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September 21, 2021
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How water sector can produce sustainable jobs

Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki might just be the most important person in Kenya today. That’s because water is the solution to our country’s food and job problems. Against this backdrop, water is the biggest scorecard we should use to evaluate our leaders.

Currently, they are failing in this vital task of ensuring sufficient, clean water for every Kenyan. Article 43 of the Constitution guarantees every Kenyan the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities.

Additionally, the United Nations Resolution 64/292 recognises the human right to water and sanitation and further acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to realisation of all human rights.

It is therefore tragic that the right of millions of Kenyans to water is being violated indiscriminately and with unprecedented impunity. In this day and age each of the country’s known 12.2 million households should have access to piped water.

It is unacceptable that nearly sixty years after independence, 32 percent of Kenyans allegedly still rely on unsafe surface water sources like ponds and rivers while half of the country lacks access to basic sanitation services. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every person needs between 50 and 100 litres of water daily to meet basic needs. This means Kenya’s population of 50 million people need a bare minimum of 2.5 billion litres of water every day.

The clear mandate for the Water CS and the entire government apparatus both nationally and at county level, is to ensure at least 2.5 billion litres of water will be available to Kenyans every day.

Where will this water come from and how can we use it more resourcefully?

For starters, we are already in a position of weakness because as reported, our annual renewable freshwater supply of 667 cubic metres per capita is below 1,000 cubic metres, which makes us a water scarce country.

We must therefore be strategic in our water sourcing and utilisation. Such an approach needs appropriate funding. Thankfully, we are headed in the right direction.

In the current national budget, Sh42.6 billion was allocated to development of water and sewerage infrastructure; Sh10.9 billion for management of water resources; Sh8.6 billion to support water storage and flood control; Sh10.9 billion to support conservation of forests and water towers; Sh850 million to cater for rehabilitation of wells, water pans and underground tanks in ASAL areas using local labour.

The last budget item contains three words that can revolutionise water availability – using local labour. All the other budget items, together with implementation of the National Water Master Plan, must rely on local labour. This will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and ensure local urban and rural communities take full ownership of sustainable water solutions.

Another water-related area that will create more jobs is irrigation. In recent years, Kenya has increased the funds allocated for agriculture to 6 percent of the national budget. Part of these funds goes towards irrigation.

In the current 2020 – 2021 budget, Sh3.4 billion was set aside for expanded community household irrigation; Sh10.0 billion for irrigation and land reclamation; Sh1.4 billion to support small-scale irrigation and value addition; Sh1.3 billion for water harvesting and storage for irrigation.

Irrigation will ensure high yields and consequently guarantee food security. It is telling that currently, less than 1 percent of medium and high yield land in Kenya is under irrigation.

Even as we revamp irrigation, we should also reinvigorate water distribution. Clearly, the country’s piped water supply systems and piped sewerage systems need a major overhaul and modernisation. Thankfully, the current budget allocated Sh42.6 billion to development of water and sewerage infrastructure. Kenyans should be updated regularly on how these funds are utilised.

As was stipulated in the National Water Master Plan 2030, water sector development expenditure accounts for less than 1 per cent of the national GDP. This needs to be stepped up substantially to ensure regular, reliable water supply to every Kenyan.

Water is a finite resource that we must use with utmost care. Recycling wastewater must therefore become the norm, not the exception. We must tap into recycled wastewater to feed irrigation so that more freshwater can be available for household usage. Indeed, Kenya’s water must be turned into a lifeline for sustainable jobs, flourishing farms, vibrant industries and healthy bodies. Think green, act green!

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