Kenya's Water Resource Challenges

Kenya is located in Eastern Africa, with about 51-million people, which is equivalent to 0.67% of the world's total population. The country's total area is 575 451km2, which gives a population density of 90 persons per square kilometer. As of 2020, about 27% (13 million) of this population resides in urban centers. Estimates Population (2018) 50.18 M Urban population (2018) 13.57 M Rural population (2018) 36.61 M Population growth rate (2018) 5.8% Gross Domestic Product USD (2018) 85.98 billion In terms of water coverage, only 11, 230 sq. kilometers is covered with water, representing just 1.9% of the total area. Regarding agricultural potential, the size of high to medium potential suitable for agriculture is about 16%, and the rest 84% is arid and semi-arid only suitable for wildlife, livestock production, and irrigation agriculture. Since 1990, the Kenya land classified as forest cover is 1.2% constituting about 7,084 sq. Km versus a target of 10%, having reduced from 17% since 1990.

Challenges Kenya faces enormous challenges concerning her limited freshwater resources. The magnitude and severity of these issues facing our water resources affect most sectors of our economy, resulting in high prioritization of our water resources management.

Some of these challenges include;

  • Water Scarcity; Kenya is categorized as a water-scarce country. According to the United Nations (UN) water recommendations (which define a minimum of 1000 cubic meters of renewable freshwater per-capita), Kenya is categorized as a water-scarce nation with only 647 cubic meters of the per-capita renewable freshwater (UNEP, 2012). As a result, many rural and urban areas have limited access to safe drinking water. The available renewable freshwater resources are projected to decline by 2025 to 235 cubic meters per-capita per annum, which is minimal (The National Water Services Strategy (NWSS), 2007).
  • Underdevelopment of the water Resources; Out of the available renewable water resources in Kenya, only about 40% can develop. The other percentage is critical for maintaining the river and riparian ecosystem as well as reserving the biodiversity.
  • Climate Variability; Kenya has extreme climate variabilities. The rainfall patterns are highly unpredictable spatially, temporal as well as in intensities. As a result, the natural water flow is subjected to extreme variations in time and space. We have been facing extreme events such as the recent flooding in 2017 and 2018, and we have previously experienced severe drought events in 2016 and 2017.
  • Catchment degradation; Due to human activities, some of the country's catchments have been highly degraded. This has resulted in increased runoff generation leading to flash flooding, low groundwater recharge, and increased sedimentation of the eroded particles downstream. Some of the human activities leading to catchment degradation include; inferior farming methods, deforestation, and improper soil conservation practices.
  • Monitoring and Assessment of the Water Resources; The hydrometric system and data collection and reporting techniques for assessing and monitoring the stream flows have highly deteriorated and cannot adequately support the evaluation of the country water resources. Instead of recording an increase in the number of operational monitoring stations, the number has significantly decreased. What remains is a vast data gap relating to stream flows, a huge set back to planning for development.

Kenya is facing a water crisis with the following characteristics;

  • Water resources in Kenya are limited, and the per-capita capability of freshwater is very minimal
  • There is a high temporal and spatial variability of the national hydrology
  • Average annual rainfall varies inconsistently, and recently we have witnessed extremes events of droughts and flooding
  • Poor management is also witnessed in the water sector, and we are having a crisis due to the increased population