How Kenya’s rivers affect your bank account

A river passing through a section of Maasai Mau Forest in Narok county on August 28, 2019.[Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

There are 3,085 rivers in Kenya according to the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA). Some are large like River Tana and River Athi, while others are smaller and only known locally like Perkerra River in Baringo County and Kathita River in Meru County. But whether you know them or not, the flow of these rivers affects your life in various ways. Whether you live in an urban estate like Umoja or a rural area like Changwithya, your survival and prosperity are intertwined with the survival and flourish of these rivers.

Tana River, together with its tributaries, is responsible for 70 per cent of Kenya’s hydropower. This means every time you switch on the lights in your house, Tana River is at work although you cannot see it or hear its flow. It powers electricity that in turn powers computers in homes, offices and the industries that provide jobs for millions. As such, you may never have heard of tributaries of Tana River like Thiba, Kathita, Ena, Ura and Runjweru, but these rivers play a key role in generating the electricity that produces light in your home and manufacturing thousands of products churned from our factories into supermarket shelves.

As if this is not enough, Tana River and its loyal tributaries provide a whopping 80 per cent of the water that Nairobi’s five million people consume! Mzima springs and Marere springs, on the other hand, provide a bulk of the water consumed by millions of coastal residents. In this regard, every time you open the taps in your kitchens and bathrooms, the water that flows out originates from such rivers and their tributaries.

Against this backdrop, we must hold our rivers in high regard. Ironically and tragically, we have neglected and abandoned our rivers. This inexcusable abandonment is exemplified by a river like Nairobi River, which we have turned into a flow of death. The fact that this river is heavily polluted is no secret.

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In the US, the Clean Water Act of 1972 mandated that all waterways must be of sufficient quality to be safe for swimming and aquatic life by 1983. Whether achieved or not, such is the radical spirit that we need in protecting and restoring our rivers. That is why we should demand of our political leaders in Nairobi that they should commit to swim in Nairobi River every year on Jamhuri Day.

That’s right, starting this year, Nairobi Governor, Senator, Women Representative, Members of Parliament and County Assembly should wade into Nairobi River and swim for a few minutes. If they can’t because the river is too dirty, then they must equate their leadership with the status evident in that river. More importantly, they must spell out what new legislation they commit to employing to restore and protect Nairobi river. The mere talk will not help anyone only radical action is needed NOW!

Similar radical restoration is needed for all of our country’s rivers. Restoring and protecting these rivers goes beyond the actual rivers into the five drainage basins that all our country’s rivers are a part of: Tana, Athi, Ewaso Ng’iro North, Rift Valley and Lake Victoria.

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The catchment areas in these basins launch the rivers whose water eventually flows into our taps. Restoring rivers can therefore only be complete when it is inclusive of restoration of degraded catchments.

Because rivers are responsible for both our survival and prosperity, we need to set the stage and enhance the prosperity that they can give us. For starters, protecting their flow means securing our energy and the industrial growth that depends on that energy. In addition, we should explore and execute more innovative forms of riverine economic growth like water sports and cage fishing.

When we spread the revenue net of our rivers in such fashion, we will appreciate them further and consequently protect them more. But this doesn’t mean that we should start to view rivers solely through economic lens. Rather, their vast economic potential should be a reminder of their priceless nature. God created these rivers for us to protect and draw nourishment from, not pollute and abandon. Think green, Act green!

 — The writer is the founder and chairperson, Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke

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