April 11, 2018 | Resource degradation

Kenya is experiencing a water crisis. Certain important water catchment areas are at risk of depletion and this directly impacts the lives of 30 million of the over 50 million (2018) Kenyans in the country. The Mau forest is a good example of this, located at the head of the water tower and directly feeds Lake, Naivasha, Nakuru, Baringo, and Victoria. It also feeds Ewaso Nyiro, Sondu, Mara, and Njoro rivers.  

These rivers are being threatened at the source as people who live by the river are unable to get water. There are also important factors to consider when you think of the importance of these rivers and the role they play such as river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and microclimate regulation.

The tree cover provided by the Mau forest is also significant as it provides sustenance for a local tribe, the Ogiek, who are indigenous to this forest, this is also at risk because of urban encroachment. Land here is now being repurposed for housing and industrial purposes threatening their hunter-gatherer existence forcing them to find new unsustainable ways to support themselves.

The Shella- Kipunganui catchment zone in Lamu is another example of encroachment, formed by sand dunes that store the rainwater, this catchment zone provides the only fresh water for this village and its Neighbours; Manda Island and Shella village.

Stakeholders have come together to collaborate in the gazettement, conservation and protection of the Lamu water catchment area as they roll out a series of water resource management activities in the Lamu County.

Agricultural development around Lakes Kenyatta and Witu, mining of heavy minerals along Gongoni sand dunes, building of palatial houses and extravagant hotels and other facilities for the tourism industry along Shella Sand dunes are threatening their survival.  Pressures for more recreation and living areas increase rapidly with the rampant population growth.

Water towers

Water towers are a sensitive subject in Kenya, the main water towers in Kenya include Aberdare, Imenti, Kikuyu Escarpment, Kipipiri, Marmet, Mount Kenya and Nyambene in Central Highlands. There are also Chyulu, Endau, and Shimba in Eastern/Coastal drainage and Cheranga and Mount Elgon are in Lake Victoria North/ Rift Valley drainage/North Rift conservancy.

These play important roles in Kenya and are often grabbed by unscrupulous citizens. However, Kenya is trying to mitigate this trend by issuing special title deeds to ensure that they conserve these water sources and protect them from encroachment. In a recent report, the Kenya Water Towers Authority calls for the “use of land registration (title deeds) to protect and secure Kenya’s water towers for the long-term, particularly against land alienation.”

The report details that drying rivers are the main cause of drought; this encroachment is the direct cause for this. “The separation through teas zone create separate blocks, increases human activities and hence negatively affecting the ecological integrity of the ecosystem. There is need to maintain large forest blocks intact to enhance the function of water towers,” The report further states.

Agencies are working hard to avert this looming crisis. However, longer droughts, loss of wildlife habitats and biodiversity besides diminished water storage capacity are only some of the impacts that are felt when water towers are depleted. There is also, of course, a direct effect on the country’s economy.

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