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The Star (Kenya) - - Politics -

HE wa­ter short­age in Nairobi is acute and chronic. The prog­no­sis is dire: It could get worse. Here is why: In­ex­orable de­mand ow­ing to rapid ur­ban growth; poor man­age­ment of wa­ter de­mand; land use change and de­clin­ing wa­ter sup­plies form source ar­eas; cli­mate vari­abil­ity and change; a di­lap­i­dated dis­tri­bu­tion in­fra­struc­ture; and the stu­pe­fy­ing in­ep­ti­tude of the Nairobi Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Com­pany.

In 2012 the Gov­ern­ment of Kenya, the World Bank and the French De­vel­op­ment Agency launched a mas­ter plan to de­velop ad­di­tional sup­ply ca­pac­ity. This new plan in­cludes the con­tro­ver­sial con­struc­tion of the North­ern Col­lec­tor Tun­nel, which will trans­fer wa­ter from three rivers – the Maragua, Gikigie and Irati – to the Thika reser­voir. This trans­fer is pro­jected to in­crease Nairobi’s wa­ter sup­ply to about 700,000 cu­bic me­tres.

As would be ex­pected, the tun­nel project has faced strong op­po­si­tion from Mu­rang’a res­i­dents and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who ex­pressed fears that the project might de­plete un­der­ground wa­ter and cause earth­quakes. How­ever, Wa­ter Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Eugene Wa­malwa in­sists that the project will pro­ceed and all is­sues as­so­ci­ated with the im­pacts of the project have been ad­dressed in ac­cor­dance with stip­u­lated pro­ce­dures.

In­ter-basin trans­fer through the North­ern Col­lec­tor Tun­nel is a re­ally bad idea eco­log­i­cally, so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally.

Eco­log­i­cally, it is un­sound be­cause un­der cur­rent cli­mate un­cer­tain­ties such trans­fers are likely to se­verely de­plete base wa­ter flows with the con­se­quence of dam­ag­ing river­ine bio­di­ver­sity, de­plet­ing down­stream wa­ter sup­plies and di­min­ish­ing ground­wa­ter recharge po­ten­tial. In com­bi­na­tion, these im­pacts will se­verely com­pro­mise so­cioe­co­nomic out­comes by un­der­min­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion po­ten­tial for lo­cal farm­ers and con­strain­ing per capita ac­cess to fresh­wa­ter sup­plies for lo­cal house­holds.

Meet­ing wa­ter needs in the 21st cen­tury will re­quire a par­a­digm shift. A start­ing point would be to make it manda­tory for res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial build­ings to adopt mea­sures of wa­ter use ef­fi­ciency, wa­ter re­use and rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing. It should be manda­tory for house­holds to in­stall and use low-flush toi­lets to re­duce wa­ter use per flush by 50 per­cent.

Wastew­a­ter or grey wa­ter from show­ers, baths, laun­dries and kitchens is rel­a­tively easy to re­use.

Build­ing the North­ern Col­lec­tor Tun­nel is dumb eco­nom­ics and would touch off a so­cial and eco­log­i­cal catas­tro­phe.

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