Amid the effects of climate change, many countries in Africa continue to experience water shortage, resulting in conflicts and compromising health, especially in children, the elderly and those whose immunity is already compromised.
The current drought affecting the Horn of Africa has further worsened an already bad situation in a region where many do not have access to safe and adequate clean water.
In Kenya, Ksh27 billion is lost annually because of water and sanitation related issues, according to a 2013 World Bank report.
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012 revealed that for every US$1 investment in sanitation, there was a return of US$5 in lowering the cost of healthcare, improved productivity and fewer premature deaths.
Enhancement of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector would play a key role in prevention of numerous emerging and re-emerging diseases including Covid-19, Ebola, H1N1 flu.
At the same time, proper WASH is key in promoting dignity and boosting security, especially for women and girls.
These were some of the sentiments raised by Kenya’s Ministry of health during a WASH event held in Nairobi.
The three-day forum brought together stakeholders from government, private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and county governments among others.
Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US government has injected $100 million towards the WASH sector in Kenya.
Five years project
A USAID Kenya High Priority Plan was launched and will be implemented in the next five years in a bid to address WASH issues in counties across the country.
“I wish to recommend and emphasise the need to focus more on most disadvantaged communities including slums, institutions and healthcare facilities,” Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Nakhumicha Wafula in a speech read on her behalf by the Head of Public Health Susan Koki.
US Ambassador to Kenya Margaret Whitman who led the launch of the USAID Kenya High Priority Plan, said water insecurity and a lack of sanitation and hygiene products continues to risk development gains in health, economic growth and political stability.
At the same time, she added, this lack of water perpetuates gender and economic inequalities.
“Last June, United States Vice President Kamala Harris launched the maiden White House Action Plan on Global Water Security. This plan will now be operationalised by the newly refreshed US Global Water Strategy that has been launched,” said Ms Whitman.
She noted that the US government, through USAID’s investments, will increase access to basic or improved water services for 1.6 million people in Kenya.
These investments prioritise reaching people who have never had access to water and sanitation, strengthening the capacity of institutions responsible for delivering high-quality, equitable, climate-resilient services and leveraging resources to help governments and local partners get sustainable water solutions.
Rivers run dry
Climate change has threatened access to water in Kenya, with the current drought rendering some major rivers and small lakes dry.
In Nyandarua County, home to one of Kenya’s main water towers —the Abedares ranges — Lake Olbolossat, the only highland lake in the country and home to numerous bird species and hippopotamuses, has dried up.
“Many more rivers from the Aberdares are drying in speeds never witnessed before,” said Nyandarua County Governor Kiarie Badilisha who was representing Kenya’s Council of Governors at the event.
River Ewaso Nyiro, which originates from Lake Olbolossat, the governor noted, runs to the lowest ends and deserts of Samburu and Somalia, yet it does not have water any more. This worsens access to water in the deserts which are already deprived of this vital resource.
Affordable drinking water
While Kenya is keen on achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all by 2030, there are challenges such as inadequate uptake of technology, poor infrastructure and governance hitches, according to Governor Badilisha.
Access to clean and safe water in adequate quantities is enshrined in Kenya’s constitution.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Alice Wahome called on stakeholders to ensure access to WASH for all as stipulated in the constitution.
“A constitutional and fundamental duty has been placed on the state and each of its organs to promote and fulfil the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights,” said the CS.
On March 22, countries will mark the UN World Water Day which is set aside to raise awareness on the 2 billion people living without access to water.
The three-day forum in Nairobi, which ends Wednesday, is a build-up to this important day, and an opportunity for reflection and strategising on mainstreaming WASH in Kenya.