When property boom drowns city in thirst

Houses in Pipeline Estate, Nairobi. Poor planning has been blamed for a myriad of problems.

When it rains, the water is supposed to seep into the ground and replenish aquifers. This is, however, nearly impossible when nearly every available space has been turned into a block of flats or paved parking lots and roads. Instead, this water is carried away by drainage systems and sewer pipes; or simply roars down the roads sweeping away everything in its way. Drowning hopes of an adequate water supply.

Sounds theoretical, lets look at the reality on the ground, so to speak. El-nino is here, the raging rains characterised with floods is now experienced in most parts of the country and Nairobi is no exceptional. Amidst the pouring rains, Nairobi continues to experience acute water shortage which experts now attribute to poorly planning in the construction industry.

Weather conditions

Whereas erratic weather conditions and population growth are said to be the major causes of water shortage, a report on sprawl compounds water crisis in drought-stricken cities in America affirms that a major contributor to our water problems is the way we develop land.

This report is echoed by local experts who now warn that Nairobi is paving its way to water shortage. Mairura Omwenga, Chairman Town and County Planners Association of Kenya observe that Nairobi City is  facing serious water shortage due to poor and inadequate planning of the city and the metropolitan region as a whole.

He attributes this to the fact that for over 60 years, Nairobi has not had a proper city Master Plan. The County Executive Environment and Water, Evans Ondieki on the other hand reveals that Nairobi is experiencing a daily water shortfall of 200 million litres.

He adds: “Nairobi demands an approximately 750 million litres of water a day; however only 550 million litres is supplied per day.”

Ondieki further claims that rivers within Nairobi are ‘dead’ and cannot support any form of life. It is to that effect that the county government sources about 70 per cent of its water from Kiambu, Nyandarua and Muranga counties.

The county executive explains that the Nairobi county government cleanup projects; an initiative aimed at cleaning city’s rivers has been unsuccessful because of the continued pollution by city residents.

Omwenga adds that due to serious water shortage, developers are now sinking too many boreholes in an uncontrolled pattern thus leading to fast depletion of groundwater.

The planner note that boreholes which are normally be spaced at a radius of 0.5km as per regulation is flouted and that to find boreholes crowded at 0.2km radius has become common.

Uncontrolled development

Ondieki advances that the implications of uncontrolled development are far reaching. He explains that sourcing water from neighbouring counties is an expensive affair citing the Sh26 billion Northern Collector venture by the county government as one of such pricey projects aimed at increasing water supply in Nairobi.

According to the Sprawl compounds water crisis in drought-stricken cities in America report, as the impervious surfaces that characterise sprawling development – roads, parking lots, driveways, and roofs – replace meadows and forests, rain no longer can seep into the ground to replenish our aquifers. Instead, it is swept away by gutters and sewer systems.

Daniel Methu, the General Manager of Runda Water Limited asserts that the water security in Nairobi is threatened by the growing property market. He adds that with the urban sprawling vast hard surfaces are created by development essentially changing the movement and availability of water.

Methu says: “In Runda we solely rely on service water from Ruaka River which today remain heavily polluted.” He further argues that increased sinking of boreholes especially in areas of Nairobi’s Westlands which highly rely on groundwater has further depleted the underground water reservoirs.

A UN-Habitat report says that in the next 35 years cities will nearly double in population; based on a ‘business as usual’ scenario, they will more than triple in land area over the same period, becoming less and less space efficient.

In a presentation during that Town and County Planning and Development Conference, World Town Planning Day UN Habitats’ Regional and Metropolitan Planning Officer John Omwamba argued that barely 30 per cent of the urban centres in Kenya are planned and where a plan is available they are rarely enforced or are outdated.

Spatial plan

Omwamba said lack of National Spatial Plan explain the inappropriate social, territorial and economic development organisation witnessed in most parts of the country.

He observed that the continued growth by major towns beyond their boundaries and with no clear mechanism for their governance pose a threat to the country’s food security.

“Water services provision influences almost every aspect of urban environment and quality of life. Well planned cities are reliant to access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation,” he said.

Baraka Mwau also from UN Habitat argued that poorly planned urban sprawl is increasingly presenting complex urban management and land-use challenges such the loss of prime agricultural land.

He says that planning for a more compact urban development, densification and optimal utilisation of land within existing urban boundaries will be instrumental in addressing urban sprawl. Increased building development and paved areas, destruction of open tree/vegetation cover, encroachment on wetlands and riparian reserves are highlighted as the major caused of depleting water.

Omwenga observes that inadequate planning can also be seen in Kikuyu town where the Southern bypass has torn the town apart and virtually destroyed it.

Experts are calling for both National and County governments and the National Land Commission to work together and ensure that adequate county and town land use plans are prepared to guide integrated development in towns, counties and the country.

Lack of adequate funds and resources for planning in counties and by national government is also cited as a major challenge.

Omwenga says that flood water is a resource that needs to be utilised and not left to drain away and caused destruction. Enough dams and retention ponds should be developed to store these flood water and the same can be used to supplement water supply in the city particularly during the dry season.

Rivers such as Ngong, Miotoni, Nairobi, Ruaka and Mathari need their riparian reserves reclaimed and small dams developed to hold flood water in the city.

Nairobi is, however, looking to streamline the city’s planning, and Nairobi City County Government has just concluded the preparation of the city integrated master plan.