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The concern over rising levels of wastewater pollution experienced in urban areas due to the poor state of treatment facilities is real. Evidence has been collected by the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) attesting to this.

There are high levels of sewer pollution negatively impacting on water quality. Investigations reveal that pollution is mainly due to dysfunctional wastewater treatment plants operated by licenced water and sewerage companies. A number of wastewater treatment works are in a poor state due to lack of proper maintenance with the situation aggravated by a rapidly expanding population yet very little or no effort taken to expand the wastewater infrastructure.

As we reflect on this year’s World Water Day themed ‘Water and Wastewater’, it’s important to consider the negative impact wastewater has on our water resources and our role as good water stewards in being part of the solution. We may have heard the stories of old, as unbelievable as they sound, about how people used to go sailing in Nairobi Dam or how people used to go fishing or swimming in some of our urban rivers. The sight of some of these so-called urban rivers is disturbing because they appear to be part of the sewerage collection system. The awful stench from these rivers coupled with the black and green colouration of the water speaks of the sad state of affairs in how we manage wastewater. The environmental and socio-economic impacts of our unresponsiveness is yet to be measured and will be fully felt by the future generations if the status-quo is maintained.

As an example, previous studies conducted by WRMA show that pollution of Athi River is on the rise and has negatively impacted the downstream communities for whom the river is a lifeline. One of the main sources of pollution is from partially treated or raw effluents from municipal sewage and industrial treatment facilities. If you are a Nairobi resident, you must have encountered the pitiful sight of the once glorious Nairobi River. A tributary of Athi River, Nairobi River is polluted with uncollected garbage, human waste from informal settlements, industrial wastes in the form of gaseous emissions, liquid effluents, agro-chemicals, petro-chemicals, metals and over-flowing sewers.
Nairobi River’s riparian zone, the area bordering close to the river, is encroached by informal settlements who discharge raw sewage into the water. Water resources professionals will tell you that riparian buffers are important for ensuring good water quality, yet Nairobi River’s riparian zone is a buzz of activities filled with industrial buildings, markets, and “Jua Kali’’ commercial enterprises who discharge their wastes into the rivers.

The result of this is spread of water-borne diseases, loss of livelihoods, loss of natural biodiversity, reduced availability and reduced potential of the river becoming a source of safe potable water and the insidious effects of toxic substances and heavy metal poisoning which affects human productivity.
The major effluent dischargers in Nairobi River are actually over-utilised sewerage treatment plants operated by the water and sewerage companies. Due to inadequate investment taken by the government to expand the capacity of sewerage treatment plants, these facilities have become a major source of pollution to the rivers they are discharging into. Efforts have been undertaken by Athi Water Services Board to extend the treatment works to accommodate increased flow to serve the growing population of the city.

Several sewerage plants are facing challenges in managing the effluent discharge and discharge effluent directly into Athi River or indirectly through their tributaries. Due to the quality of effluent being discharged into the rivers, the water quality deterioration is quite high especially during low flows in the river when the self-cleansing capacity of the river is compromised.

The impact of our poor wastewater management is not only felt on the ecosystem but also on people’s livelihoods. A real case of this is evidenced by communities who hitherto benefited from the tourist attraction offered by Fourteen Falls in Kiambu County. Due to the pollution occurring upstream of the water falls, there has been a decline of tourists visiting the area. This has led to a loss of income by communities who benefited from this tourist site. Economically, rivers that once provided a source of income for fish farmers have disappeared due to our own negligence or presumption in managing wastewater. The lost revenues and government taxes lost due to the poor wastewater management would be interesting for the exchequer if he did the maths.

Needless to say, the importance of safeguarding water quality in our rivers due to the ecosystem services it provides cannot be over-emphasised. Rivers provide us with provision services such as water for drinking, irrigation and commercial use; regulating services such as aquifer recharge system, erosion control and flood prevention; and ecosystem cultural services such as scientific knowledge, leisure activities, cultural identity, landscape, environment, education and artistic inspiration etc. It is important to safeguard them from declining water quality resulting from our poor management of wastewater.
So as we celebrate World Water Day, let’s talk about Wastewater as well!

Article by Jennifer Musyoki
GIZ Technical Advisor to KEWASNET on Water Resource Management

 

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Core Values

  1. Partnerships-Collaboration,Participatory and teamwork
  2. Innovation
  3. Integrity
  4. Professionalism
  5. Respect
  6. Accountability

For me, attending the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) partnership meeting in the Hague could not have come at a more opportune time, both as a member of the African Civil Society Network for Water and Sanitation (ANEW) and the Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Society Network (KEWASNET). The meeting provided important insights on how to better support the roles I have been endowed with, but also a good reflection on how my current practice at National level can leverage instruction and learning to an array of partners globally.

One of the more interesting components of the partnership meeting was a session on Collaborative behaviors. Civil society in attendance had an opportunity for reflection on the behaviors and they seemed to easily define their roles in ensuring that the collaborative behaviors are achieved.

An important aspect of the call for collaborative behavior document is the demand for recognition that partners work within shared space towards common goals. This is important, since it then demands for constant self-reflection with regards to how much space each partner is occupying, whether it is the appropriate space with regard to mandate, and whether such occupancy recognizes that there is always a need for collaborative mix of actions from different partners to achieve optimum output for sustainable water and sanitation for all.

Accountability is emphasized as a key behavior for uptake. For Civil Societies in many parts of the world, this may sound like music to our ears, until when the finger is switched to point inwards. Civil Society organizations have for a long time invested much time and resources towards ensuring other actors are accountable against targets and commitments. The collaborative behaviours call for continued focus on this, but also sets the radar on Civil Society as a collaborative partner, to also account for the level of investment in the sector. This is particularly important where Civil Societies directly engage in service provision within the sector through project based actions. Civil societies are called upon to always recognize the role of the Government as the duty bearer in country, faithfully share information on their contribution, and work towards ensuring that their work contributes to good quality and sustainability of output.

In my reflection of this session, I was glad to be able to look back on the work being done by KEWASNET to support exactly the same stream of thinking and action by Civil Societies in Kenya. The asks from the four collaborative behaviours relates to the aspirations of the Integrity and Quality Management (IQC) toolbox developed by KEWASNET for Civil Society, to promote best practice of civil society organizations working in the sector.

Civil society organizations occupy a unique space in the realization of these collaborative behaviors, since they primarily have a unique observer and catalyst role, but more importantly because they are predominantly identified with the rights- based side of representation of the communities whose voices need to be heard more. This provides a ripe opportunity for Civil Society to be the voice and agitator for these collaborative voices, both at global and local levels. Taking such space, for Civil society would call for organized action at these levels. It then follows that Civil Society organizations would need to be facilitated to have the capacity effectively take up such role. This, then, is an ideal opportunity for the SWA partnership to better recognize the role of Civil Society, professionalize their role, and strategically and adequately support such role, through provision of direct financing mechanisms.

By Samson Shivaji

CEO Kewasnet

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