, 11 percent of the earth's population – roughly 783 million people – don't have access to safe and clean water.

The report showed that the situation was even more serious in Africa, where some 457 million people lacked access to basic sanitation.

"Water is something that can unify us if we manage it properly," Steiner told AA. "Or it can divide us terribly if we find ourselves with our backs to the wall with no water."

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