31 March 2008

Kenya: Water Wars Can Be Averted With Sound Planning


Water was always free. Today, the diminishing resource has been tapped from its natural source, bottled and is already raking millions in profits. Mining companies have also joined in-polluting the little water that has remained as they reserve several litres for their use.

Clearly, like the land issue that is controversial, the issue of water is equally thorny in this part of the world. When the New York Times carried a story headlined For Texas now, water, not oil, is liquid gold in 2001, some of us read the story with indifference.

Now, we cannot afford such indifference. We have seen communities fight over water. Only last weekend, I watched two eye-opening television documentaries that coincidentally aired on different stations. One of them took issue with the escalating competition for Nile Perch around the Lake Victoria region, where the locals have to do with leftovers as multinationals pack the "real fish" for those with buying power.

The other focused on the disappearing rivers of Kirinyaga. The villagers claimed they have to walk several kilometres to get the commodity because a water company had dredged rivers the area.

No wonder, Ismail Serageldin, who is the founder of Global Water Partnerships, remarked that if the wars of this century (last century in this case) were fought because of oil, the wars of next century (this century) will be fought over water.

The Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company has tapped the product that they trade with from the Chania basin. Ironically, people around the area still do not have any piped water. Some time back, the residents threatened to poison the water . In Garbatulla, Turbi, Wajir and Modogashe and El-wak, water wars have erupted several times, leaving several people dead.

One of the reasons why water wars are camouflaged is because the scarcity is most times linked to political leadership. Leaders are sometimes accused of looking aside as deforestation and pollution continue unchecked.

There is also lack of leadership on matters of resource management and distribution. Policymakers, leaders and other stakeholders must effectively manage water resources to avert conflicts that could result from inequitable exploitation of this resource.

Remember that unlike oil and other resources, water is still irreplaceable.

Micheni is a Business Daily reporter

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