Sustainable boreholes could be our ticket to prosperity

Meru Deputy Governor Titus Ntuchiu (right) and county executive Eunice Kobia during the commissioning of Nairiri borehole in Kianjai ward, Tigania East. [Darlington Manyara, Standard]
Kenya is facing a water crisis. Not availability of water but accessibility to the water already obtainable. The World Health Organisation recommends 1,000 cubic meters of water per person per year.

In Kenya, the surface and ground water available per person is about 1,700 cubic meters. Undeniably, some reports suggest that out of such availability, only 40 per cent is accessible to Kenyans and not 60 per cent as widely reported.

This must be addressed as a matter of urgency!

Once well managed and regulated, boreholes can drastically increase freshwater access to millions in rural areas who have to walk long distances in search of water plus millions in cities whose taps go dry for days. But before we think of drilling more boreholes, we need to refurbish and restore those already developed but not in use.

Kenya has 5,541 boreholes according to the Water Resources Management Authority (Warma). Embarrassingly, 60 per cent of these boreholes no longer work due to a variety of reasons including lack of capacity by communities to maintain them or pay for fuel to power water pumps. It is inexcusable for a borehole whether private or public to be a white elephant project. It is a no-brainer that such dormant boreholes must be revived and plans for their maintenance put in place. This is a subject I have severally suggested to our Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui and I pray something is being done.

However, haphazard drilling of boreholes is self-defeating because it can ultimately result in depletion of aquifers among a myriad of other associated hazards. By the way, the more our rivers dry, so do our boreholes. If we keep drilling for water irrespective of the recharge of that groundwater, we might find ourselves facing serious consequences. This is exactly what has happened to Mexico City, where the quest to drill as much water as possible has left the city literally sinking. That is because constant deeper drilling for more water weakened the city’s ancient clay lake beds.

Innovative action

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Nairobi City should be careful not to walk down this path. Although Nairobi requires 1.5 million metric tonnes of water daily, it only receives about 500,000 to 800,000 daily. The deficit ends up leading to unsustainable borehole drilling all over the city. In order to address such challenges decisively, I suggest that all County Governments need to actualise water distribution infrastructure and rehabilitation of dead boreholes.

Meanwhile, I suggest that Parliament fast tracks the draft National Water policy 2018. Water legislation is indeed critical in boosting water accessibility. Such legislation should introduce water officers similar to the historical agricultural extension officers who traversed the length and breadth of the country adding value to farming. In similar vein, part of the responsibilities of these proposed water officers will be to ensure the quality, quantity and impact of the water consumed from boreholes and shallow wells across the country.

Last year, I was privileged to participate in the annual World Water Week Conference that is hosted in Stockholm, Sweden. While there I met with global stakeholders and I got to appreciate need for collaborative and innovative action in solving our water miseries. Accordingly, we need to incorporate the private sector in increasing water accessibility. In the same way that the private sector stepped in to provide solutions to key sectors like transport and housing, it should be facilitated through relevant legislation to similarly provide innovative solutions to the country’s water accessibility crisis.

Because every Kenyan has a constitutional right to water, the Government must employ every nature of well-thought out innovation and partnerships to ensure that this right is not violated. The four out of ten Kenyans who do not have regular sufficient access to water are counting on such collaboration to address their water access and livelihood predicament.

Just as we have dealt with access to power through the last mile connectivity project, we need a national rallying call, legislation and action that will ensure water accessibility to the country’s 50 million people. Boreholes can open the door to this reality of increased water accessibility. A well-watered populace leads to a progressive Nation. Think green, act green!

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

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Water crisisBoreholesWarma