No water, no growth, environmentalists warn


URBAN WATER SHORTAGE: A potential urban water crisis in coming years could damage the economy and abort the country’s search for prosperity for all, environmentalists and water experts at the Third International Water Association (IWA) Development Congress and Exhibition warned.

A conference in Nairobi organised by the Water Services Providers Association (WASPA) and the IWA both noted that water — or the lack of it — is one of the biggest issues facing urban Africa.  The continent will see a 66 per cent population increase to 1.2 billion people by 2050, according to the United Nations.

Potential killer

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, water scarcity already affects every continent.

Around 1.2 billion people, or almost a fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation.

Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage — where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to transport water from rivers and aquifers.

Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.

Water shortages have long plagued parts of the continent, and have become the potential killer of Africa’s economic takeoff.

Kenya, for instance, has primed its sights on prosperity for all under the Vision 2030 economic blueprint, but now risks aborting its dreams if the challenge of urban water provision is not addressed.

Besides being a water scarce country, Kenya is also a water storage deficient country.

Statistics project an increase in the number of Kenyans moving to cities and urban centres.

Rapid population growth is projected to hit 64 million by 2030. It is also predicted that 68 per cent of the Kenyan population, or about 43 million, will live in cities and urban centres by 2030.

Currently, an estimated 18 per cent of the population, that is 7 million, is said to live in cities and urban areas.

This far outstrips the level of investment in water resource development, coupled with the vagaries of climate change, and calls for urgent increased investment in the crucial sub-sector.

In Nairobi, for example, the daily demand for water stands at 600,000 metric cubes against a supply of 500,000 metric cubes.

This worsens during drought periods, when only 260,000 metric cubes of water are supplied daily.

“Although the urban water and sanitation coverage has increased over the years, a gap of 30 per cent still needs to be filled to reach the sector target of over 80 per cent coverage by 2015,” WASPA noted.

Out of a national population of 41,745,000 people, only about half (21,380,000) have access to safe and clean drinking water, while only about 26,603,000 people in urban areas have access to sanitation.

According to annual water sector reports, Kenya’s annual water requirements have increased from 2 billion cubic metres in 1990 to 4 billion cubic metres in 2000 to 6 billion cubic meters in 2010, an average of 3.5 to 4 per cent per year.

If this rate is adopted, the current demand stands at an average of 7 billion cubic metres.

“With the water shortage in Nairobi, for example, and the projected rise in demand, there is greater need to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of water and wastewater utilities; break new ground in universal access to sanitation; and optimise resource allocation along the water, food and energy nexus,” said WASPA.

The association added that new training to tackle the emerging challenges of urban water scarcity would stave off a potentially catastrophic crisis.

Health implications

Failure to take heed will have serious health implications as 80 per cent of diseases and 50 per cent of hospital admissions are attributed to a lack of access to clean water and/or sanitation.

This would dent the country’s campaign for healthy citizens as envisioned in  Vision 2030.

Statistics indicate that for economic development and prosperity, about 67 per cent of water resources should be allocated to agriculture, 4 per cent to industries and 1 per cent to tourism. The rest should go to human, domestic and social services.

Also ringing loud through the conference hall at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre was the sobering reality that water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon.

“There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people, but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed,” the conference concluded, making the call for sustainable water usage.

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