Friday, March 27, 2009

Water wars Mt. Kenya


I have read on many occasions that the next major war in Africa will be over water. We have just witnessed what may be an early skirmish in this regard.

Several rivers on Mt. Kenya that once used to feed the Uaso Nyiro have gone dry by the time they reach the Laikipia plains. Not surprisingly the ranchers and farmers who run livestock in the lower reaches are upset. Most assume that the water is being taken off higher up by people who tap into the resource for watering the numerous flower and vegetable growing operations on the mountain slopes. In fact some, often most, of the water is taken by riparian landowners needing water for their families or own stock. They usually do this illegally and without permits from the water board.

High up on the mountain slopes, at about 14,000 feet, two major rivers are being tapped in a novel fashion. Someone has employed gangs of labourers to dig trenches and lay pipes right at the springs. Here, the trench meets the stream about 100 metres below the spring. This photo shows a section of pipe in the new trench. Water that used to flow down the rivers has disappeared or has been reduced to the merest trickle. New landowners who have been sold plots that include irrigation in formerly dry areas now supplied by the stolen water are of course well satisfied. In one case government staff broke up the pipes and trenches, but there were repaired within days.

It looks very much as if the Kazita river, a major source for thousands of farmers in Meru district will be the next to be raided. I have fished the Kazita for trout on many occasions, and wonder what will happen.

It is not just these two rivers. The Kithino River, on Mt. Kenya’s western slopes, provides water to 1200 families in one well-run scheme in Tharaka District. The Meru Herbs project, funded initially through Italian initiatives, has well-developed markets in many European countries as well as Japan. If their water source dries up the scheme will collapse.

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