The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

Disaster looming as the country's rivers dry up at alarming rate

 A resident, Maina Munene, inspects a section of a river near Mt Kenya forest whose water levels have receded due to illegal diversion to flower farms. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Gusii region has always been referred to as God's bathroom because of the many streams that originate there before snaking their long journey into Lake Victoria.

As the streams, springs and rivers thrived, agriculture blossomed while families effortlessly accessed clean water for domestic use.

But all that is slowly fading away. The rivers are drying up thanks to climate change, erratic weather patterns and destruction of forests and wetlands.

Until 1990, Kisii and Nyamira counties had lots of water flowing from swamps and marshlands. Today, people in the two counties queue at water points for the precious commodity.

When The Standard visited River Kuja that traverses the region, a group of women were struggling to draw water from a pool that still had water along the stretch of the river.

They stood in a file and took turns to draw water. A few metres from where they stood, a tributary that once drained into River Kuja was dry, with only footprints of wild animals visible.

For someone visiting the place for the first time, it is hard to tell that several years ago, the tributary, and several others, were flowing freely into River Kuja.

Maureen Moseti, one of the women, tells us that the volume of water in the river has reduced drastically, and most tributaries have dried up, forcing them to walk long distance to collect water.

"It is not easy. The state of the rivers is alarming. They are all drying up," she says.

Residents say the volume of water in River Kuja and its tributaries started reducing in the 80s. Today, the river's waters has reduced, so much that it now exposes the rocks that used to be buried deep in its belly.

The river is among several others across the country facing an uncertain future as water towers crumble under the weight of environmental destruction.

The prolonged drought in some parts of the country has worsened the situation.

Springs that were once the source of clean water have dried up as pressure piles on the few water sources remaining to serve a growing population.

 River Kuja in Nyatike, March 24, 2018. The river is among several others across the country facing an uncertain future. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

This is also the case of River Nyanchwa that has now gone completely dry. For several decades, River Nyanchwa was the source of livelihoods for several families before it dried up.

The source of the river at Getacho in Kisii town has dried up, forcing locals to source for water from other streams and springs.

River Nyakomisaro that cuts along Kisii University and through Kisii town is a pale showdown of itself. The water has been displaced by raw sewage from the ever growing town.

Its flow has also been affected by storey buildings constructed along the river.

Recent reports indicate that most families still rely on streams, rivers and springs for water, further piling pressure on the limited water resources.

Records at the Gusii Water Company indicate that less than 10 per cent of households have piped water, nearly 60 per cent depend on river water and 20 per cent on springs for daily life.

Samson Bokea, an environmentalist and a former director at the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), said the number of households depending on piped water is alarmingly low.

"Water needs should be well catered for so as to realise sustainable agriculture, industrialisation and ecosystem health."

A report by the Nyamira County Government Department of Water and Environment shows that one person in the country needs 1,000 cubic metres of water a year.

But due to failure to conserve water sources, only 500 cubic metres are available per person per year.

Kisii County Nema Director Leonard Offula said more than 40 per cent of wetlands and riparian areas have been destroyed in the area through encroachment.

"Human settlement, plantation and eucalyptus trees and brick making are the leading forms of destruction. There is also an issue of schools that have been built on those gazetted and protected land," he said.

In Coast region, Lake Jipe, one of the iconic lakes in the country, is on the verge of extinction, with the water volume in the lake reducing at an alarming speed.

The lake is an important trans-boundary wetland ecosystem on the border of Kenya and Tanzania that covers an estimated 30 square kilometres.

According to various studies, the factors contributing to the lake's extinction include drought, deforestation, overgrazing and invasive water weeds.

During a consultative meeting in Voi, Taita Taveta County, stakeholders heard that the reduced water volume is affecting wildlife conservation and fishing.

 Lake Jipe in Taita-Taveta County. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

The meeting brought together senior Kenya Wildlife Service officials, tourism players and ranchers from the region.

Present at the meeting were KWS Head of Parks and Reserves George Osuri and County Commissioner Loyford Kibaara.

"There are several infrastructures coming up at the lake that are making it lose its ecological status," noted Pascal Mutula, a hotelier.

A recent study revealed that the lake has lost about 50 per cent of its water mass in the past 10 years due to siltation caused by destruction of the water catchment areas and farmlands, proliferation of typha weed and diversion of fresh water recharge from River Lumi.

Environmental experts noted the lake's salinity has increased, while the depth and the biodiversity have decreased. Hippos and crocodiles have migrated upstream due to the salinity.

"The lake is of global importance and the only place in the world where the fish Oreochromis Jipe is found and which is on the verge of extinction," said one of the experts.

On Sunday, Osuri and Kibaara confirmed the lake is facing severe ecological and environmental challenges that need urgent intervention.

Osuri said KWS would start engaging the locals and the county government on how to save the lake ecosystem.

"The lake is a resource that many people depend on for their economic livelihood," said Osuri.

The meeting heard that government-led projects in the basin have failed because they contributed to the displacement of people from their communal land.

This resulted in a lack of motivation to conserve Lake Jipe.

Furthermore, swampy areas have been illegally reclaimed for rice fields. These swamps or floodplains have a role in groundwater recharge and filtration points and their disappearance will have adverse environmental consequences.

"The collapse of the fishery is due to changes in water quality due to increased human activities in the catchments," the Global Nature Fund said in a statement in 2016.

A similar development is also taking place in the Rift Valley where several rivers that have served communities for decades started drying up.

In Iten town, taps in residential areas supplied by Iten Tambach water and sanitation company (ITWASCo), have gone dry.

Locals tell the Standard they go looking for water at the treatment plant in the town, the headquarters of ITWASCO. At the plant a 20-litre container is sold at Sh5 while 5,000 litres is sold at Sh500.

The company sells thousands of litters of water from as early as six in the morning to noon, and the water taps are turned to meet the demand in the institutions.

Jerson Kiplagat, the Elgeyo Marakwet water, environment and climate change executive, said the multi-billion shilling Sabor water project, which supplies water for the town's residents, is almost drying up due to drought.

He said to supplement the supply of water to the over 3,000 people in Iten, Tambach and Kessup, they had resorted to pumping water from Yogot dam.

 A pupil at Napeikore Primary School in Tiaty, Baringo, sucking a dry tap hoping to quench his thirst, January 30, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

However, unlike Sabor where water is distributed using gravity, water from Yagot dam have to be pumped using electricity, hence a costly venture for the county. "We are currently working with water rationing programme to meet the demand of our customers. Initially, Sabor water was enough, but from the end of November, the dam began drying," he said.

Kiplagat said the electricity costs from pumping water from Yogot dam has prevented them from scaling up water supply without increasing charges to consumers.

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Wesley Rotich said by 1pm Sabor dam dries completely until the following day and pumping of water has to be suspended.

"I have been receiving calls from school heads across the county asking for water to be delivered to their institutions through the county water boozers, which unfortunately is expensive," Rotich noted.

He said the main cause of water shortage, especially in Sabor dam, is the destruction of catchment areas.

In Kisumu, several streams have dried up. Water levels at River Kajulu have reduced, forcing Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company to ration the commodity.

[Stories by Eric Abuga, Renson Nyamwezi and Christopher Kipsang]

Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week