By Phyllis Wakiaga
Water is becoming an increasingly paradoxical subject; mainly because it is a universal basic need without which there would be no life, and yet, it is fast becoming the foremost depleted and scarce resource in the world. It is also the lifeblood of any economy, and is vital for the production of single commodities and other goods and services. This is why Kenya’s economy suffered a setback during the severe drought that we experienced at the beginning of the year. The drought, which was declared a national disaster, caused a contraction in Agricultural activities and a deceleration in supply of electricity. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Standards, in the last quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017, our Agriculture sector recorded the first negative growth of 1.1% since 2009. The value of our exports also recorded a decline during this period.
Water’s essential quality to our economy is clear, especially the aspects that drive growth such as industrialization. Economies depend either directly or indirectly on industries whose main input is water. In turn, the effective operation of these industries create a ripple effect in other related sectors and supply chains, consequently reaching the consumers. The direct use of water in production from farm to factory, and in the value chain, combined with the individual uses, will not only increase its economic value but also accelerate its depletion, if policy-makers and other stakeholders do not find ways to optimize it in a sustainable manner.
So how can we effectively plan, develop and manage our national water use for economic growth and sustainability? One way we can do this is by developing an industrial water policy. Kenya is one of the countries termed by the UN as ‘Chronically water scarce’. This is because we fall below the global standard benchmark for water adequacy set at 1,000 cubic meters, registering less than 647 cubic meters of water supply. Having earmarked industrialization as one of the vehicles to deliver Vision 2030, we must start paying attention to the role of water as the main ingredient to a thriving and growing industry. An industrial water policy will therefore look at the provision, use, distribution, disposal and the reuse of water whilst upholding and replenishing the ecosystem.
The policy would be vital at this time when increased populations in urban spaces bring along increased business activities, erode the natural resilience for water bodies, making them vulnerable to climate change and other environmental shocks. This diminishes presently available sources of fresh water whilst exacerbating the tension between the ever-growing demand for it and the dwindling supply. An effective industrial water policy will be the framework upon which water governance is formulated to ensure sustainability and accountability. It will focus on solving key water challenges by integrating industrial processes towards improving water accessibility, while fostering constructive relations between Industry, Government and communities.
The policy would need to be contextualized and nuanced, and its implementation tailored to address the unique needs of our country. Its formulation would include diverse stakeholders who will contribute not only towards finding solutions for the current issues but to deliberate on future water management challenges that would compromise our economic and social development goals. There have been local concerted efforts towards water management in industry such as formation of The Kenya Industrial Water Alliance (KIWA). KIWA is an example of a platform that was set-up to bring industry stakeholders together to build a shared understanding of what a ‘water secure’ future entails.
Industries and other businesses have realized that their individual use of water cannot be viewed in isolation as increased activity or demand in one sector alters the amount of input, in terms of water, energy or raw material, needed for another sector. Hence there is bound to be a burgeoning competition for water, which reduces the availability for other users. To address this, they came up with KIWA, as a way to track and monitor their use of water, finding ways to adjust their capacity to recycle waste water. The initiative that was launched last year set out to implement activities aimed at increasing sustainable access to water, with a focus on ground water management, industrial water use efficiency and improved surface water quality management. This supplements other efforts that had been ongoing such as water audits carried out by the Association of Manufacturers for its members.
That said, the above efforts need to be grounded in a strong and well-structured policy that considers all facets of human life – that is – political, social and economic. Aside from cementing and harmonizing existing water regulations, such a policy will aim to incentivize, self-regulation and re-use of water in industry. It would be very beneficial to our country as it would present a well–articulated understanding of water governance, in order to maximize the economic and social welfare benefits that access to adequate water brings.
The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org