Electric Fences Are Going Up Around Kenya’s Forested Mountaintops. Is This the Only Way to Keep Africa’s Water Flowing?
While we cannot anticipate every consequence of global climate change, one thing has become crystal clear: Water is becoming scarcer and is no longer an afterthought or can be taken for granted. In many places of the world, from the Middle East to Africa, water has become more than a valuable commodity. It has become for a many, a matter of life or death.
As such, wars may well be fought over access to water, supplies of water and ultimately, control of water.
Canada has a population of about 35 million. They have 20% of the world’s fresh water supply and the 3rd largest supply renewable water resources. They also have a law prohibiting bulk water transfers to the US.
In a few years that is going to be very big news.
Shouting over the rattle and creak of his antique Range Rover as it sped north from Nairobi, Christian Lambrechts is an affable harbinger of destruction.
The gleaming new Thika Road is jammed solid with traffic into town. Nairobi is a city on the rise, and a symbol of Africa’s urban future. A decade of uninterrupted economic growth in Kenya has seen the city become the centre of the region’s boom time. Plate-glass complexes are bursting out of the earth along every highway to house the country’s emerging middle class.
A city population of around 3 million in 2008 has risen to nearly 4 million today — although that number is probably already higher than the official estimates, as yet more migrants crowd into the muddy Golgotha of Kibera, the walled-off slum at the city’s heart.
Even with new roads and new houses, Nairobi’s infrastructure is groaning. Its power grid — never exactly reliable — is chronically under capacity. Its water utilities are similarly struggling to meet demand. The clogged and polluted waterway that runs through the slum ebbs and flows, but it is lower than ever after another long dry season. More alarming, however, is the pressure on the Tana River, which powers Nairobi, and the catchments of two main reservoirs which supply it with fresh water. As the city grows, these water supplies are shrinking.
Nairobi, according to Lambrechts, is living on borrowed time.
Like other countries in the region, Kenya has struggled with an increasing frequency of droughts and floods over the past decade, and Lambrechts, the new director of the conservation charity Rhino Ark, told me he knows why. The resilience of several of the country’s key ecosystems has been eroded by human action: small changes in temperature or rainfall can have immediate and severe effects on flora, fauna and human populations.
A case in point, he told me, is Lake Nakuru, which once was full all year round but now waxes and wanes with the seasons. Meanwhile, the upper catchment area in the Mau Forest that once fed it is ‘sick’ from the loss of trees. In the Nakuru National Park, the Kenya Wildlife Service has resorted to pumping water from an underground aquifer into waterholes to keep wildlife alive.
‘Is that a park in an ICU?’ he asked me, ‘Is it on a drip?’