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July 21, 2018

Looming water crisis a threat to growth goals

Athi River residents que to draw water from the EPZ water selling point on The residents are experiencing acute water shortage with areas of Athi River, Mavoko and Kitengela most affected./JACK OWUOR
Athi River residents que to draw water from the EPZ water selling point on The residents are experiencing acute water shortage with areas of Athi River, Mavoko and Kitengela most affected./JACK OWUOR

A report has warned of a looming water crisis linked to the massive forest destruction.

Forest and Water on a Changing Planet: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Governance Opportunities’ says no attention has been paid to the importance of forests and trees in the water cycle.

It warns that the problem will complicate attainment of sustainable development goals.

“Forests’ role in the water cycle is at least as important as their role in the carbon cycle in the face of climate change. In addition to being the lungs of the planet, they also act as kidneys,” the report reads.

It says focusing on the forests-water-people-climate links “wisely, comprehensively and expeditiously” is crucial for long-term wellbeing and survival.

The report is a global assessment prepared by the Global Forest Expert Panel — an initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests led by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO).

The Kenya Forestry Research Institute, World Agroforestry Centre, African Forest Forum, African Network for Agriculture and Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education are members of the IUFRO.

The report is to be launched today at the UN’s high-level political forum on sustainable development in New York.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals seek to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They were built on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals.

They include new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace and justice.

The goals are interconnected — often the key to success in one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another.

Hiroto Mitsugi, FAO’s assistant director general of forestry and chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, said “water must be given the attention it deserves”, as it forms the bedrock of the SGDs.

“Water is central to attaining almost all of these goals. Forests are inseparably tied to water,” he said.

Mitsugi said policy and management responses must tackle multiple water-related objectives across the SDGs through a multiple-benefits approach.

According to the UN, Kenya is chronically water-scarce. Its natural water replenishment rate is at 647,000 litres per capita per year — far below the demand for one million litres per capita per year. Estimates of supply indicate that only about 56 per cent of the population has access to safe water.

The UN says about 80 per cent of hospital attendance in Kenya is due to preventable diseases and about 50 per cent of these illnesses are water-, sanitation- and hygiene-related. Coverage of adequate sanitation has dropped from 49 per cent to 43 in recent years.

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