5 May 2003

Kenya: Government Needs New Strategy to Deal With Flood Waters

Nairobi — Flood disasters demonstrate a very weak water resources management strategy, Water Resources Minister Ms Martha Karua admits.

Karua told an Urban Rivers Symposium in Nairobi that her ministry inherited weak management strategies from the previous government.

She wondered why no measures were taken when, in fact, the weaknesses were brought out clearly during the 1997 to 1998 El Nino and the 1999 to 2000 La Nina (drought) periods.

Saying that the Government acknowledges the country is vulnerable to climate variability, she said her ministry will soon develop a long range plan to mitigate the vagaries of persistent floods and droughts that afflict the country.

Between 1983 and now, Karua said, Kenya has faced 23 separate droughts and warned that they could keep on recurring owing to climatic change and the destruction of forest cover which now stands at 1.7 per cent of the land mass.

Karua estimated that inadequate preparedness to rainfall variability cost Kenya an estimated 15 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the crisis period of 1997 to 2000.

She said as a move to face out the problem, the Government will seek the assistant of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) to carry out an assessment of problematic river basins.

She added that construction of environmentally sustainable dams and pans will be part of this plan.

"As a ministry we shall endeavour through prudent planning to ensure that the annual flooding is controlled and its effects minimised," said Karua.

The minister noted that even as the flooding is affecting many populations in the country, Kenya is still classified as a "chronically water-scarce country."

She said per capita availability of water currently is 647 cubic meters and is projected to fall to 235 cubic meters by 2025. Current figures for Uganda and Tanzania are 2,696 cubic metres per capita and 2,940 respectively.

"Put another way, if each Kenyan has one glass of water, a Tanzanian has five while a Ugandan has four glasses," said Karua. She added that Kenya's situation is worrying.

She attributed water scarcity to limited natural endowment, population increase and imprudent management of the commodity. She said poor water resource management is costing Kenya $48 million (Sh3.6 billion) each year.

Karua said the rampant destruction of forests has led to reduced water volumes and reduction of ground water which could result in loss of investment for those who have drilled bore-holes.

The minister said 19 million Kenyans have access to water but added that the service is of poor quality and under-investment in maintenance has resulted in collapse of water services infrastructure.

Karua disclosed that the sector needs over US$300 million (Sh22.2 billion) for immediate rehabilitation of the piped water supply and sewerage system yet available resources are a meagre US$20 million per year.

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