The United States, through the US Agency for International Development (USAid), has launched the US Government Global Water Strategy High Priority Country Plan for Kenya, announcing more than Sh13 billion ($100 million) in new water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) investment.
This will increase access to basic or improved water services for 1.6 million people and provide basic or improved sanitation to 1 million people in the next five years across various counties.
This comes at a time when over 20 million Kenyans lack access to safe drinking water.
An additional Sh78 billion ($600 million) is needed annually to reach universal coverage by 2030.
On Monday, US Ambassador to Kenya Margaret Whitman led the launch of the USAid Kenya High Priority Country Plan at the Windsor Hotel in an event which brought together stakeholders in the Wash sector.
Worst drought on record
“As we all know, Kenya is experiencing the worst drought on record, with no sign of significant rains coming anytime soon. When I ask government officials or community members about their priorities, everyone says, ‘water’,” said the ambassador.
She noted that there is a clear linkage between water security and a changing climate, terming the linkage as crystal clear — from historic flooding in Pakistan, leaving a third of the country under water, to the mega drought crippling the Horn of Africa.
Secure access to water, the ambassador noted, gives girls the opportunity to go to school and women the chance to go to work.
Further, water makes it possible to grow food to feed the world, run businesses and keep populations healthy. It promotes democracy, cooperation and peace, all of which are critical for the acceleration of economic growth that Kenya needs to propel itself to the next level of development, she noted.
In Kenya, the recurrent conflicts witnessed in the arid and semi-arid lands (Asals) are often linked to water scarcity, leading to competition for the same among communities.
“The issue of water security will remain a challenge in Kenya and around the world for the foreseeable future. But by working together, we will find the solutions,” noted Ms Whitman.
The event was also graced by Cabinet Secretary for Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Alice Wahome and Nyandarua Governor Kiarie Badilisha who represented the Council of Governors (CoG). Also present was Head of Public Health, Lt Col Susan Koki, who represented Health CS Nakhumicha Wafula.
In her remarks, CS Wahome termed access to clean, safe and adequate water as a constitutional right.
She called for a multi-stakeholder approach in ensuring that the country realises enough water supply for the current and future generations.
In the next 15 years, the CS noted, demand for water is anticipated to grow exponentially, and this calls for innovative approaches for supply.
“As a country, there is need to create the right incentives to attract private investment into areas such as efficient water use technologies, waste water recycling, water storage and conservation technologies,” said the CS.
Speaking on behalf of the Health CS, Ms Koki decried the high rate of malnutrition and stunted growth in many countries, saying this is mainly attributed to poor sanitation and hygiene.
Kenya, she added loses Sh27 billion annually due to poor sanitation, with only 28 percent of rural and 32 percent of urban Kenyans having access to improved sanitation, according to the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) 2017.
“MoH acknowledges and appreciates that USAid’s partnership with the ministry at both national and county levels of government is not new, and we have continuously partnered together in the field of — but not limited to — maternal and child health, immunisation, nutrition, TB, HIV /Aids, and malaria,” the Health CS said in her speech.
Currently, 35 county governments have enacted water Acts and policies while 21 already have county master water plans, according to Governor Badilisha.
However, the Wash sector is faced with numerous challenges including lack of proper infrastructure, especially in rural areas, poor governance and inadequate access to technology in water and sanitation service provision.
To overcome these and other challenges, Governor Badilisha called for strengthened research dissemination, technology development and transfer of the same. This, he added, needs the involvement of participatory and collaborative research towards data-driven interventions.
“There is also need for investments aligned to county-prioritised water and sanitation plans and projects including water treatment plants, water storage infrastructure, dams and expansion of sewerage coverage especially in the urban and informal settlements,” said Mr Badilisha.
The ongoing three-day event which ends Wednesday is part of the observance of the World Water Day which is marked annually on March 22 to celebrate water and raise awareness on 2 billion people worldwide who have no access to water.