Why we should safeguard water resources – Phyllis Wakiaga, CEO, Kenya Association of Manufacturers

This article was originally published in the May 29 edition of Kenya’s People Daily and can be accessed online here.

Nairobians are again facing the realities of water shortages and minimal rainfall. When we are forced to make do with less, we naturally turn our focus to how we can get more. More water, boreholes and dams.

But a focus on how to extract more water without equal attention to how we are using it risks driving us to a point where there is less and less until there is none. If we continue to manage our water resources like we are, our need for water will outstrip the available supply by approximately 30 per cent by 2030.

Kenya’s manufacturing sector is a key driver of socio-economic growth and has a major role to play in safeguarding the country’s water security. But manufacturing is water intensive, and to continue withdrawing more water without addressing the efficiency with which we use our most precious resource is unsustainable and poses a serious threat to our water security.

The amount of water used by Kenyan industry per dollar output is much higher than in most developed countries. For every $1,000 (Sh100,000) of product produced, industry uses around 18.7m³ of water. Compare that to 8.1m³ in Tanzania, and 4m³ in South Africa, two countries also struggling with the realities of not-enough-water, and it’s clear that we are not as efficient as we could be.

Increasing our water productivity is both an environmental and economic imperative. Already, businesses are experiencing the fallout of inadequate water quantity and quality. Many companies have been forced to relocate to areas with more water or secure alternative sources of supply for their respective water needs. This adds to their production costs and decreases their competitiveness.

Water scarcity significantly impacts business operations and safeguarding it will ensure that industries promptly supply goods to consumers whilst contributing to the economy.

Additionally, more stringent supply chain and procurement policies are fast becoming a reality as policymakers worldwide focus on how to improve global resource efficiency. Export-oriented industries will need to comply or risk being left behind in favour of compliant competitors.

More so, the policy environment in Kenya is evolving fast. Just last year, Kenya hosted the first ever Sustainable Blue Economy conference where President Uhuru Kenyatta declared that Kenya will lead in the adoption of policies and mechanisms to safeguard water resources. To achieve this, we need better information about water usage. No regulation exists to compel industries to report comprehensively on water use, management and discharge.

The Kenya Industrial Water Alliance — a partnership of public, private and civil society organisations committed to collectively address water-related risks to industrial development and growth, and supported by the Kenya 2030 Water Resources Group — is working with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Water Resource Authority to address this gap.

The alliance is developing a platform to consolidate industrial water-use information, which will provide a comprehensive, real-time overview of the amount of water being consumed for industrial purposes.

Policy makers and government agencies will have the information required for more effective and fair allocation and management of water, resulting in more consistent and equitable delivery.

The project will be piloted in the Athi catchment, where water-use is already exceeding environmentally sustainable limits. I encourage all industries and businesses with operations within the project’s scope to join this initiative.  

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers | ceo@kam.co.ke