The Environment and Agriculture
by Drew Denzin, Ololulunga, Kenya
The quality of water in our village is extremely poor. Water is not looked at as something that can be polluted. Thus, the locals will often bateh and go to the bathroom in the same place where they collect water for drinking and cooking. Cattle have also polluted the river with their manure. In addition, erosion is taking place, due to planting crops on soil that cannot support them. With poor soil quality, a heavy rain easily washes out the crops. With dirt roads that are washed out by rains, all the silt goes directly into the river.
by Kendall Rondeau, Miharati, Kenya
Farms around this area have joined in huge water projects benefiting hundreds of people per project. They have built intakes in the mountain rivers, bringing piped water to many farmers. Although this seems like good development and progress, especially helping women, I have noticed some detrimental effects. The river water is not measured or monitored. Anyone who has money can join a water project and so, as time passes, more and more people are drawing on the rivers. Some rivers have become seasonal from too much use. They dry up in the hot months when we have no rain.
Another detrimental effect is that farmers along rivers and streams farm right up to the very edge of the waterways. They do not follow the law requiring eight feet of natural, indigenous vegetation to be left along the river edges. This farming up to the banks of the rivers leads to erosion, especially following hard rains (which we have almost daily). The rivers are filled with silt and chemical runoff, damaging the water quality as well as its plant and animal life.
These contaminated rivers flow for miles and miles, picking up more contaminants as they pass through farms and towns. People who drink directly from these rivers often get sick. The main illnesses are typhoid and worms.
by John and Kim Shumlansky, Mount Kenya National Forest, Kenya
Our water originates within a protected national forest. The pipeline then flows through a government-owned tea plantation to Kangaita. No major changes in the community or the environment have affected the quality of the water.
by Bryce Sitter, Mobile Clinic, Kajiado, Kenya
We are suffering from contaminated water in many sources. The water contains fecal matter from cows and humans. Sources are not always protected, and animals defecate in the water. This spreads germs and disease. We lost 12 people due to cholera in a village to the south of me. This is directly linked to water.
A few small-enterprise businesses have started here in Kenya. A large tanker truck does waste disposal of pit latrines with a large pump. Unfortunately, there are no regulations on dumping, and wastes are dumped next to streams and foot trails, where they get into contact with people. There are also flower and chicken farms popping up in the area. This is because labor and land are cheap. There are no regulations on dumping or chemical use, and so these farms also pollute the ground and water. They even had the fluoride and chlorine taken out of the water because it wasn't good for their flowers. Those two chemicals are put in water to kill germs in the water and to protect your teeth. We also don't have the money or resources to fix or maintain wells and pumps. If they break down, they often sit that way for a long time.
by Barbara Hinsman, Vigeze Village, Vihiga, Kenya
Two major environmental concerns, which have greatly damaged water quality, are deforestation and agriculture. For the most part, agricultural techniques in Vihiga are low input and low impact, especially compared with those in the United States. Still, farmers regularly use fertilizers and pesticides, which eventually end up contaminating the watershed. In addition, soil erosion from cultivating Vihiga's steep hills increases sedimentation in the rivers.
The problem of soil erosion is augmented by the dangerously high deforestation rate. Hills that were covered with indigenous forest three years ago are now bald, with no trees left to prevent the soil from washing into the rivers to be deposited in Lake Victoria. To compensate for the lack of fuel wood, the Maragoli people plant blue gum trees, of the Eucalyptus species. Unbeknownst to most Maragoli, these trees require a lot of water. A popular place to plant trees is near rivers, where the land is too swampy to cultivate. Now these "swamps," or wetlands, no longer exist due to the eucalyptus trees that drink up all the water. This is very unfortunate, considering that wetlands are natural filtering and cleansing systems for watersheds.
Damage to water quality by deforestation and agriculture is greatly exacerbated by population expansion. With a population density of over 1,100 people per square kilometer, Vihiga is incredibly overcrowded and still growing. As the numbers rise, water quality declines even further, due to more human and livestock waste, more garbage thrown on the streets, more land being intensively farmed, more agricultural chemicals being used, and more trees being felled. So far, the only steps I've seen taken to increase the availability of clean water (not necessarily to actively improve water quality) are protecting springs and building pumps to access groundwater before it becomes severely contaminated.
by Patrick Campbell, Mombasa, Kenya
The supply of water has not kept up with demand. The system in place to supply water was not designed to support a population of 500,000 people. Ninety percent of the time I have water only until 9 a.m., and then again at about 8 p.m. Maintaining the system is also an issue, which is made more difficult by people who break pipes to steal water as they do not have an adequate supply in their area.
Treating the water has helped to create a decline in the spread of waterborne illnesses. However the treatment is sometimes inadequate. The lack of water causes people to turn to sources that are less safe. The result is that there are still outbreaks of waterborne illnesses.
by David Frommell, Bagoo, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
Long before any of our grandparents were in school, tropical forest and lush marshland covered the hills of Kericho District. The Kipsigis tribe lived among the hills, herding cattle and producing indigenous crops. During the early 1900s, European missionaries arrived in Kenya at the forefront of a powerful wave of white settlers. This event forever changed the landscape of Kenya, and Kericho District in particular. The foreign settlers noted the high potential of Kericho as a tea production area. The abundant rainfall, cool temperatures, and morning sunshine were perfect for the sensitive tea bushes. Companies such as Brooke Bond Kenya and African Highlands began clearing the forest and planting acre upon acre of tea. Today hundreds of square kilometers of land rest under a monoculture of some of the world's finest tea bushes.
Establishment of the tea industry came with benefits and drawbacks. Many jobs, high income, and increased education helped the people of Kericho to become comparatively wealthy among Kenyans. The district's surface waters suffered, however, from increased siltation caused by deforestation. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides now make the once clean waters appear grayish brown. Dams and water intakes restrict water flow, resulting in algae blooms on the slow-moving waters upstream of such structures. Today the tea estates make considerable efforts to pursue organic tea farming techniques. The establishment of Kericho as an economic center, however, and the explosion of agriculture in their fertile region, continue to damage the waters. Today the people of Kericho have need for sophisticated water and sewage treatment facilities to clean the waters of what used to be a clean, natural water system.
by Glenna Snider, Osorongai, Kenya
Many people are aware that clean water is important to good health, but it is difficult to put into practice. Women are mainly responsible for all the chores, including collecting firewood for cooking. It becomes difficult to find the time to boil drinking water, so they just drink the water directly from the rivers and dams. New technologies have had little effect on my community.