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Save our rivers from slow, painful death

Tuesday August 13 2019

EDITORIAL
By EDITORIAL
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The ceaseless fixation with constitutional reforms and presidential transition have masked critical issues affecting the country. Politicians have created the impression that those are the ultimate challenges afflicting us as a nation.

Yet, they are not. On the contrary, we are confronted with more fundamental existential threats, which we must address ourselves to. And this must be done quickly, aggressively and consistently.

SELF-INFLICTED

The Nation sets out to do just that with the single objective of calling public attention and governmental action to force change. This Group seeks to focus national attention on matters that are at the core of  our individual and collective survival as a society. Failure to address the challenges today will inexorably lead to serious resource conflict and destabilise the fabric that unites us as a people and a country.

One of this existential threats is a serious water crisis. Kenya faces a dire situation as its rivers are decaying and dying a slow, painful death due to heavy pollution from an uncaring population. Sooner than later, the country will face a self-inflicted and ominous water crisis after all the rivers run dry.

Human beings, animals and vegetation are all under serious risks. Emergence of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and the whole range of them, which are claiming lives by the day, are overt manifestations of an eco-system soiled through contamination of natural waters upon which life thrives.

Starting today, the Nation brings to you chilling accounts of massive contamination of our rivers based on weeks of investigations, field work and laboratory tests that demonstrate high levels of toxicity not only of the waters but all living creatures that feed on them. Our journey starts with Nairobi River with all its tributaries, and encompasses other major rivers like Tana and Athi, all of which empty their waters into the Indian Ocean. It is a series exposing self-inflicted death through careless waste disposal, ineffective or non-existent law enforcement and blatant appropriation and encroachment of riparian lands.

LIFE-THREATENING

As our investigations reveal, the waters contain high levels of life-threatening chemicals such as lead, selenium and aluminium. Huge plantations depend on the rivers for irrigation water. Fish and other edible aquatic creatures live on those waters. And therein lies the dangers. The foods we ingest and the water we use are unfit for human consumption. And that is part of the story. Clean water is diminishing, signalling the country is on the verge of becoming water-deficient. Several countries in other parts of the world have gone that route but we have a chance for redemption.

Paradoxically, the maddening adulteration of our waters hardly consumes our minds. Individual citizens are the purveyors of the water poisoning through indiscriminate disposal of effluents. Manufacturing plants emit volumes of effluence on the rivers without a care. Large-scale agricultural companies add to the disaster through bad practices that include use of poisonous chemicals on farms but which end up being washed into the rivers to muddle the waters, literally.

The concerned authorities are silent. Various government ministries and agencies responsible for water conservation and protection seem oblivious about what is happening all round. The Ministry of Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Environment and Forestry and a host of agencies such as the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema), Water Resources Authority (WRA), among others, have single and joint mandates of managing natural resources, including water, but that is hardly seen in action.

HEAVILY POISONED

Not when our rivers are heavily poisoned and the environment deprecated through reckless human activities. When, for example, the authorities decreed demolition of structures on river basins a while ago, the exercise was never completed. Where structures were demolished, new ones have sprung up. The rivers were never cleaned and restored.

The political elite is busy politicking every single day, fighting over whether or not to conduct a referendum to change the Constitution, or who is better placed to become the President in 2022 when President Uhuru Kenyatta exits. Unfortunately, they mesmerise and carry along a huge percentage of the population with them in that mad obsession with politics. Nobody cares about the state of the rivers.

On paper, there are great policies to secure the country’s water sources. On the ground, the story is different. Grand projects like the Thwake Dam in Makueni, which is touted to resolve water deficiency in lower Eastern upon completion, is literally a trap for adulterated water. Similarly, the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme on the Kenyan coast  is fed from contaminated waters. In essence, nobody is safe. Cleaning Nairobi River is a perennial campaign agenda but never actualised.

We are calling for action to save our rivers. Government, private sector, communities and individuals must get involved in a national drive to reclaim the rivers and save them from waste and depletion. Let those leaders who are obsessed with politics also spend energies on restoring our water resources.

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