Kenya is one of those countries in the world that is seriously grappling with water quality and quality, said Prof. Lucy Irungu the principal of college of biological and physical sciences, Chiromo campus, University of Nairobi, during the launch of a report by the Pan Africa Chemistry Network (PACN) titled "Africa's Water Quality," adding that Kenya is classified as a water scarcity country.
The report reads in part: The disparity in water resources across Africa means that a quarter of all people are experiencing water stress (defined as between 1000 and 1500 meters cubic per capita per year).... Water scarcity was experienced in 10 Africa countries in 1995: Algeria, Burundi, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Rwanda and Tunisia.
Irungu says that in the 1970s, the average water allocation per person per year was 1500 meters cubic. But this figure has been decreasing with time and in 2007, the average allocation dropped to 600 meters cubed per person per year, and it is estimated that in this year, 2010, only 500 meters cubic will be available per person.
The PACN report says that projections indicate that the situation will worsen by 2025, where 14 countries in Africa will suffer water scarcity and 11 more countries will suffer water stress. Research by Kenyan scientist is pointing out that the ground table in parts of Nairobi has been falling at an average rate of 3m per year due to illegal abstraction.
However, “Africa towns and cities have better water supplies and sanitation services than rural areas,” the report says, “yet two thirds of the Africans populations live in the countryside.” Where “an estimated 82 per cent of urban residents in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe water and 55 per cent to sanitation facilities.”
Ironically, “developed water supply and sanitation services in urban areas are concentrated in the upper and middle class areas. The urban poor have least access to these services and pay the highest price for their water.”
In the rural areas water supply is far from majority of the homes thus women and girls are forced to fetch water from long distances, spending an average of three hours a day thus restricting their opportunities for education and are physically burdened.
Notwithstanding that water quantity is a great challenge - its quality is threatened, too. Prof. Shem Wandiga, the Kenya Chemical Society Association (KCSA) chairman says that 60 per cent of Kenyan patients suffer from water related diseases.
The PACN report is a product of 180 scientist and practitioners from across the world who confined at the University of Nairobi, last year for a sustainable water conference, explains that 75 per cent of Africa's drinking water comes from groundwater and is often used with or no purification. Wandiga says that water contaminated by microbiological pollutants spread diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid.
The principal gives an example of Nairobi river which turns black most of the time with both biological and chemical pollutants such as heavy metals, oils, and organic pollutants that are of public health concern – due to pollution and storm water runoff, sewerage line bursts and other sources from the city.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recently set up GEMStat database, dedicated to water quality monitoring. As the water quality is being measured, a worrying picture is emerging, the report says, adding that many important water bodies, which provide water for drinking, washing and irrigation for thousands of local inhabitants, are showing unacceptable levels of potentially toxic substances. “These pollutants originate from a variety of sources, including local industries and domestic waste water.”
Kenyan scientist says that during the dry seasons, several rivers in the country dry up, example, Ewaso Nyiro, thus they cease to flow for hundreds of kilometers; affecting pastoralist, wetland ecology and wildlife that depends on these extensive natural wetland areas.
“The effect of climate change make the challenge of conserving our precious water resources even more difficult,” says Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique, “the people of Africa that are responsible for less than 5 per cent of the pollution which has changed the planet's atmosphere, will feel the worst of its impact in terms of increased flooding and drought.”
Prof. Irungu articulates that lack of adequate investments and comprehensive water management policy to address water production, supply and resource management issues such as storage, improved water use efficiency, water quality monitoring, research and data management are key impediments towards water quantity and quality in Kenya.