Residents of Cape Town in South Africa are braving themselves for the worst of times. They are steeling themselves to beat "Day Zero", when reservoirs will all run dry and taps will be shut off in the city's homes, forcing its affluent residents to queue for water in several water points. The acute shortage is blamed on a three-year drought that has ravaged the region.
It is not surprising that up North, Nairobi is faced with severe water shortages. Yet it is the parallel in efforts employed by the two authorities to address the challenge -and the causes-that are a matter of interest.
Besides little or no investment in developing water sources over the last 30 years, the absence of a solid plan to address the current crisis is hurting millions in Nairobi and by creating inconvenience and exposing many of them to diseases. But unlike the case of Cape Town, Nairobi's problems are bigger and systemic. And even now, authorities in Nairobi have not come out to rally the people to conserve or use water sparingly. In Cape Town, authorities have taken to Social Media to exhort residents to use water well by offering such tips as flushing the toilet only once.
Conservative water sharing schedules have been adopted to limit supply, but such interventions do nothing to solve the underlying problem of sourcing.
Most of the city's water is harvested from rivers which dry up in the dry season. Yet millions of litres of surface water from the rooftops get washed off into the Indian Ocean wherever it rains. City authorities should encourage rain-water harvesting as a first step.
With a soaring population, the city’s water problems can only get worse. At the annual growth rate of over 4 per cent, the number of Nairobi residents and homes have more than tripled since 1988 when Ndakaini Dam was established.
Before Ndakaini, the population growth was closely matched with the development of water sources from the time Nairobi came into being. Approximately every two decades starting 1906 when Kikuyu Springs was developed, there would be an additional source, which explains why water has never been a major problem.
Rains were also more predictable, and this helped authorities improve plans for the consumption and ensure taps ran continuously. But in dealing with the present population size, Nairobi has become more vulnerable to longer spells of drought. To remedy this, urgent and concrete interventions are necessary.