Sunday, 16 August 2015 00:00

Unable to Quench My Thirst

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The flow that gives me my deepest joy is not in the belly of the earth, though I cherish the Aquifer Express. The flow is not on the surface of Mother Earth though I treasure the River Express. Neither is it in the cloudy skies though I relish the Rain Express.

My deepest joy comes from flowing down the throat of human beings and quenching their thirst. What joy it is when a child reaches out a tiny hand for a glass full of me and drinks me happily. Joy wells up in me whenever a mother returns home from the farm or office and reaches out for me before doing anything else. As she drinks me, I flow down her throat with the glee of her five year old daughter. What joy! What a flow! Nothing beats the feeling of flowing into a body that needs me and simply can’t live without me.

But more and more, I am deprived of this deep joy because millions of Kenyans still don’t have regular access to clean drinking water. Their throats remain dry as I am beyond their horizons and thus can’t flow down their throats.

I am however heartened that Kenya’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation has been taking steps to alleviate this tragic reality.

This Ministry is developing water resources, policy, and overall water sector monitoring functions. It has also devolved water service provisions to local water operators. In addition the Water Regulatory Services Board (WSRB) was created to regulate water and sewerage services, including licensing, quality assurance, and issuance of guidelines for rates, fees, and handling service complaints.

Seven Water Services Boards (WSBs) are responsible for the efficient and economical provision of water and sewerage services within their area of jurisdiction. The seven WSBs cover the whole country and are responsible for asset development and overall responsibility for service.

It seems to me that good water policies and execution mechanisms of the same are in place. But I need to remind you of what Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘a policy is a temporary creed liable to be changed, but while it holds good it has got to be pursued with apostolic zeal.’ Apostolic zeal. This is the missing ingredient that policy makers and people need. Apostolic zeal in formulating, enacting and implementing all water policies.

It strikes me as odd that despite the existing good water policies, I am still a rare commodity in Kenya. Indeed, I am so rare that Kenya is officially considered as a water scarce country. Some say that this is because 80 percent of Kenya is made up of arid and semi-arid lands where I am supposedly as rare as the blue moon. But what saddens me about these places is that on the rare occasion that I rain down in torrents, people end up running away from me! They are scared stiff of me because apparently, I cease being the cool Madam Water and become a flash flood that is out to wreak havoc.

Would you believe this heartbreaking irony?! Those precious people in arid places wait for me for months and when I finally come down resplendent with a cool, mighty flow, they turn on their heels and flee! How do they expect me to quench their thirst, wash their bodies, nourish their children, flourish their crops, if they allow me to slip right through their fingers! And are there any policies in place to address this irony?

‘Splash!’ I cursed as I watched young Chebet run for nearly seven kilometers in search of me. If only she knew that I was just a few feet beneath her feet! I was in an aquifer, flowing nearly as fast as she was running. Plus I was fresh and ready to drink. But she couldn’t access me. Chebet was sixteen and in her final year of primary school. Her brown eyes had a depth that lent her oval face wisdom beyond her years. She was a brilliant young African woman who should have been running in an Olympics marathon and not in search of basic drinking water.

In the 2009 MDG Report, Ban Ki-Moon the UN Secretary General stated that, ‘we are well on our way to meeting the target for safe drinking water.’ Although gains to access me have been made and acknowledged at such high levels, every time I see Chebet racing for water, I can’t help but wonder if Kenya and other African countries are losing the race to access safe drinking water.

Does Chebet have to run for six kilometers to quench her natural thirst for water? Most of the times, she arrives at the seasonal river only to find that I am not there. Even when she does find me, I am not safe to drink. This has to change. Chebet must be able to access me in my pure, fresh self. Not tomorrow but today.

I would like to leave you with these words of Martin Luther King Jnr, ‘Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. We are faced now with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…’


Don’t be too late. Young Chebet is counting on you.

DJ Bwakali

Words can inspire action and change the world

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