Council by-laws force rainwater down the drain

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

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.

[email protected] 2008”, a report based on discussion at the World Economic Forum on Africa last year notes that changing rainfall patterns mean that in just over a decade, the rain-dependent areas of Africa could be producing half their current agricultural yield.Kenya is expected to suffer agricultural losses of up to seven per cent of the gross domestic product.

The report notes that such effects will be disproportionately borne by the poor. The largest consequences will be humanitarian in nature and the impact will be on wealth distribution, potentially leading to social backlash and greater political instability.

These facts are indicative of the importance of increasing the national capacity to access water in the face of changing rainfall patterns as already witnessed in Kenya.

In Central Kenya for instance, rainfall patterns have been disrupted and farmers are yet to adapt to the emerging patterns. This is already causing serious food shortages.But a village in Rift Valley shows just how rainwater harvesting can make a difference between poverty and wealth.

Lare Division is one of the driest divisions of Molo District. The soil does not retain water for long. In the year 2000, no maize was harvested in this area due to poor rainfall.

But in the 2001/2002 season, farmers who joined the project initiated by Egerton University managed a bumper harvest of between Sh81 million and Sh250 million respectively.Farmers have since diversified to bananas, pumpkins, vegetables, sugar cane and a variety of fruits.

The farmers are also able to rear livestock.

Daniel Tuitoek of Egerton University says rainwater harvesting is one method of eradicating poverty and transforming agriculture farming into a viable business. He, however, said only a few farmers had realised the importance of tapping rainwater for storage.

In the Lare village project, run-off water is collected from roof tops and stored. Water pans are also dug where the rainwater is stored after being prevented from running off.“This is what has dramatically transformed the lives of people of Lare,” said Dr Tuitoek.

Practical Action, a group that works to empower small holder farmers through better production and marketing methods has documented evidence that farmers who are using irrigation either fed by stored rainwater or from the streams are harvesting double the volume and better quality bananas.

Mr David Mbugua, the chairman of Kenya Rainwater Association and a teacher at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture Technology, said farmers should be empowered to harvest rainwater to supplement that being drawn from the streams.

Marketing methods
The empowerment could come through public education on the importance of harvesting rain water, even where there is access to piped water.

In the recent past, rainwater harvesting in the rural areas was a must in almost every homestead but the practice has faded progressively as more people get access to piped water.

But this access is also threatened by the depletion of water catchment areas, especially deforestation in places like Mau and Mount Kenya forests among others.

This depletion is already affecting government plans to put one million hectares of land under irrigation by the year 2012, and therefore affect the targets of achieving adequate food security situation by then.

Mr John Kihia, the country director of KickStart, a group that sells manually operated water pumps known as MoneyMaker, said farmers need to be educated on water harvesting because it provides a simple solution to providing water for drip irrigation.

“Farmers just need to dig a hole and line it with polythene paper to capture the rain water,,” he said.