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We must prioritise rain water harvesting

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We must prioritise rain water harvesting

Floods in Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

You have to have lived through a drought to know the joy of the first drops of rain, that first roll of thunder that proves productive, the turning up of one’s face to the heavens to catch the rain fall, as it brings the prospect of resumed life and fortunes.

For without rain we quickly start to lose our food supplies, verdant soils turn to dust, and crops die as they stand, which may all seem a long way away as we sit now at the other end of the weather spectrum, inundated every day, soaked, wading through rain waters, grappling with flooding.

But now is exactly when we should be most mindful of the devastation of drought, because now is when we should be collecting the water that is falling so freely from the skies.

It isn’t too late and is even a perfect time to change our fortunes for months ahead, by water harvesting.

And that is so both in the cities and in our villages. Studies show that rain water harvesting in Nairobi could provide six to 10 million people with 60 liters a day, where currently the city gets only half that.

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For farmers, where the water issue isn’t just about washing and drinking, but about their productivity too, the impact of water harvesting is even greater.

One farmer, Bernard Maina of Njoro, has even been recobgnised and awarded by organisations from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to the Ministry of Agriculture for his success in water harvesting.

He began by collecting water from road-side drains, and reports that the extra water he saved made his land so much more productive that where he started with one-and-a-half acres he now has 12.

However, beyond his wit in rerouting water from roadside flows, the secret lies in storage. For, perhaps the only disincentive to water harvesting is that it requires investment now, for gains ahead, and that can be just one more cost to find during this rainy season.

But investing in ourselves is truly the only route to better livelihoods and greater financial security, and the costs of water harvesting are really quite tiny.

For urban residents and around our homes, things can be more expensive as we put up guttering to collect and direct the water running down from our roofs. Most of the time, these then run off into drains taking the water underground, to septic tanks, or other sewage or drainage systems.

A first simple step with gutter water can be placing a water butt, or large lidded barrel at the end of the guttering downpipe, although in rains such as these overflow will be rapid and collection limited for the spend. A far better option is to direct the water to an open pit or underground tank.

For those in agriculture, the open pool is emerging as by far the most economical option. For then the cost of water harvesting is the cost of digging a large hole and lining it with black plastic.

The plastic isn’t expensive. It takes space, and every space counts on, say, a ¼ acre. But for any smallholder who does the sums, sidelining three square metres, or some other allocation, which then sees the rest of the plot produce two or three times the food makes for a change that is more like turning ¼ acre into ½ or ¾ acre in the harvests it delivers.

Those open holes with lining carry risks. Young children who can’t swim can drown in a water harvesting pool just as in any waterway, so a cover or fence makes for low-risk water gathering – even a fence of acacia branches will stop young children heading that way.

And with pools in place as these rains fall, we will save thousands of children every year from malnutrition, and transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of families besieged by poverty despite having land, as drought is ended using rainwater that is free.

So let’s make this December and this festive season the time we dig holes and line them with plastic, the family together, we can change the future forever, with just one dig.



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