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Council by-laws force rainwater down the drain

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Water shortage has deepened in the city, stemming from soaring demand and the growing population. 

Posted  Friday, July 10   2009 at  00:00

It beats logic that for a city like Nairobi, that faces chronic water shortage, some by- laws make it illegal for owners of business premises to harvest rainwater.


Today, water shortage has reached critical levels in Nairobi yet few premises, including residential properties, are able to harvest rainwater.

While for some it is lack of awareness, for others its inability to do so because of the architectural layout.

For others, especially those in the Central Business District, it is illegal.

Nairobi Central Business District Association (NCBDA) is now lobbying the Nairobi City Council hard to change the by-law to allow water harvesting.

Mr Tim Muriuki, the chairman of the NCBDA, believes allowing premises to harvest rainwater will “ease ” the current shortage which is forcing many business owners to spend extra money to buy water.

Health experts have warned that most food-related businesses are likely to start using borehole water although the water in Nairobi is reported to have residues of human waste and increase the likelihood of contracting diseases like cholera.

Every year since independence, Kenya has let billions of litres of water drain away to the Indian Ocean, yet this water could have been tapped to grow more food, produce electricity and facilitate nurturing the biodiversity.

Mr John Akoten, a research fellow and the co-ordinator of the Real Sector Programme at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, says there are big opportunities in rainwater harvesting.

He said in the highlands, for instance, which receive adequate rainfall; hilltops can be converted to rainwater catchment areas.

Because of the incline, this water can be diverted to less rain endowed areas for irrigation and as it comes down, it is used to run turbines to produce electricity.

Cities like Beijing in China have seriously taken up rainwater harvesting because in addition to making better use of water that way, the system also curbs urban flooding, ground water depletion and rainwater runoff pollution and improves urban ecosystems.

In 2000, Beijing Municipal Water Conservancy Bureau and Germany’s Essen University converted several paved roads into more porous surfaces to encourage rainwater infiltration, and collected and stored rainwater from rooftops and road surfaces for use in irrigation, car washing, and toilet flushing.

This is a sure model that Nairobi City Council and the private sector players could partner to pursue.In the rural areas, the mathematics of water harvesting are simple and clear; when harvested water is used for irrigation, the farmers are assured of the harvest, they can make future planning based on sales they expect to make.

But when the rains fail, all these plans evaporate in the dust and heat that follows.

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