Kenya Water Sustainability Challenge

International Convening Aims to Tackle Kenya Water Sustainability Challenge

Photo Credit: World Bank, used through Creative Commons licensing
Photo Credit: World Bank, used through Creative Commons licensing

Building off of the success of the Global Knowledge Initiative’s first two LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) pilot programs in Rwanda and Afghanistan-Pakistan, GKI is gaining momentum, scaling purpose-driven networks to solve real science, technology, and innovation challenges across the world. The LINK Round III winner, a Kenyatta University-based research team, began constructing a global network to promote rural livelihoods through water-harvesting systems with support from GKI.

In the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Kenya, which constitute 70% of the country’s landmass, agricultural communities face a dire and worsening situation in terms of sustainable access to water. Women in the region often have to walk 5-10 km daily to collect water for their families. Droughts that previously came every ten years now recur every two or three, destroying crops, herds, and livelihoods. The 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa killed tens of thousands of people, displaced hundreds of thousands, and cost billions of dollars. However, a strange paradox exists for the ASAL communities: while these lands receive as much water annually as they received previously, now the rain usually comes in fewer but heavier downpours. The communities do not have robust means to capture the water when it falls, and are left without sufficient water resources when the rains leave.

Kenyatta University professor Kennedy Mwetu, among others, believes water harvesting offers hope for improved livelihoods and economic development for the ASALs. A native of Kitui, a town located in the semi-arid region, Dr. Mwetu knows too well the economic and development challenges faced by communities that do not have sustainable access to water. It is his personal experience, and his knowledge of the opportunities presented by water harvesting systems, that drives his efforts.

Previously, the Kenyan government and a number of non-governmental organizations achieved progress in implementing water-harvesting technologies in the ASALs. However, these disparate initiatives have yet to result in an integrated harvesting system that is simultaneously inexpensive, robust in the face of harsh conditions, and easily maintained by local artisans. Dr. Mwetu and his team seek to design and implement just such a system. Through the Global Knowledge Initiative’s LINK program, Dr. Mwetu and his colleagues are actively building a network of local and international partners aligned to help them achieve their vision for sustainable water harvesting in the ASALs.

GKI featured Dr. Mwetu as an inaugural African Challengers at the August 2012 Africa Collaboration Colloquium, which convened at Pennsylvania State University. Photo: PSU
GKI featured Dr. Mwetu as an inaugural African Challengers at the August 2012 Africa Collaboration Colloquium, which convened at Pennsylvania State University. Photo: PSU

Despite the advances in Dr. Mwetu’s team’s knowledge and resources, a number of needs persist unmet. To construct an innovation strategy to both meet those needs and leverage the capacity of other partners to do so efficiently, on 16 January, 2013, Dr. Mwetu’s team, Kenyatta University, and the Global Knowledge Initiative will hold an international workshop at Kenyatta University. The workshop offers a backdrop against which to unpack the water harvesting challenge and explore avenues to solve it with government, private sector, academic, and civil society stakeholders. This meeting, organized under the auspices of the LINK Program represents the culmination of six months of collaborative research and on-the-ground design work undertaken by Dr. Mwetu, his team, and GKI. The workshop will be preceded by a two-week design intensive in which experts from relevant academic, development, entrepreneurship, and government communities will work with Dr. Mwetu’s team to develop plans for a scalable pilot project, which will be presented at the 16 January stakeholder workshop. For more information about LINK Kenya, water harvesting in the ASALs, or the upcoming workshop, please contact GKI Program Officer Andrew Gerard at: [email protected] or Dr. Kennedy Mwetu at: [email protected].

Contributors: Andrew Gerard and Sara Farley

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