The water pollution in Kenya is a huge problem. According to Water.org, approximately 40% of Kenyans are still dependent on unsanitary sources of water. These sources consist of, but are not restricted to, stagnant wells, dams, rivers, streams, and ponds, many of which suffer from bacterial contamination and pollution from heavy metal waste.
The problem of water pollution in Kenya
Reliance on dirty or heavily polluted water is a depressing reality for many Kenyans. Dependence on such water can provide the impetus for an interminable poverty cycle: Dirty water causes illness, and, as a result of being ill, school attendance and the ability to work will suffer, severely limiting the ability of many Kenyans to improve their economic circumstances. For instance, according to Damaris Mbui of the University of Nairobi, potentially dangerous concentrations of lead, zinc, and copper are found in the Nairobi River.
This river is used regularly by many poor Kenyans to wash their clothes. Many even drink from it. The consumption of excess concentrations of such dangerous substances invariably raises the risk for cancer and serious organ damage. Mbui also found that E. coli levels were concerningly high. Furthermore, it is the case that cholera and typhoid, much expunged in the “developed” world, still persist in Kenya today.
The shortfalls of government action
Despite Government authorities in recognising the levels of pollution present in some of Kenya’s water supplies, the problem of heavy metals being dumped into fresh water sources has yet to be eliminated. Administrations – national and local – have failed to invest sufficient resources into waste management facilities, such as landfills and recycling centres. Indeed, there is greater reason to be optimistic now than in the past. Leonard Onyango, for example, reported in August 2019 that action was being taken in the Kenyan capital when four firms were severely reprimanded and even shut down for polluting the Nairobi river with potentially ‘life–threatening’ waste.
But despite such cases of positive state action, Kenya still has a long way to go towards improving its water pollution crisis. Here, figures at the head of key organisations campaigning for clean water, have expressed their concern at the lack of progress being made. For instance, the BBC reported that the director of Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), Nahashon Muguna, suggested that progress made on water development had been slow so far. He recognised that it was going to be difficult for Kenya to adapt to rapidly fluctuating demographic changes, such as population growth, without better clean water facilities.
The Kenyan state has also failed in its monitoring of the situation. Here, according to Layla Liebetrau of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung, clear and verifiable studies on pesticide usage have not been disclosed to the public. Meanwhile epidemiological investigations into the effect of pesticide usage on water quality and public health have been left wanting.
Tackling the water pollution in Kenya through raising expectations and mobilising communities
Previous years of inaction on water pollution in Kenya have been, arguably in some part, the result of not adequately raising the expectations of the population and harnessing the potential in mobilising local communities. This is a tragedy in that community participation is both more inclusive in theory and more effective in practice.
One study, conducted by Erick O. Ananga et al. in the city of Kisumu, shows that disinfection and the consistent maintenance of water storage containers was more likely to be seen (in 82.6% of cases) with community participatory water supplies than with non-community participatory supplies (in 17.4% of cases). Crucially, the researchers uncovered that people were more willing to defend their water supplies from water-borne diseases and pathogens when they were the direct users of a community participatory water source.
We at African Development Choices believe that empowering communities and increasing public participation are essential and indispensable aspects of any sustainable development approach. Through better resource management and improved access to essential services, communities can achieve real and lasting change. Crucially, it’s all about choices. African Development Choices strives to help ensure that they are much better ones, now and in the future.