Sunday, March 17, 2013

County Governors Must Prioritize Water Management

Nairobi’s daily water supply is currently estimated at 530,000 cubic meters per day, against a demand of 750,000 cubic meters per day. The current supply deficit is gravely exacerbated because 40-60% of the water destined for Nairobi is lost owing to spillage and illegal abstraction.

Less than 50% of Nairobi’s residents have direct access to piped water of which only 40% have daily access to running water. Only 22% of residents of the informal settlement, home to 60% of Nairobi’s residents, have access to piped water. The Green City in the Sun is insanitary; only 40% of Nairobi residents are connected to the city’s sewerage infrastructure.

In September 2012, the Ministry of Water, the World Bank and the French Development Agency (AFD), launched a master plan to develop additional supply capacity. Phase one of the plan will is groundwater development in Kiunyu and Ruiru. A second phase will involve inter-basin transfer through the construction of a collector tunnel from Maragua, Gikigie and Irati rivers to Thika reservoir. At a colossal cost of KES 25 billion, these projects will increase supply to a paltry 654,048 cubic meters per day by 2017, against a projected water demand of 1 million cubic meters per day.

Moreover, new ground water sources and inter-basin transfers planned between 2018 and 2030 are unlikely to satisfy the projected demand of 2.5 million cubic meters per day by 2030. Nairobi’s water crisis could only get worse owing to rapid population growth, increasing per capita water demand, population climate fluctuations, managerial incapacity and fiscal constraints.

The solutions proposed in the World Bank and AFD master plan – increasing supply of bulk volumes of portable water from outlying rural districts – were first developed and applied in Europe in the 19th century. Meeting Nairobi’s water demand through inter-basin transfer from outlying from contiguous Counties will be severely complicated by competing demand from agriculture, rising per capita domestic demand and climate change. Moreover, it is likely that poor upland farming communities will demand compensation for the “water services” they provide to wealthier lowland urban populations. 

Reliable access to water is fundamental to strong economic growth because of what it enables. Any County that wants to be commercially attractive and competitive must judiciously manage its water to ensure sufficient and stable supply over the long-term.

Governors beware; efficient water management will be seen as an important signal for attracting business investment, particularly in regions that are vulnerable to water scarcity, such as the Coast, Eastern, Northeastern, parts of Rift Valley and Nairobi. Industries that are water-intensive, such as beverage or agriculture, will not locate investments in counties with poorly managed or declining water supply.

As a country, the demands on our water systems have never been greater. Rapid population growth and a warming planet are worrying, but so are the consequences of our hoped-for economic growth through accelerated industrialization and agricultural expansion. Vision 2030 contemplates massive expansion of irrigated land to achieve national food security goals. We must build resilient water supply systems, comprising multiple sources, capable of handling fluctuations owing to drought or extreme rainfall.

Meeting water needs in the 21st century will require a paradigm shift. The development of novel water supply solutions and demand management measures are urgently needed. We can achieve this through higher levels of water reuse through advances in wastewater technology, mandating greater levels of water efficiency and enforcing proper watershed management.

County Governors should make it mandatory for residential, commercial and industrial buildings to adopt measures of water use efficiency, water reuse and rainwater harvesting. Mandating the installation and use of low flush toilet would reduce water use per flush by 50%. Wastewater or grey water from showers, baths, laundries and kitchens is relatively easy to reuse. With physical filtering and settling, grey water can be recovered for toilet flushing and gardening. An ecological engineering through constructed wetlands can be used for the treatment of wastewater and contaminated roof and urban storm runoff. Imagine how many new green jobs we could create!

There is no shortage of exemplars. Singapore now recovers its wastewater, transforming it into 30% of the country’s water supply. In the South Korean city of Songdo, rainwater traps capture storm water, which is recycled for use in sinks, toilets and dishwashers, dramatically decreasing the need for fresh water. If we want to grow our County economies and create jobs, we must manage our water more efficiently.

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