Kenya: Water for African Cities Initiative Still Limps

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Joseph Ngome
June 14, 2011

More than 10 years ago, United Nations conceived an idea of providing several African cities with adequate water.

Seven cities in African continent were selected to serve as demonstration cities in the dream to provide the precious commodity, water to the residents.

The cities selected to serve as the project demonstration were Accra (Ghana), Abidjan (Cote Devoire), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Dakar (Senegal), Lusaka (Zambia) Johannesburg (South Africa) and Nairobi (Kenya).

The lingering question now on the lips of many African populations is: what has water for African cities initiatives achieved so far? The idea was mooted by the African Ministers for Water Affairs (AMCOW). One fact still stands to date that most of the rapidly growing cities are either located in water stress or water scarce regions.

Logo for African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW)

In Kenya, little has been heard of the project. Whether it has reached its target or fell on the way side because, for example, the agony and anguish the women and children suffer searching for water in Nairobi city, Kenya is still enormous. Nairobi city, according to water experts, outgrew the capacity of local sources of water and has forced the city fathers to supply water from several kilometers away from the city.

The programme was undertaken in collaboration with United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UN Habitat), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) within the framework of the United Nations system-wide special initiative on Africa. The initiative was mooted as a follow up of the Cape Town, South Africa Declaration of 1997. It was funded by the United Nations Foundation for International Partnership, known as Turner Foundation, a source at the UNEP headquarters said.

The programme was well thought and could have spearheaded water provision in many African cities but listening how water ministers from different African states were presenting their countries’ water status, during the just ended World Water Day in Cape Town, South Africa, one is inclined to think on the contrary.

In Kenya, water issues have remained thorny among the population’s everyday lives as the country receives a lot of rains that wash everything to the oceans and lakes during rainy season but after three months, lack of water grinds some industries to a halt. The reason has remained that the country’s policy makers have totally failed to unlock the water vicious circle that has plagued the country since time immemorial.

“Why should we have rain water that kills human beings, cause havoc and destruction of property and after a short while, even the hydro- electricity energy powered performs below the set standards”, an energy expert asked.

The government of Kenya has annually allocated millions of dollars to provide its population with water but two things come into play year in year out. Corruption among the projects’ implementers may be one of the reasons while insufficient funding could be another. In some parts of the northern part of the country, livestock are dying due to lack of water while in some areas even human beings are dying because of water related problems.

Kenya’s Minister for Water & Irrigation, Mrs. Charity Ngilu, was on the teenter-hooks for a long time to remove the tag of corrupt deeds that threw her into the hands of the Kenya Anti Corruption czars known as Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC). There have been allegations and counter allegations that some contractors awarded the tender to undertake the work were her relatives and that compromised the quality of work output. She was eventually cleared of the charges of corrupt deals but it looks there are still skeleton in her cupboard, sources observed.

Kenya’s Minister for Water and Irrigation, Mrs. Charity Ngilu

Other cities in Kenya that are always faced with insufficient water challenges are Mombasa and Kisumu. However, in the past years French Development Agencies in conjunction with Kenya government have made some breakthrough in providing water in some selected cities in Kenya. Kisumu and Mombasa cities have registered some achievements through funding by the French Government.

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