Saving Water South of the Equator

Water Funds in Latin America May Provide Models for Kenya

Representatives from several of Nairobi, Kenya’s most prominent businesses and public agencies – including Coca-Cola East Africa, East African Breweries, Nairobi Water Company and KenGen – recently toured conservation projects that are designed to protect water for people, wildlife and business in Latin America.

These decision makers are working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to develop a plan to conserve the upper reaches of Kenya’s Tana River watershed and the drinking water and hydropower energy it provides for more than four million people.

The goal of the study tour was to demonstrate how cities like Quito, Ecuador, and Chiapas, Mexico, help secure water sources by engaging local communities in conservation activities and developing sustainable financing tools. Together, these strategies create a whole-watershed conservation program, known as a Water Fund. So far, there are 12 Water Funds already operating in Latin America, and 15 being designed across the region, thanks to an impressive group of local and regional partners who have been working together to make this happen.

Fred Kihara, TNC’s Nairobi Water Fund Manager and organizer of the study tour, explained that the trip enhanced the Nairobi team’s collective decision-making confidence and the team has made good progress developing the Nairobi Water Fund since their return. Participants shared with Kihara some of the lessons learned and how they plan to adapt and apply them to Kenya’s water conservation efforts.

Bob Okello - Public Affairs and Government Relations Manager, Coca-Cola East Africa 

I now have a very clear understanding of how all the pieces come together. A watershed is a holistic system comprising social, environmental and economic activities. A water fund therefore seeks to buttress the sustainability of these activities. An understanding of the top-to-bottom chain in the Tana watershed is crucial. In fact, it should be important to be clear on the conservation interventions for the two key watersheds in Tana.

Evelyn Muthoni - Head of Environment, East African Breweries Limited

It’s clear that the key is integration. Ecology and economy don’t have to be enemies. Together, the two can be synchronized to achieve a better tomorrow. In essence, the two combined bring more profits. Corporates and entrepreneurs ought to embed and integrate ecology in their corporate strategies and for business continuity.

When corporates come together with other like-minded stakeholders (other corporates, NGOs, academia, civil societies and government), a lot can be achieved to conserve scarce, or soon to be scarce, resources, thereby ensuring availability and equitable distribution of those resources to communities.

Philip Gichuki - Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Nairobi Water Company

Building and improving human capacity is the main incentive of the Water Fund initiatives. Nairobi Water Company hopes to play a bigger role in the development of the Water Fund as we have identified it as an appropriate tool for use in maintaining a green water collection infrastructure. We have been very effective in maintaining the treatment works, conveyance system, distribution lines, tanks and now feel the watershed should be included as part of the business sustainability equation.

Mathew Murgor - Senior Catchments Conservation Officer, Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited (KenGen)

I learned about the importance of local community involvement and integrating economic benefits and sustainable agricultural practices.

KenGen acknowledges the direct relationship between the health and wellbeing of the watershed and the operation of our hydropower plants. There is plenty of benefit in terms of sustained supply of water in the dams and reduced sedimentation in the reservoirs, which will mean longer life for the existing plants thus improving productivity and operational efficiency. KenGen considers the Tana system an important, cost effective source of power for now and the coming years and it is why we are participating in the Water Fund together with others.

J. M. Gathenya - Professor (JKUAT University, Kenya) and Board Director, Nairobi Water Company

Water is one resource that is of interest to all: individuals, business entities, public organizations and communities. It is possible to mobilize support from stakeholders for watershed conservation if we understand and address their interests and concerns. We have learned from our study tour of Mexico, but we need to adapt the Water Fund concept to fit within the bio-physical and socio-economic context of the Upper Tana basin.

Philip Githinji - Production Manager, Nairobi Water Company

We cannot assume that local communities should leave the watershed to create room for conservation of those areas. We must integrate conservation activities with their livelihoods and educate them on the benefits of conservation. I also now understand now that the organizational structure of the Water Fund may vary for different watersheds depending on certain inherent factors for that particular watershed and I think the government’s buy-in to the program is a real factor to assure success.

Beatrice Gichohi - Chief Manager, Planning and Development, Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA)

In Monterrey I learned that for the water fund to succeed and gain support from stakeholders it should have a clear and solid strategy, which should be informed by good science. Another lesson learned is the importance of having a broad base of stakeholders.

From Chiapas I learned how important it is to involve local communities in planning and implementing the conservation initiative. The communities in Chiapas seem to have internalized environmental conservation. Lesson learned: sensitize the community on the value of conservation and involve them at all stages.

Simon Wang’ombe - Regional Manager, Tana Catchment Area, Water Resource Management Authority of Kenya (WRMA)

A key lesson is the importance of involving the community to acknowledge any effort that is made in water conservation. This will make the initiatives a success as the communities are the ones living with the resource and any activity by them will have a bearing on the resource – positively or otherwise. There is also need to get the community to appreciate the economic good of the water resource.

Boniface Mwaniki - Deputy Technical Coordinating Manager, Water Resource Management Authority of Kenya (WRMA)

It is important to understand the economic value of watershed assets. By attaching a value to the resources, sponsors see their impact. It also provides a benchmark, or a standard, for compensating the upstream water producers.

Another important lesson is the importance of properly diagnosing the threats to the watershed and mapping the characteristics of the watershed, including its stakeholders (their roles, activities and their conservation goals for the watershed), priority areas to conserve, a baseline assessment of watershed health, conservation target setting and available resources (particularly financial).

All of these lessons cannot be achieved without adequate resources. A water fund should therefore develop a clear funding policy and a clear fundraising strategy.