World Water Day: Water quality and quantity is important when it comes to food security.
Water is a very essential commodity yet it’s value and importance are always understated. With increased pressure on water resources to support growing population, growing demand for irrigation water and other needs- water is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity. We drink water when thirsty, we water animals and irrigate plants with it, we use it to cook, to wash, clean, and for other industrial use. Water supports all aspects of life and human activity. Unfortunately, the small percentage of freshwater that is not accessible by all people is increasingly exposed to pollution and contaminants that render it unsafe and unusable.
Of the many trillions of liters of water in the world, out of which 2/3 is locked up in glaciers and ice cap only 3% is fresh water. In as much as water can be referred to as a renewable resource, overuse and poor management or water resources reduces both quality and quantity of fresh water. For this reason, water needs to be conserved with utmost care. More than 2 billion people all over the world do not have sufficient access to safe water. World Water Day seeks to highlight these challenges across the world. Governments have a responsibility to ensure adequate supply of safe water to its people. In Kenya, access to safe water is still a big challenge to many. The challenge is even worse in urban areas, with most households in low income and peri-urban neighborhoods finding it extremely difficult and expensive to get clean water.
In rural Kenya, access to water depends on the geographical region and the existence of community water projects. Moreover, the majority depends on natural sources of water such as rivers, dams, ponds, rainfall, seasonal streams, natural springs, and boreholes for those who can afford. However, access is limited to those who live in close proximity to these resources, or who can afford to pump it to their farms/homes. Those who live in arid and semi-arid areas do not enjoy as much access to surface water as the geography dictates.
Contamination of freshwater is yet to be regarded as a serious threat in Kenya. Contamination mostly occurs from microbes, farm pesticides and fertilizers, raw sewage, and heavy metals released into the water. In agricultural regions, chemical fertilisers and pesticides used by farmers are washed away into streams which join into rivers that flow into dams and lakes. Pesticides for instance, have severe impacts both on human health and the environment.
While pesticide contamination might be more in agricultural zones, rivers flow and carry with them these toxic chemicals to people downstream. Pesticides are known to cause different human health issues such as cancer, reproductive health problems, mutation, and hormonal problems. A recent study conducted on Lake Victoria by the Nation Media group found a cocktail of pesticide residues in the largest fresh water lake in the region. Less pesticide should be used in general, no pesticides should be applied close to water bodies, runoff should be avoided through soil cover and pesticides containers and equipment should not be washed in water bodies.
Fertilizers and raw sewage contribute to nutrient pollution (eutrophication); another common contaminant in fresh water. Eutrophication causes more algae growth than the water ecosystems can handle, usually known as algal blooms. It is also a big contributor to excessive growth of water plants such as water hyacinth affecting other water organisms, tourism and activities of fishermen.
Investing in clean water systems for both rural and urban populations is a sure way of improving the quality of life while promoting food security for the entire nation. Each Kenyan county has a unique challenge as far as access to quality water is concerned, and these challenges need different measures. Better sewage systems and grey water systems to support water recycling, efficient rainwater harvesting systems and drip irrigation are just some examples. We should also enhance water-use efficiency at farm-level by using sustainable approaches such as enhancing soil water holding capacity to reduce the amount of water needed for irrigation. Other water-efficient practices include growing diverse plants with different height and different roots, growing drought-tolerant crops and implementing intelligent earthworks (that hold the water on the farm). There is need to go slow on the use of chemical inputs in farming to reduce pollution of the same very scarce water resources.
Let’s protect our water quality, try to avoid further pollution so that food security through clean water is ensured.
This article was written by The Route to Food Team
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