Building our Economy on Water

By Phyllis Wakiaga

Given the long history of drought in this continent, I believe that it is time we stop viewing it as an exogenous shock and more as a structural problem that we can address with our own abundant resources. But therein lies the paradox, with our fertile soils and abundance in resources, Africa shouldn’t have to grapple with loss of lives and livelihoods from an all too familiar occurrence. The adverse effects of dealing with such occurrences is that in the long term they affect our continent’s capacity to withstand drastic weather changes as the years go by.

One major phenomenon that is synonymous with drought is Water Scarcity. Gone are the days when water was perceived as an infinite resource that can be found virtually anywhere. With growing populations and growing industries, water has become a vital resource in need of our utmost efforts in protection and conservation.

According to The Water Project’s statistics last year, Sub Saharan Africa is among the regions with the greatest drinking water spending needs in the world but 319 million people are without access to reliable drinking water. In Kenya, states that an approximate ‘37 percent of Kenyans rely on unimproved water sources, such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, while 70 percent of Kenyans use unimproved sanitation solutions’. This means that it is about time we think of a proactive approach on water conservation that combines technology and policy to find solution and mitigate risk.

Managing water scarcity means involving all levels of the community in executing strategies and reforms aimed at changing our lifestyle and perception towards water conservation. When the campaign on climate change became a universally acknowledged issue, many people and businesses started to look at the energy conservation efforts that they, in their various capacities, can engage in. For many industries, energy audits were applied as the guaranteed tool for energy conservation that would impact not only the bottom line – in terms of reducing company expenditure – but also the environment within which they operated in.

Similarly, water audits are now being applied globally by industries to monitor and track a company’s water use and devise methods to save or reuse it. A company carrying out water audits tracks its water usage from the inlets all the way to where it is disposed of. This way, a company is able to estimate how much water it is using versus how much it actually needs to use. In many ways, the extent of water ‘losses’ revealed through this tracking has led to investments in water treatment facilities – which provide recycled water for both the company and the surrounding environment. In essence these audits highlight potential areas of saving that the company could coopt and redirect these savings to other important functions.

A water audit might also be useful in pointing to a change of equipment – perhaps from machinery that demands excessive water use – to alternatives that will save water and costs. Additionally, it could even drive culture change in organizations, where every member of staff is made aware of their personal contribution towards water conservation for the environment. These practical strategies would be extended to their use of water at home and have a ripple effect on the community. In short water audits will point at the glaring gaps and long standing assumptions in water use that lead to wastage and force us to review how we utilize this precious resources.

This year, industry is gearing towards championing for a green economy. In many conversations buzzwords have been mainly on energy conservation, and whilst this is good, it is equally critical to look at what we can do to address the problems of water access in the communities in which we are based. A green economy is broad-based and inclusive this means working towards increasing access to clean water and sanitation. It is no secret that lack of water goes hand in hand with poverty.

Hence the development of a green economy cannot happen in a vacuum. Industry needs to play its part in water conservation as a development partner for both government and the community to avert the much speculated water crisis in the near future. It is therefore vital for companies to now put in much effort in devising water efficiency plans, through which they will execute water management strategies towards reducing their carbon footprint and entrenching their own sustainability.

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at

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