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Concern over unsustainable abstraction of underground water in cities

Water experts have raised a warning over the increased abstraction of underground water in major Kenyan cities arising from the pressure to quench demands by an ever-growing metropolitan population.

In recent years, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Nakuru have recorded a rise in the extraction of water from underground aquifers to meet domestic, industrial, and upcoming infrastructure, which continues to pose a threat if not addressed on time.

According to Agnes Mbugua, the CEO of the Regional Centre for Groundwater, increased and uncontrolled water abstraction poses a threat of building collapse in the future due to the exposed vacuum left underneath the surface.

Ms. Mbugua flagged Nairobi for its high urbanisation rates, which have led to the depletion of major aquifers due to over-absorption, equally affecting the quality of water due to high fluoride levels.

The CEO also sounded an alarm in Nakuru City, where 90 per cent of water sources are groundwater, leading to high levels of fluoride in water for domestic use, while in Mombasa, freshwater aquifers are being replaced with saline sea water.

Mbugua, at the same time, called for more scientific research to inform policy decisions on future water abstraction. It needs to strike a balance between increased demand and the sustainable growth of infrastructure in towns and cities.

Speaking in Naivasha during a water stakeholders’ workshop by UNESCO, Ms. Mbugua said the government has started to deploy artificial water recharge, which is geared towards refilling open spaces that have been left after underground water extraction.

In addition, she called for more funding from both the government and development partners for water resource management to ensure adequate protection of water sources and drive sustainability for future needs.

Ms. Mbugua reiterated her centre’s commitment to undertake necessary scientific research, deploy the right technology and innovation, and have a harmonised database to ensure policies and interventions are adopted to address the concerns raised.

“Uncontrolled underground water extraction in our cities threatens the core foundations of buildings, risking future collapse,” said Mbugua.

Sustainable water abstraction, she said, will be achieved through the adoption and implementation of the UNESCO intergovernmental Hydrological Programmes (IHP) strategy, including creating public awareness at a time when climate change continues to threaten the sustainable management of water resources.

Kenya National Commission for UNESCO Secretary General Dr. James Njogu said Kenya is a water-stressful country while calling for more research and data to ensure sustainable water use.

Dr. Njogu said more than 50 per cent of the country’s population lacks access to quality water, adding that there’s a need for more collaboration to control and manage future water abstraction.

Consequently, he said, as a commission, they are currently involved in tree planting exercises to increase the necessary tree cover and drive the conservation of the country’s water resources.

According to the Executive Officer of the Kenya Water Users Association, Enock Kiminta, there’s a need for more partnerships and an increase in funding for local water catchment areas, which are crucial to conserving water sources.

Kiminta at the same time called on the government to follow due diligence when undertaking high-infrastructural projects, including the construction of 100 mega dams in the next four years.

By Erastus Gichohi

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