Kenya's Search for Water

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If you live in Nairobi or any other urban center in the country and are able to access water through the taps of your house, you are among the lucky fifty percent urban residents with piped water in their houses. According to the World Bank,  barely half of Kenya's urban population has such access to water.

The situation is even worse in rural Kenya, where hundreds of thousands of people struggle to find water every single day. They are among the 2.2 million people in the world who safely managed drinking water.

Indeed, Kenya is thirsty and there is barely sufficient clean water to quench this thirst.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) produced a report that revealed Kenya’s grave water situation. According to the Report, 9.4 million Kenyans drink water directly from contaminated surface water sources, which is the third highest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Think about it. One out of five Kenyans cannot access clean, piped water either in their houses or the vicinity of their houses. They depend on contaminated seasonal rivers or stagnant pools of water. Is that not a national emergency? If Kenya were to be attacked by a foreign adversary, we wouldn’t just go on with business as usual. Rather, we would urgently and decisively marshal all resources at our disposal to fight the enemy.

We should do even more to fight the enemy of water scarcity in the country. It is not acceptable that half of urban dwellers cannot access piped water in their houses and that one out of five Kenyans cannot access piped water anywhere in their localities and have to drink contaminated water.

It is therefore unsurprising that about 19,500 Kenyans die yearly from diarrhea. Among them are 17,100 children below the age of five. Almost 90% of these untimely deaths are directly attributable to poor water, sanitation and hygiene. This was revealed in a study by the Water and Sanitation Programme, a multi-donor partnership that is part of the World Bank Group's Water Global Practice.

So far, 670 Kenyans have tragically lost their lives from Covid-19. Every year, more than 17,000 Kenyans die because they consumed contaminated water. Every single life is important and one life lost is one too many. As such, we must address water scarcity in this nation with even more fervor, urgency and resolution than we have addressed the Corona virus.

Our very own Vision 2030 seeks to ensure that improved water and sanitation are available and accessible to all by 2030.  We only have ten years to achieve this. If we continue at the current pace, then we shall actually be worse off in 2030 than we are now. It is therefore time for urgent, decisive action. Such action is not a favor for politicians to brag about but a right for all Kenyans. Our constitution states that access to safe and sufficient water is a basic human right.

Kenyans must therefore enforce their right to safe and sufficient water. Article 5 of the Kenya Water Act 2016 further states that, ‘Every water resource is vested in and held by the national government in trust for the people of Kenya.’

The people of Kenya should therefore not watch idly as more than 17,000 of their fellow Kenyans die annually because of contaminated water. They should also not accept as normal a situation where most of them do not have access to piped water.

Our wildlife, which is our national heritage, is also suffering greatly from water scarcity.  The International Fund for Animal Welfare revealed in 2009 that 40 percent wild animals in Tsavo West National Park died due to drought. While hard data for more recent years is unavailable, anecdotal evidence suggests that our wildlife are still dying from drought and its accompanying water scarcity.

The solution lies on protecting and replenishing water at the source – in the water towers – then ensuring that it is distributed through technically sound, durable infrastructure to every corner of the country, including national parks like Tsavo West.  While we are at it, we should also revamp all our boreholes. Although we have nearly 6,000 registered boreholes in the country, sixty percent are not working. The Ministry of Water should inform Kenyans about their current status and urgently repair those that are still in a state of disrepair.  

Water is life. Let us not deprive millions of Kenyans life by depriving them of water.

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