Sunday, 16 August 2015 00:00

The Voice of Water

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The darkness was instantly replaced by a bright soft light and deafening drilling sound. I covered my ears and eyes in irritation. Soon, the raucous sound was replaced by a brief silence that was then followed by loud cheering. I could clearly hear every word, ‘Water! We have reached the water! Our problems are over!’

Despite the fact that I was irritated at the invasion of my privacy, I couldn’t help but smile. It was always a great thing when my arrival left joy in its wake.

But in this case, I hadn’t really arrived – I had been sought for three weeks by a team of seven men in blue linen overalls and green plastic gloves. They were from a private water company that had been hired by Nairobi Water Company to dig a mega borehole in Tena Estate, next to three-decade old towering concrete water tower. Now that I had been found, I would supplement water supply in the Eastern part of Nairobi, which had been facing severe water shortage.

I soon found myself in a silver-colored metal pipe that ran all the way from my original home in the cool depths to another much bigger pipe that criss-crossed the underworld of Eastlands, supplying water to houses. My presence in this pipe was a direct result of a new short-term policy to tap into ground water as a short term measure of alleviating the chronic water shortage in the city.

Before those big metallic pipes sucked me out of the depths, I had been under the Water Resources Management Department of Kenya’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation. But as soon as I entered my new piped home, my departmental guardian became the Department of Water Services.

Recently in Mombasa, a big, rusty and nasty vehicle hit the pipe that I was travelling in and I found myself on a big, hot tarmac road. For hours, I flowed into the road and into the adjacent marshy land until dozens of people gathered and began scooping me into their buckets and jerrycans. Ironically, when I arrived in their homes at Kisauni, I realized that they had not seen me for almost two weeks! Yet there I was, wasting away on the road.

This reminds me of a time when my journey in the big metallic pipes rarely ended mid-way. I almost always made it into people’s taps. But the sad thing about those days is that sometimes, I would arrive into people’s taps breathless after a long journey only to end up dripping aimlessly into sinks.

But that’s a story for another day, let me take you back into the cool depths for a moment.

The Department of Water Resources is responsible for water bodies as they exist naturally. This means that groundwater – which is where I belong – is under this department, together with surface water – springs, rivers and lakes. This department therefore tries to ensure that I am not sucked out of the cool depths in an unsustainable manner; that I am not pumped out of rivers by upstream communities in a manner that harms the downstream communities and that people can access me in legal, sustainable means. As such, if you want to build a dam or tap into me in any other way, you have to pass through this department.

So why do I sometimes end up on the hot tarmac when I should be travelling first class in those huge pipes? Why do people keep poking those loud, searing drills into my home in the cool depths when all I want is to take it easy and replenish?

To find the answers to these questions, let us first review what the Water Ministry does.

Before 2002, when the Water Ministry was reformed, it used to do pretty much everything related to water. It would protect water resources, deal with people who wanted to exploit these resources, handle licensing for water related ventures like dam construction, supply water for domestic usage, collect water bills plus all such related water management and distribution services. But all these changed with the 2002 and 2005 water sector reforms.

The Ministry now deals with policy formulation and coordination; resource mobilization and licensing. Water Service Boards were created to handle the actual implementation. I still remember that cold day in 2005 when the Ministry of Water and Irrigation transferred the management and operation of water services to the Water Services Boards.

These Boards have the sole power to obtain the licenses for the provision of water services for their respective jurisdictions. But we’ll talk more about them on another day. For now, let us go back to those questions:

Why do I sometimes end up on the hot tarmac when I should be travelling first class in those huge pipes? Why do people keep poking those loud, searing drills into my home in the cool depths when all I want is to take it easy and replenish? And to add another question, why am I polluted over and over again?


I cry whenever I encounter all these obstacles in the course of my flow. I can only hope that the Minsitry of Water and Irrigation will wipe away my tears and demolish these obstacles so that I can keep flowing.

DJ Bwakali

Words can inspire action and change the world

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