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Ideas & Debate

Coronavirus puts water at the survival battlefront

Nairobi residents clean their hands
Nairobi residents clean their hands at a public handwashing point. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT 

The world is currently facing a pandemic like never experienced before. Countries, cities and towns are on lockdown as nations battle to control the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) and scientists work around the clock to find some sort of vaccine or cure.

Kenya, being part of the global community, has not been spared, with 50 confirmed cases by yesterday.

As the world battles to gain control, one thing has become very clear: maintaining hygiene is the surest way to contain the spread of the virus.

The chorus across the globe has been 'wash your hands with running water and soap' to be safe. Once again, and even though we don't need any reminding, the importance of water to the survival of humanity has come to the forefront.

Sadly, even as the world marked the International Water Day on March 22, access to clean and safe water still remained a challenge to billions of people. According to the United Nations, some 2.2 billion people lack safe drinking water and 4.2 billion live without access to adequate sanitation.

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They estimate that with the world’s water resources being under unprecedented threat due to climate change, by 2050, between 3.5 and 4.4 billion people will live with limited access to water, with more than one billion of them living in cities.

Water is the primary medium through which we experience climate changes through floods, droughts and even rise in sea levels.

When it comes to water and climate change, the two are inextricably linked and everyone has a role to play as we adapt to the water effects of climate change.

We may not be experiencing this now or be feeling the gravity of this.

However, policymakers and all citizens must put water at the heart of all our action plans. This means that we have a role to play in the efficient use of water as citizens of this world.

So how can we take a part in this initiative of tackling climate change and making the world a better place?

FOOD

What we eat has major implications for climate change. We destroy forests to create land for agriculture yet we all know the negative effect of increasing greenhouse gases. It would be good for us to increase our consumption of organic and locally made food. In addition, the United Nations estimates that we waste about a third of the food that is produced. It is important that we only serve on our plates what we can finish. Only eat when hungry and consider shifting away from fast food and consuming a lot of meat in our meals to protect our environment and also earn a bonus of living a healthy life.

HEALTH AND HYGIENE

With the World Health Organisation having declared coronavirus a global pandemic, the public health authorities have advised us to keep proper hygiene like washing hands frequently. All of us need to adhere to proper hygiene guidelines. While we do so, please remember to turn off the tap and promote efficient use of water. Also, shower in under five minutes to save water.

POWER

Forty-nine per cent of Kenya’s electricity originates from a hydro-powered source. This means that we can be more responsible with the lighting we use at home. Take time to switch off lights and appliances that one is not using both at home and at the workplace. It is also advisable to use gas when cooking as opposed to electricity to preserve water sources and charcoal to prevent emissions into our atmosphere.

TREE PLANTING

Tree planting not only increases our tree cover but also contributes to clean the air we breathe; purifies the water we drink and absorbs carbon from the atmosphere that contributes to rapid climate change. We can volunteer to plant and nurture indigenous trees that are adaptable to local environmental conditions in schools, churches, at Karura Forest or even within the compounds we live in. For example, through our Trees for Life Initiative, that seeks to combat climate change through afforestation, we have been able to plant over 2,000 trees in 2019 in Machakos and Nairobi counties.

WATER HARVESTING

We need to do more at an individual level when it comes to harvesting rainwater. Collected rainwater can be stored in tanks and used later. For example, through our Maji Kwa Wanafunzi, a staff initiative to donate water tanks, over 50,000 school-going children have access to clean drinking water. At home, one can have gutters and PVC pipes on one’s roof directed towards a water tank to harvest water during the rainy season that can be used during the dry seasons to water one’s vegetables, wash clothes and drink and cook — when properly treated and stored.

We can take responsibility at an individual level. A lot is said when we have World Water Day celebrations every year on March 22 and the world is awakened to the global needs of water and sanitation. Friends, water is such an essential necessity that we at times take for granted. Let us do more. Let us act now. Remember adapting to the water effects of climate change will protect health and save lives.

Mahugu is the Foundation Manager at Family Group Foundation.

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