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Kenya’s Water Crisis

  • By Lucy Ndumi
  • September 2, 2022

Water is a basic necessity for all life forms existing on earth. While this is so, water is a limited resource, and even when available, other key considerations such as cleanliness and safety are not met. According to a report published by water.org, 15 percent of Kenyans rely on unimproved water sources such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers and 41 percent of Kenyans lack access to basic sanitation solutions. These challenges are especially evident in rural areas and urban slums where people are often unable to connect to piped water infrastructure.

The report also highlights the paradox of the average household costs for an unreliable or distant water supply being approximately $38 per month in rural Kenya while the average water bill of a typical household in Nairobi that is connected to a piped system is only $4.46 per month. This comparison exhibits the economic burdens that often fall more heavily on unconnected rural customers than on households with piped connections.

Evidently, while many households and communities are facing water scarcity across the country, the impact of water scarcity is significantly felt by people living in informal settlements, rural areas as well as marginalized areas, where there is limited or no access to robust water infrastructure.

The key factors that contribute to water scarcity include:

Lack of investment: According to an article by Business Daily Africa (2010) Lack of Investment in Water Sector Leaves Kenyan Towns Parched, Investment Analysts have attributed the lack of investment in business models that support solutions and technologies that address water scarcity and quality to poor regulation. For a long time, water utility has been viewed as a social good and most interventions structured as such. “Every investor is interested in the security of their capital and would only invest where there is predictable return on investment. As it is, water is priced way below the cost of production. How can this attract investment?” asks Mr. Bunyi.

Drought: Global warming has changed the rainfall patterns and intensities and this has directly affected water availability throughout the country. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization  (FAO), approximately 80% of Kenya falls within semi-arid eco-zones. By their very nature, these are water-scarce regions and persistent droughts have aggravated the situation.

Water Loss and Mismanagement: According to an article by Africa Check , old infrastructure, pipe leakages and bursts, theft and illegal connections are some of the reasons for high water loss. This water loss contributes to the water shortages experienced by households that rely on piped water.

Forest Degradation: Cutting down trees leads to water scarcity due to decreased levels of humidity, poor cloud formation and shortage of rainfall. Healthy forests can positively impact the water supply.

Land use: Land degradation may reduce the amount of water available downstream. Reduction of vegetation cover may reduce infiltration of groundwater, reducing the flow of water getting into dams and lakes, reducing the availability of water for communities that and households that rely on these sources of water.

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Population Growth: According to the World Bank, Kenya’s population in 1990 was about 23 million, and in 2008 the population increased to about 40 million. The current population of Kenya is 56 million as of Friday, September 2, 2022, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data. The expected increase in population means that the demand for clean water is increasing sharply and is not aligned with the supply of the same which means inaccessibility of clean and safe water is likely to also increase.

How do we mitigate the crises?

While water scarcity has gradually been nerve-racking, there are ways we can adapt to save our future generations from experiencing the same or even worse. There’s a need to educate the public with the aim of changing their behaviours and lifestyles to avoid overuse and misuse of water.

There is also a need for improved infrastructure to reduce non-revenue water which not only affects resources but also the local economies. Good infrastructure limits pollution in water bodies and provide safe drinking water. Both traditional and modern water systems should be regularly maintained and sustainable systems blended into the infrastructure.

Harvesting rainwater as well as recycling wastewater reduces water scarcity. We can also better manage agricultural water use by employing appropriate conservation technologies such as drip irrigation, capturing and storing water, irrigation scheduling among others and holistically manage the ecosystems.

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More importantly, there is need for tailor-made financing instruments to entice investors into the sector as well as surface and scale innovations that can support in combating the water crisis.

Kenya Climate Ventures provides financial and business growth support to climate related innovations, with water management being one of KCV’s thematic areas. The support is directed towards Early-Stage and Growth Stage companies. Of significance are the concessions that come along with KCV support; tailored support, affordable and patient capital and technical assistance (that includes business growth support and investment brokerage). This is in recognition of the challenges faced by the investors in commercializing the water sector.