Water = life. Essential for development.

Main waterway surrounding Elias' university
The main waterway near the Technical University of Mombasa, Kenya, where Elias studies.

I am Elias Mwangi, in my 5thyear of study towards a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from the Technical University of Mombasa, Kenya.

Elias at home
Elias Mwagi, Watipa Scholar, at home in Kenya

To get involved with World Water Week 2018 (26 – 31 August, 2018), I found out some facts on water and human development in my country. I am yet to specialise in my field of study, however I am interested in a water related project.

Kenya is among the African nations that face water crisis, despite having uniform rainfall throughout the year. Water is hardly harvested, sewer systems are directed into the ocean, and we do not have enough boreholes to ensure adequate distribution of water. I’d be very happy to find an economical solution to the Kenyan water crisis in the future. Maybe that will be the subject of my project.

Here’s some information I have found out:

  • Kenya has a population of 46 million and approximately 25% of the population live in urban centres; Nairobi (3.5m), Mombasa (1m) and Kisumu (0.8m).
  • The rate of urbanization in recent years is about 4.4% implying that majority of Kenyans live in semi-urbanized areas.
  • The high rate of urbanization leaves majority without access to fresh water prompting poor urban dwellers to move to the slums, where there is no water or hygienic sanitation. Overcrowding has exacerbated hazardous health conditions.
  • Despite the fact that the country has abundant natural resources, Kenya is crippled by many other challenges just like other developing countries: water crisis, poor education, high unemployment rate, corruption, HIV rates and poverty.

Now thinking about water specifically… Water is a basic need, 41% of Kenyans depend on unimproved surface and ground water, whereas 59% use unhygienic sanitation solutions. There are 55 public water service providers but only 9 of them provide continuous water supply. Kenya has five major drainage basins: Lake Victoria, the Rift Valley, Athi-Sabaki River, the Tana River and the Ewaso Ng’iro. The Rift Valley has the following basins of internal drainage: lake Magadi, Naivasha, Turkana, Elementaita, Nakuru, Bogoria and Baringo which vary in alkalinity. Fresh water lake Naivasha and most alkaline lake Magadi. Deforestation and pollution of natural water resources are amidst the major threats to soil degradation, climate change and inequitable water distribution across the country.

Water politics are unique – there has been divide between private areas and sectors that investors have been discouraged from developing. In Northern Kenya, water shortage makes women and children spend more than 8 hours a day fetching water in the hot sun from the nearest fresh water source. Sewer treatment has been overlooked, and this has resulted in a lack of protection against epidemics such as Cholera and Bilharzia.

Finding solutions to ensure sanitation and reduce the water crisis are critical to human development in Kenya.

Elias Mwagi, with editorial support from Samantha Mudie

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