ODOTE: How to adequately deal with water deficit

Although Kenya has abundant water resources, both surface and ground, it is still classified as a water scarce county. This means that the amount of water available in the country is less than the demand.

But the problems affecting water resources is much more than just quantities available for the various needs. We have challenges relating to access, availability, distribution, quality and sustainability amongst many other problems.

This past week three I engaged in three events that brought to the fore the need for increased action to conserve our water by undertaking small but practical action. Two of these events were academic, the second practical.

First I attended a debate organised by Law students at the University of Nairobi. I sat in a panel with two members of Parliament representing constituencies in Nairobi with large informal settlements.

The discussions revolved around realization of the Right to Water as guaranteed by the Constitution. The second event was the launch of a book titled “Water is Life: Women’s Human Rights in National and Local Water Governance in Southern and Eastern Africa”, a book co-edited by Professor Patricia Kameri-Mbote.

My last water related event for the week was getting stuck in traffic for two days as a result of the onset of the El Nino rains.
It is this last event more than the first two that got me thinking on the adequacy of our actions in ensuring that water is available for all the country’s needs and people.

As I sat in my car with the rains pounding and run-off water flowing along the road, my mind went back to the preparations the Government put in place for the El Nino rains. It is just a few weeks ago when the media was awash with the amounts of money that had been budgeted by both national and county governments to respond to these rains.

Our plans and policies talk of the need for harvesting rain water. As the rains pounded the country last week, my mind raced back to these budgets and could not recollect how much was set aside for improving our rain harvesting technologies. These would be better that the reported mosquito nets and soaps that had been budgeted for.

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that next year after the rains subside, we will have parts of this country experiencing spells of drought. As a country, will we regret not having harvested rain water during the El Nino period? Or is this connection too difficult to make?

The second practical measure relates to quality of water. During the panel discussions referred to above, a student asked us why there was an unprecedented increase in the number of companies producing and selling bottled water in the county and what the Kenya Bureau of Standards could do to ensure that such water were of high quality. In reflecting on this concern, I went back ten years ago.

One will readily notice that the numbers of companies bottling water has increased tremendously. Before the mineral water sold used to have a label to the effect that they were bottled at source. The assumption was that this was from a natural spring hence its purity.

While regulation of water bottling should be tightened, we have to ensure that the agencies responsible for supplying water to the public can guarantee and convince Kenyans that tap water is safe to drink. In several developed states, tap water is safe to drink. It is only by doing this that we will ensure sanity in the bottling of water.

The third issue relates to the provisions of Article 43 (1) (d) of the Constitution, which guarantees every Kenyan clean and safe water in adequate quantities.

It is time that the recent reform effort, including the current debate on a new Water law ensure support to practical measures to meet the water needs of Kenyans.

Dr Odote teaches at the University of Nairobi