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Kenya's city of Mombasa faces wrath of nature

By Philip Mwakio and Ngumbao Kithi | Published Tue, May 29th 2012 at 00:00, Updated May 29th 2012 at 07:51 GMT +3

By Philip Mwakio and Ngumbao Kithi

There has been a surge in sinking boreholes to tap water for commercial use in Mombasa owing to perennial water shortage. [Photo: Mohamed Maarufu /Standard]

Mombasa City, the gem of Africa’s Coastline and the dream travel destination of many tourists worldwide, is not just facing the threat of ‘drowning’ over rising sea level.

The ground on which this Coastal city is sitting on is also swaying under the weight of unregulated boreholes and construction of high-rise buildings on the shoreline, which has led not only to the Island’s instability but to its impending collapse into the sea.

It is in view of the two developments — the first linked to the supernatural force of global climate change fast-tracked by human activity and the second fuelled by pure greed and negligence — that experts are now predicting a catastrophe for Mombasa.

The sinking of boreholes poses the additional risk of fostering the sipping of seawater, into fresh-water sources on the Island, while also weakening its soil structure. Unmonitored wells lead to contaminated water sources.

The new warning comes four days after scientists and researchers said Mombasa, Lamu and other Coastal Islands could disappear into the sea in about 50 years — by around 2062 — due to the rising of sea levels in the South and North Poles and Greenland which have the world’s largest glaciers.

Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) researcher and scientist in charge of sea-level monitoring, Dr Charles Magori said that owing to historical water shortage in Mombasa, there has been a surge in sinking boreholes to tap water for commercial use.

“Boreholes sunk close to each other in construction sites that are coming up in and around Mombasa Island could easily interfere with the stability of the ground, making it susceptible to erosion,’’ the expert warned.

There are a number of boreholes sunk within the larger Mombasa Municipality, reportedly through support of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and philanthropists.

Checks and balances

Magori added that the Ministry of Water through the Water Resource Management Authority (WARMA) has clear rules for those who want to sink boreholes or put up soak pits but these are often flouted.

“WARMA issues licenses for applicants…there is need to put checks and balances as Mombasa already has high number of boreholes already,’’ Magori explained.

He said there was limitation to the size of (water) aquifers on the island depending on the rock and earth structure.

Meanwhile, the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) warned that not all boreholes in Mombasa meet safety standards and not all were sunk after sound Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

Mr Benson Wemali, an environmental inspector in Mombasa County explained the authority has drawn its own set of rules on sustainable use of boreholes, but WARMA remains the lead agency.

“We do not allow construction near septic tanks or pits as water can sip in and get polluted,’’ Wemali said. On the other hand, reports that Mombasa is a sinking city has stunned many residents because they told the ‘drowning’ effect has already been witnessed in Tanzanian coast where Maziwe Island disappeared in 2005.

Emuhaya MP Dr Wilbur Ottichilo sparked debate on Thursday, when he predicted Mombasa and other tiny islands on the Kenyan coast could disappear owing to rising global temperatures that had spurred melting of glaciers around the world.

Addressing a climate change forum in Kwale, Dr Ottichilo who is an expert in this study, and  chairs Parliament’s caucus on the new global headache, explained that climate vulnerability is a leading cause of the rise in sea level.

Magori, however, believes the threat of Mombasa’s submersion is exaggerated, while another expert, Dr Hadley Benney Becha, argues these predictions are not farfetched because Tanga’s Maziwe Island has already been submerged.

“Already coral reefs that support marine life are changing colour indicating a rise in temperatures and will soon lead to the depletion of fish stocks affecting livelihoods and economic sustenance at the coast,” warned the Emuhaya MP.

The legislator, who is one of the exponents of proposed legislation on climate change, said that in order to prevent a catastrophe, Kenya and other countries ought to put in place joint initiatives, and explained that the proposed Bill seeks to impose new guidelines on the energy sector and slash gas emissions.

Climate change

He said vulnerable communities ought to be taught adaptation measures including elimination of charcoal production.

“Climate change is a reality and will be with us in the next 50 years, therefore sound policies and mitigation measures are required to deal with the risks associated with it,” advised Ottichilo.

Magori argued it was possible for the island to disappear but not in the lifetime of the next three generations, but warned that the Lamu

Archipelago is more vulnerable. It is estimated that sea level is rising at the rate of 1-2 millimetres per year.

“We are still safe. Mombasa island sits at four metres above the mean sea level, which is the level between the high water and the low water,’’ revealed the expert.

The scientist said Mombasa sits at a higher level than the Northern side of the Coastal strip which encompasses Lamu Archipelago.

“Lamu area which lies on what is known as the Northern Kenyan Banks (NKB) is a low-lying Coastal area and is thus vulnerable to effects

of sea level rises because of its topographical setting,’’ he said.

The expert said the only grave concern about Mombasa Island was the unregulated drilling of boreholes and digging of soak pits.


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