Natural water bodies—rivers, lakes and wetlands—still form the bigger part of sources of water for domestic use, livestock and irrigation in Kenya. Even with the substantial growth of commercial fish breeding, most of Kenya’s fish also comes from the ocean and these water bodies.
Yet, all indications are that the water sources are endangered by pollution and other environmental malpractices such as forest cover depletion particularly at the main water towers.
The discharge of poisonous effluent and other substances by everyone—from car washing establishments who do their business on lake shores to manufacturing companies thoughtlessly dumping chemical waste into rivers—is slowly but surely turning the water bodies into fast fountains of disease, destruction and death.
The pollution manifests itself in many subtle and distinct forms from mass deaths of fish, as was the case in Lake Naivasha in recent years and outbreak of diseases like cholera to slow reduction of fish populations and high prevalence of diseases such as cancer due to dumping of heavy metals into waters used for domestic purposes and fishing.
Compromised water bodies can have immediate and long-term effects, including endangering the economic and social welfare of communities that depend on them for livelihoods. The national economy, too, will take a beating in the long run.
Reports of fish imports from China to fill a yawning deficit in the local market may partly be explained by this problem. Because of heavy pollution, our waters are barely conducive for sustenance of marine life, including many fish species.
There is, therefore, urgent need to give the health of water bodies more than a passing interest in policy and deliberate actions. This state of affairs is largely the result of either a weak regulatory framework or failure by the regulatory bodies to carry out their mandate effectively.
The impunity with which manufacturers discharge industrial waste into water bodies or commercial farming entities allow harmful chemicals from pesticides and fertiliser to find their way into water bodies suggests that we have weak laws or hapless water management authorities.
Water resources will be the healthier if the authorities acknowledged that the way we are managing water bodies is neither forward-looking nor sustainable. It can only lead to disaster. There is need for radical change, beginning with a reassessment of the effectiveness of regulatory and management entities.