March 5, 2018 | Resource degradation

The shortage of water has become an incessant problem plaguing millions of Kenyans. Nairobi, the capital city whose name ironically means ‘cool waters’ has been perpetually characterized by water scarcity. The water crisis is reflected across the country where the lack of this basic need has become the norm. As a result, millions of Kenyans are forced to pay exorbitant prices for the precious commodity. The magnitude of the water crisis is evident when Kenyans in poverty-stricken counties such as Kitui have to part with two dollars for a 20-litre container of water. Indubitably, water management is a key precursor to sustainable land management. The latter is however not achieved owing to water scarcity in Kenya. This crisis is primarily attributable to ineffective agricultural development practices and the changes in land use.

Although Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy, ineffective agricultural development practices are negatively affecting its optimization by contributing to water scarcity. Kenya is mainly arid and semi-arid with an arable land percentage that slightly exceeds ten. The country’s quest of optimizing this limited arable land has resorted to ineffective crop production practices. Fertilizers, for example, are instrumental in improving yields but the heavy use of pesticides by Kenyan farmers has resulted in nitrate contamination of surface and groundwater. Misguided agricultural practices are enhanced by the division of land into uneconomic units stirring the need to chemically maximize output. The resulting eutrophication thus further exacerbates the Kenyan water crisis through the degradation of water quality.

The present water crisis in Kenya is also attributable to changes in land use. Kenya’s population keeps growing at a fast rate putting additional pressure on water resources. The growth in population has also led to changes in land use which have spurred climatic changes that ultimately aggravate the water shortages in Kenya. The country’s agriculture is primarily rain-fed but this has been affected by deforestation. Many Kenyan forests, including the Mau a major catchment area, have experienced the destruction of trees to cater for firewood or settlement. Deforestation of forests has led to a blend of reduced cloud formation and reduced rainfall. The resulting climatic changes not only intensify water scarcity but also negatively impact Kenya’s food security given the reliance on rain-fed agriculture. This is because insufficient rainfall is coupled by unpredictability and shortages of other water sources barring effective planning of farming activities.

The water shortage in Kenya has escalated and is no longer a preserve of the arid and semi-arid areas. Arguably, misguided agricultural practices and land use changes are not the exclusive causes of the water crisis in Kenya. However, these two factors affect the ability of the current generation and of future generations of attaining sustainable land management. They thus form a good starting point for addressing the paucity of water in Kenya.