Kenya must get it right now on harnessing key water resources

The writing is on the wall. If Kenya does not address the way it nurtures and harnesses its water resources, the precious commodity will be hard to find in the next 15 years. A global water crisis is looming and is already taking its toll on a number of countries whose water resources cannot match the recharge of the commodity and demands of their ever-growing population. Although global trends indicate water scarcity is not exclusively a Third World challenge, and is likely to trigger a crisis in developed economies such as the US, Kenya is in a precarious position.

The signs are evident. The country is in a food and water crisis because the long rains, which normally start in mid-March, have delayed. Consequently, over 20 counties are staring at famine because of biting drought and the situation can only get worse unless there is sufficient rain. But even if it rains, the country does not seem to be pursuing effective water and sewerage management policies.

Sections of the country including Nairobi’s upmarket areas have been afflicted by cholera, which is always expected to hit areas prone to waterborne diseases, such as poor neighbourhoods. This is indictment of the country’s handling of water, sewer and related health complications. That the sewerage systems in most urban areas are in need of an overhaul is not in doubt. The leakages continue to contaminate piped water and the aquifers.

Kenya should not live dangerously as it hurtles towards an uncertain future of food and water insecurity. We can learn from other countries such as Israel which have turned the challenges brought about by water scarcity into opportunities for innovation and growth. Israel has demonstrated that it is possible to recycle water and reuse it for agriculture and at the same time, apply technology and research to develop varieties of crops which require little water.

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If Kenya adopts technology in the water sector to eliminate leakages and use drip irrigation instead of relying on rain-fed farming, the scarce resource would be optimally used and the food security enhanced. Kenya should stop the obsession of constructing dams and start using underground water prudently. We could also deploy technology to desalinate water from Lake Turkana, Baringo, Magadi and the Indian Ocean.

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