Issues around shared water resources should be addressed urgently

A section of Tana River. It covers Nyeri, Nyandarua, Murang’a, Embu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kirinyaga, Kitui, Tana River and Garissa counties. [Courtesy]
Some people have to buy water for their domestic use. Others wait for rationing hours to access the water. In many towns, water bowsers are the main suppliers of this basic household commodity.

Sometimes, water is available. Other times it is not, depending on factors such as water levels at source, and of course the behavior of water stakeholders (vendors, water management bodies at county governments, among others) towards supply, access, and management.

Water access and management, not just in towns, but also in rural areas, is a major concern. It is manifesting itself in the way counties are beginning to suspiciously treat each other. We now know that even in accessing water, there is such a thing as the haves and have-nots. Some people water their flower beds daily while others take a shower (or a bath) on the third day, yet all of them live in the same county and same country. This disparity is a water management problem, not just an access problem.

Recent tension between upstream and downstream counties on a shared water ecosystem was a subject of intense discussion at a national conference organised by Jesuit Hakimani Centre in Nairobi two weeks ago.

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The conference resolutions resonated well with the idea that to mitigate the effects of climate change on water access, we must consider our attitudes and behavior towards water sources, their management, and sustainability beyond merely drawing water. Besides, there is a need for preparedness in handling the increasingly unpredictable weather shocks as happened recently in Mozambique, which was hit by cyclone Idai.

The consumer

Further, the fact that people buy water because the government cannot meet the basic right leaves residents at the mercy of water business people, some of whom are cartels. While competition to supply can advantage the consumer, the kind of competition in the water sector is between suppliers who are in business in a role that the government should play and therefore consider what they get out of the market in spite of the economic hardships their customers could be facing. In the spirit of a free market, the consumers are hard hit buying water at uncontrolled prices since they must buy it anyway. Again, borrowing from the policy proposals made in the conference, there is need for water policy at two levels. The access and the management levels both of which if well understood and implemented, will, in turn, improve climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.

At the access level, the major focus is to ensure the preservation of water towers all over the country to ensure water flow. Kenya has six main water basins namely; Athi Basin, Tana Basin, Rift Valley Basin,

Lake Victor North Basin, Lake Victoria South Basin and Ewaso Nyiro Basin. Of these Athi and Tana Basins are the most expansive but also the most at risk due to human activities and natural factors. Notably, the Tana River, for example, covers 10 counties: Nyeri, Nyandarua, Murang’a, Embu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kirinyaga, Kitui, Tana River and Garissa.

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Traditional sources

A river of this significance needs preservation at all levels, otherwise there are real risks conflicts could emerge between the upstream and downstream counties. To ensure access to water, county governments supported by the national government need to consider a policy that will promote access to clean, safe and adequate drinking water to the residents of urban centers as well as rural settings. Second access to sufficient water that secures, enhances and sustains traditional sources of livelihood (subsistence agriculture and livestock keeping) for the majority of Kenyans living in the rural areas along the shared eco-system.

At the management level, the policy engenders and nurtures citizens’ behaviour change towards preserving environmental integrity and responsibility within and along the shared ecosystem. It resolves non-violently structural conflicts over the natural resources along the basins; protects the catchment areas of the Kenya Water Towers in the upstream counties as well as the river basin ecosystem in the down-stream counties and incorporates the tenets of climate governance standards. These build resilient communities, progressively increases county climate finance kitty, and that ensures a gender-responsive management framework of climate-smart water governance in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.

The government will stand to gain more in climate change initiatives if it considers that unless water access and management is properly and conclusively addressed, people will continue to destroy forests, practice destructive and unproductive farming, continue diverting rivers for selfish interests and as a result of all these, cause great harm to the shared human and wildlife ecosystem.

Dr Mokua is executive director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre

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Tana RiveTana RiverLake VictorEwaso Nyiro Basin