Conserving Our River for US and Future Generations: Kikuu WRUA, Makueni County

The problems in the water sector keep on evolving in scope but still adversely affecting Kenyans. The few available water resources are under pressure because of the ever-growing and competing water needs.  The water resources are either overexploited as a result of the growth in social inequity and limited programs targeting poverty alleviation or creating conflicts among users and facing threats from the uncontrolled and unaddressed increasing rates of pollution and adverse effects of climate change. Admittedly, there have been many attempts to salvage the situation. KEWASNET recently visited Makueni County during the documentation of the success of Integrated Water Resource Management model in increasing participation of locals in the management of water resources, an activity under the Water Governance Support Programme supported by the Embassy of Sweden. Makueni is a water-scarce county located in South East of Nairobi. The region is on semi-arid region land and receives erratic rainfall. The 2019 census by the Kenya Population and Housing Census showed that the county has a population of approximately 987, 653 people. Most residents of Makueni depend on agriculture (crop cultivation and livestock rearing) as a source of income which is heavily dependent on rain and water sources like rivers. Water is treated as a commodity Makueni which has led to locals residing relatively far from the sub-catchment digging deeper into their pockets to afford the human right. Kikuu Sub-catchment The Kikuu sub-catchment, located in Nzaui Kalamba ward, flows 129 km2 from Mkuli, Nzaui hills Kikuu river and drains to Athi River, is the main perennial river in Makueni. Looking at the river flowing with green vegetation along with it, it would be hard to believe that the sub-catchment once was in a deplorable state. Animals would drink at any point. Residents could fetch water from the same points cows quenched thirst. This would force women and girls, who are responsible for fetching water for household use in Makueni, to either come at dawn before the cows arrive or fetch dirty water later after the cows have used the river. To make it worse, Kikuu had excessive and uncontrolled sand harvesting which adversely affected the water levels, and there was farming on river banks and pollution from motorists crossing the river because it was considered a shorter route to connecting neighboring centers. Today, these are in the past because of the mobilizing and conservation efforts of Kikuu Water Users Association ( Kikuu WRUA). Kikuu WRUA using Participation and Capacity Building to Conserve to Solve the Problems The challenges present a picture of what Kikuu Water Users Association (WRUA) has had to fight in a bid to ensure sustainable use of the sub-catchment. Thus, capacity-building training by the Center for Social Planning and Development (CESPAD), a member of KEWASNET, came in handy when it came to solving the problems at the Kikuu sub-catchment.
After forming the WRUA, we started having training on capacity building on different riparian members and other key people using the river. From there we came up with strategies of river conservation methods like planting Napier grass along the river banks. Organizations like CESPAD have been influential in capacity building our members hence we have improved our conservation efforts-’Anthony Mutua, Chairman, Kukuu WRUA
Antony Mutua, Chairman Kikuu WRUA speaking on the changing face of Kikuu sub-catchment
The training empowered them with skills on how to effectively manage water resources and engage stakeholders to do the same.  As a result, there have been great collaborations and coordination at different levels aimed at achieving the primary goal of protecting and effectively managing water resources. For example, the enactment of the Makueni Sand Conservation and Utilization Act 2015 helped in making people understand that the sand has to be harvested sustainably through enforcing rules that regulated the practice that severely interfered with water levels at the subcatchement and contributed to drying of river beds and vegetation along the river. Kikuu WRUA is better at coordinating the management of water resources. This can be seen from the changing face of the sub-catchment where water levels are increasing.
                                      Some members of Kikuu WRUA planting napier grass along the river bank
 I get water from the river Kikuu for my farming. The water has greatly helped me. I believe that water is now more available because of sand is available which helps in retaining water. Where there is a lot of sand, water cannot dry easily- a maize farmer in Kikuu.
                                         A Maize farmer at Kikuu who uses water from the river for farming
The river has enabled us to engage in large-scale farming of mangoes. This has created a lot of employment opportunities for youths from this area. We get clients from far who employ us to pick mangoes for packaging ready for sale- Sylvia Mwambua., youth engaged in picking mangoes.
Sylvia Wambua, Picking mangoes from a large-scale farm benefitting of water from Kikuu subcatchment
Part of the mandate of KEWASNET is to improve governance in the WASH and WRM sector by promoting the participation of stakeholders in the sector. WRUAs are a key part of achieving effective governance in the sector because they ensure that sub-catchments are protected. Kikuu WRUA is a good example of how WRUAs can lead processes of identifying and creating sustainable solutions to problems facing water resources at a local level.
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