Why dwindling water sources risk sparking war

A girl fetches water for domestic use by the roadside after rains at Kendubay in Karachuonyo, Homabay County [Dennish Ochieng, Standard]
The next inter-tribal war in Kenya will not be about political power. We made it through 2013 and 2017 with no major issues which means we can do fine on this end. What Kenyans will fight over next will be natural resources starting with water. The signs are all over.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i got a taste of it first hand on Monday when a person was killed a stone throw away from where he was meeting local elders at Kamalong in Elgeyo Marakwet. In fact, 750 heads of cattle were stolen as fight for resources escalated in disregard of the presence of the third most powerful man in the country.

While it is no longer shocking that the Pokot-Elgeyo Marakwet border like other arid areas are insecure due to conflicts over resources, the current nationwide water scarcity should send alarm bells ringing. Water is central to all human activities, including food production.

Since we are territorial by nature like all animals, no person can allow their water resources to be compromised. When you escalate these isolated conflicts and add the anxiety over possibility of a drought laden future, you have a full scale ‘water war.’

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And while global warming has contributed to our current situation, it is also a fact that Kenya’s rivers are no longer flowing and lakes are drying up due to human activities on the country’s water towers.

It cannot be over emphasized that Kenya has lost most forest cover from independence and continues to do so. And in times like this when there is no water, it does not make sense for Kenya Forest Service to say it has allowed felling of non-indigenous trees.

Across the world conflicts on environmental resources have made or destroyed regimes, catapulted politicians from obscurity to power and killed the careers of others. Ten years ago there was a similar outcry over environmental degradation especially in Mau forest which provided Kenya with a chance to do the right thing.

Future generations

President Mwai Kibaki who had just attended the Copenhagen Climate Change conference promptly named 2010 the “Green Year for Kenya” and immediately rolled out plans to reclaim the Mau forest.

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But this was politicised when leaders from the Rift claimed their community was being targeted. In the end one side of government including the President, grew cold feet and didn’t attend symbolic tree planting in the forest.

To date the Mau issue remains one of the reasons NASA leader Raila Odinga is not President and William Ruto is Deputy President. Like in 2009, the current nationwide scarcity of water provides Kenya with a chance to do the right thing for future generations.

History has proven that great civilisations are born at the altar of crisis. In 1999 President Moi declared Aids a national disaster. The result has been an impressive reduction in HIV prevalence to 5.4 per cent in two decades.

Can you imagine what the situation would be 20 years from now if environmental degradation is declared a national disaster? If all Kenyans are made to plant a tree each as a government policy and environmental conservation is made a mandatory subject in schools?

Food security is number four on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda for his final term. However, you need water to grow food and you need trees to get that water. It is a cyclic scenario that now calls for inclusion of environmental regeneration as agenda 5.

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China this week assigned 60,000 soldiers to plant trees to combat pollution through increasing the forest cover. Last year, India planted 66 million trees in a record 12 hours through volunteers working in coordination with government.

There is no reason why this cannot be done in Kenya. A good point to start is the 15,000 NYS recruits who passed out last week. In 2014 we saw how the zeal by NYS made a difference through the slum upgrading project.

So if such energy and scale of resources is directed towards planting of trees in the upcoming rain season, the country will have made a step in the right direction.

- The writer is an investigations reporter for The Standard. [email protected]

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