Saturday, September 06, 2008

We have forgotten water and life cycles are interwoven

There is no easier and compelling way to capture the seriousness of environmental degradation around Kenya's five main water towers than through 80-year-old Mama Rebecca Mong’ina.

She is among residents of Mogoroka village in Kisii who watch with hearts gnawed, pawed and clawed by pain and nostalgia as the springs they drew water from since time immemorial dry up. It served them, just like their ancestors so well they needed no storage. You just went, collected the water, and walked back home.

The villagers grew up knowing water was sacred but free. Today they are crestfallen, the only spring in Mogoroka village which served about 1,000 people, has dried up. Vendors are doing booming business, selling water fetched from other places and sources at Sh10 per 20-litre jerrican.

In village standards, where poverty is grinding, that is an astronomical figure. Yet life without water is unthinkable. They simply have to spread the little money they raise from peasant farming to cater for their vast needs.

It is the life of want, aggravated by memories the water came free, so near, ever reliable.

Sadly, it is not just in Mogoroka village that water sources are drying up. As our national survey found out this past few weeks, we are tottering towards a catastrophe — our sources are shrinking and the five water towers are thinning out.

The shocker is that it is because of what we all along thought were fantasy stories spun by environmentalists and scholars. It is all about the human activity and environmental degradation around the five water towers. It is the same sad tale from Mt Elgon to Mt Kenya, Cherangany Hills to Mau Forest. Not even the Aberdares Forest is safe. A quick scan at the endangered water sources is a lesson we no longer just sit back and blame the dry heavens, long droughts, unfair distribution network and global warming.

That was the chilling message from the Congregation of East African Ministers of Water and Development Partners Water and Sanitation meeting yesterday in Nairobi. The red flag was up long ago, even before illegal encroachment on Mau Forest, East Africa’s prime forest cover, which is the source of 12 main rivers in the region.

The meeting discussing Lake Victoria Basin’s input to the attainment of Millennium Development Goal was just repeating what is now a common tale in our living rooms, but whose effect we all too often underestimate. Its capacity to wreck domestic incomes, destroy our social fabric and make life hellish and cruel often appears lost on us.

It is through the sobering stories in our inside pages that we walk you through the looming crisis as told by those who have seen our forest cover shrink. It is as told by those who have began feeling the effect. It exposes our poor management of limited resources. We must save the five water towers as a matter of national interest, and it must be today. Why?

They spread over one million hectares and constitute the upper catchments of all main rivers of Kenya except the Tsavo River.

The shortages currently being experienced in Nairobi may just be a harbinger of what lies ahead. As the old African proverb warns, "Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet." Yet that is exactly what we are doing.

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