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Water pollution in Kenya.

The Kenyan context is awash with examples of water pollution. Amongst the
myriad of these are the maritime (sea water) pollution at the Kenyan coast which
is chiefly due to the danger posed by ocean bound vessels that ferry oil loads to
the Mombasa port. There have been incidents of oil spills in the ocean in the past
with devastating consequences and raising eye brows. The fact that of the spatial
economies effluents from industries to sewer networks that are not treated end
up at the sea is another example of water pollution in the Kenyan coast. Within
the coast waters context, there is the pollution that arises from the poor disposal
of non-biodegradable substances e.g. plastics, nylon papers and related flotsam.
Up country water pollution has the fresh water systems as the main receptor. For
instance, the Nairobi river that crosses through Nairobi city is a major example of
water pollution. The river system has been abused by industries that release raw
untreated chemical effluents into the river. Again, the culprits are poor industrial
products management life cycles e.g. nylon, plastics and related debris find their
way into the river system. Cases of sewer lines emptied into the system either
due to chain disruptions or sheer negligence are also rife. The other examples in
Kenya’s water pollution woes is the continued degradation of the lake Victoria
water quality. The use of fertilizers by farmers upstream has led to the gradual
but steady eutrophication of the lake a thing that has affected the water quality in
the lake. The channeling of untreated sewer into the lake, car washing by the
lake side - a practice that releases oil spills into the lake system etc have also
served to compound the problem. In the less developed areas of Kenya’s spatial
economy, deforestation and poor solid waste management have also brought
varying levels of water pollution in these micro-economic areas. E.g. increased
deforestation has made surface run-off to increase both in quantity and froth,
plastics matter and poor sanitation have become part of the problem.

In the light of the above water pollution examples both marine and fresh water
system, a number of problems can be identified that are directly associated with

the question of pollution. For instance, the increased eutrophication levels in the
lake Victoria have created an ideal ground for the flourishment of the water
hyacinth. The emergence and consequent resurgence of the hyacinth in the lake
Victoria waters has had a damaging impact on the livelihood systems of people
adjacent to the lake and jeopardized the lake’s ecosystem. For instance, its
scientifically argued that the hyacinth blocks out the suns rays from penetrating
into the lake waters thereby upsetting the natural energy supply of below water
systems i.e. zoo plankton and phytoplankton that forms the basis of the marine
ecosystem. This has led to low fish production at the shore landing points this
has not only created an economic problem to the people but has compounded
the vicious circle of poverty in the region the hyacinth also hinders the natural
churning of the lake waters by surface winds and storms, a thing that naturally
adds into oxygen equation of the aquatic ecosystem. The potential repercussions
of this scenario are not yet fully comprehended at the moment, but there is
evidence that the fish species may be forced to adapt or the process may
eventually ignite an ecological/ biological succession by the more adapted
species which may be of a lower economic level. The possibility of fish import
banns by the traditional markets of the 6billion shillings Lake Victoria fish industry
owing to pollution have been felt in the past and the dangers of adaptation on the
quality of the fish has not been though by the economic planners but the banns
may resurface with this face. Boat riding has also been hindered by this
hyacinth problem, thereby not only affecting the fishing trips into the lake but also
reducing the potential by the regional development players in creating an
alternative livelihood strategy through tourism in the western circuit. As noted
earlier, the dangers of a swing in the adaptation and succession regimes within
the lakes ecosystem are uncertain and the end product of the process is still any
ones guess. The emergence of fresh water snake species that colonies such
habitants may be in the cards with undetermined effects.

Inland water system pollution has increased the costs of water treatment i.e. the
water treatment plants have to employ complex and capital intensive water

treatment methods in order to deal with the high levels of pollution in the waters.
For instance, there is need for chlorination, there is need for coagulation and
flocculation, these processes end up pushing the operation costs up thereby
discouraging most investors and consequently leading to water poverty. Unlike
these polluted water systems, the spring waters that are free from pollution are
relatively cheaper in the treatment. Arising from the obvious fact that the waters
are increasingly getting polluted from human commissions and omissions, the
incidence of water borne diseases are also on the increase with huge
management and treatment costs. This scenario has affected Kenya’s placing on
the Human Development Index. The economic costs arising from water pollution
are yet undetermined, but all pointers indicate that they are great. For instance,
arising form the high levels of pollution of the Nairobi river, downstream attempts
to tap or utilize the waters of the river are either prohibitively expensive or
outrageous. This is because, the domestic or agricultural use is not possible from
the water owing to the high levels of pollutants industrial or otherwise. The
economic impact of this scenario is yet to be established, but it could a lead
factor in Kenya’s water poverty ranking/s.

The problem of oil spills is the source of the triple problems of death of aquatic
life systems something arrived at by the fact that oil being less denser (approx
0.9g/cm3 ) than sea water (approx 1.9g/cm3 ) means that the oil simply floats on
the water surface their by blocking oxygen from penetrating through the waters
leading to deaths. Another boomerang effect from the oil spills arises from the
fact that, the oil tends to be sticky on the wings of birds that plunge the waters for
fish. When the oil sticks on the wings the flight capabilities of these birds are
totally crippled leading to either drowning or incapacitation. Oil spills when
washed ashore tend to stain the sandy beaches thereby leading to a low value of
our beach areas something not healthy to the multibillion tourism sector. The
process of restoring oil spill stained coastlines and waters is usually massive and
in developing economies like in Kenya where disaster preparedness and hazard
handling measures are low, it leads to the diversion of scarce resources affecting

the economy in the long run. Some, losses that arise form the oil spills are
irredeemable e.g. when the oil spills clog up breeding grounds for the sea fauna
e.g. the fishes and the turtles.

The myriad of problems identified above can be addressed by a number of

measures such as a concerted effort to get rid of the hyacinth in the lake Victoria.
This can be done through mechanical means (machines) with a research geared
towards unearthing better alternatives on the use of the hyacinth e.g. making of
compressed charcoal blocks, organic manures and other innovative ways that
will put a value tag on the hyacinth thereby removing the entire burden of its
removal from the tax payer and shifting the same to entrepreneurs. The other
option open is the use of biological (symbiotic) non-risk options to remove the
water weed.

The rise of the pollution – upstream fertilizer use – needs to be cubed, this can
be done by switching to the organic manures thereby reducing the eutrophication
levels in the lake. Afforest ration programs upstream will also help in facilitating
seepage of the storm waters and restore the natural filtration regimes upstream
effectively removing the burden of solvent rich waters from the lake ecosystem.

Law enforcement and awareness campaigns notably those touching on the

Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA 1999)and inherent
processes of Environmental Impact Assessment, Ecological Risk Assessment
and product life cycle management are all measures that can be employed in
order to arrest, halt and reverse the trends in pollution. Disaster preparedness
by the government agencies on potential hazards like oils spills etc need be
strengthened. The abuser pays principle needs to be enforced to remove the
burden of environmental carelessness payments from the public and instill a
sense of responsibility in the corporate world.

The increasing pollution levels in most of the rivers and water systems in Kenya,
need to be addressed through innovative cheap solutions of water treatment e.g..
the use of Ultra-Violent radiation in water treatment or the use of natural and
traditional filtration mechanisms.

Copyright© 2008 by Mwalili Samuel Chaku