Mr David Kuria holds River Mbagathi dear. Every evening, when he comes from work, he takes a shower in the river before crossing to his home in Gataka. This is a common trend among many other residents of Nairobi.
“I have to do this because we do not have enough water at home, so this saves me some money, which I can use for other necessary needs,” says Kuria.
But the river has now been reduced to a trickle with exposed rocks. The effects of the prolonged dry season are beginning to bite.
Kuria, like many Nairobi residents, has to buy water from vendors because his taps are often dry. A 20-litre jerrycan goes for Sh20. Kuria, who earns an average of Sh400 a day from his menial jobs, therefore has to devise a way to cuts costs.
Even as Kenya celebrated the International Day of Forests, World Water Day and the World Meteorological Day this week, water scarcity remains a challenge for almost every Kenyan, thanks to the degradation of catchment areas.
Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko says the country is on the right track to achieving a 10 per cent forest cover. “The moratorium we put in place as government has been key in ensuring that forest and water resources are safeguarded,” says Tobiko.
Monica Kalenda, the acting chief conservator of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), says that apart from just conserving forests, there should be a deliberate move to plant trees in open spaces.
Climate change has been blamed for the changing weather patterns, including prolonged droughts. In the past two months, Kalenda says, 120 cases of fire outbreaks have been reported in 15 counties.
With depleted forest resources, water resources are directly affected.
The recently released Living Planet Report 2018 by the World Wide Fund for Nature International (WWF) showed that each person had 2,000 cubic metres of clean water for a year in 1971. This has since dropped to below 500 cubic metres and is still falling.
Julius Kipngetich, the former Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director, however opines that the available water per person is about 10 per cent of what it was in 1971.
“When I was in KWS, I was shocked to find that the water per capita was actually 200 cubic metres,” said Kipngetich, who now heads Jubilee Insurance.
Depleted water resources and a rising population is a problem Kenya has to deal with. Water.org, an international organisation that advocates for access to clean water, states that two out of five Kenyans rely on unimproved water sources like ponds, shallow wells and rivers, with a further three out of five using unimproved sanitation solutions.
“Only nine out of 55 public water service providers in Kenya provide continuous water supply. A majority of Kenyans therefore have to figure out solutions to guarantee this basic need, on their own,” states water.org.
Despite continued reforestation efforts through the years, Kenya’s forest cover is still below the global threshold, with KFS putting it at a disputed figure of about seven per cent.
The concern over forests as critical biodiversity, water catchment areas and carbon sinks, was a critical topic during the just-concluded fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a commitment that Kenya will achieve 10 per cent forest cover by 2022.