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How can we utilize Payment For Ecosystem Services to address the Nairobi Water shortage?

Nairobi, a place of calm waters, is running low on water. There is a supply of 505,000 cubic meters against a demand of 760,000 cubic meters. Reports indicate that the problem will persist up to 2026. Climate change, deforestation in significant water catchment areas, among others, have been attributed as the leading causes of the problem. The government has undertaken many initiatives to deal with this problem. They include the construction of the northern water tunnel project and the sinking of boreholes to deal with the water problems.

However, this begs the question: are these projects sustainable given that the encroachment of water sources of these projects? There has been a high rate of deforestation in these water catchment areas, which means that they would soon dry up if water sources do not keep up with the demand. And is there a way we can make sure that these sources can cope with the increasing demand for water. As such, this brings us to the concept of payment for ecosystem service.

What is an ecosystem?

The Collins Dictionary defines an ecosystem is all the plants and animals that live in a particular area, together with the complicated relationship between them and the environment.

What are ecosystem services?

It is the contribution, either direct or indirect, of ecosystems to human well-being. They support our survival and quality of life, such as the control of flooding by forests and water purification.

What is payment for ecosystem services? (PES)

PES occurs when a beneficiary or use of an ecosystem services makes direct or indirect payment to the provider of such services.

people get paid for providing services that are of importance to an ecosystem

Therefore, simplifying all these jargon, it means that people get paid for providing services that are of importance to an ecosystem. Such as paying landowners for planting trees. Other countries have employed PES; they pay landowners either plant trees or promote water purification.

Has PES been employed anywhere else?

To begin with, in Costa Rica, the government pays those who plant and protect trees for carbon fixation, watershed protection, biodiversity conservation, and scenic beauty. The payment takes the form of tax incentives that take the form of a certificate. Those who buy the certificates receive bonds that could be traded and used to pay taxes. The landowner has to plant trees before applying for the certificate. This program has 7,000 beneficiaries. As a result of this initiative, trees have swathed the country green.

In New York, the government developed the watershed agricultural program where farmers would receive pay for water purification in the Catskill Mountains. In this, instead of investing USD 6-8 billion in a water filtration program, the city authorities otherwise invested in proper land use, which cost them USD 1.5 billion. This program works through providing technical assistance to farmers who chose to take part in this program. The council also helps farmers find the potential sources of pollution on the farm and deal with them. As a result of this, New York gets more than 1.1 billion gallons of water daily.

These projects have been a success. They have ensured that there is a clean and healthy environment as well as adequate supply for water. As noted earlier, the quantity of water is low, and the demand is high. According to the United Nations, 68% of the population will be living in cities by 2050. Due to the population increase, the need for water will soar. As seen in this decade, due to climate change, there have been unpredictable weather patterns. As a result, rains will not help in ensuring sustainable water levels in dams.

Consequently, PES will come in handy in ensuring that there is no water crisis. First, by providing incentives for communities that live around water catchment areas to protect them, this will make sure that there is an adequate supply of water. Secondly, by providing incentives to landowners to plant trees, this will go a long way to make sure that Kenya achieves the 10% forest cover. It will also make sure that there is serenity, carbon fixation, among others.

PES will also help in dealing with the Mara River problem. There have been reports that the Mara is drying up, and soon we might not have the wildebeest migration. Well, the Mara situation is a bit complex since it involves allegedly illegal land allocations. Notwithstanding that, giving incentives to communities that dwell in this region to plant trees will make sure that water levels in the Mara retain their earlier glory. Due to this, this wonder will not fade, and Kenya will continue receiving foreign exchange.

if the sources are not well taken care of, we will continue dancing to the tune of lower dam levels and water rationing

The efforts by the County government of Nairobi and the national government are plausible. However, if the sources are not well taken care of, we will continue dancing to the tune of lower dam levels and water rationing, which sucks anyway. By promoting conservation of water catchment areas, this will supplement the dams and make sure that there is adequate and clean water.

PES will promote the right to clean and healthy environment, ensure an adequate supply of water, and will give a mechanism for cooperation between the state and its citizens…

The Constitution recognizes every person’s right to a clean and healthy environment.  It also acknowledges the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities. Moreover, it places an obligation on every person to cooperate with the state and other organs to protect and conserve the environment. PES will promote the right to clean and healthy environment, ensure an adequate supply of water, and will give a mechanism for cooperation between the state and its citizens in accomplishing the right to a clean and healthy environment.

Anyway, who wants to live in a city where there is no water?

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9 Comments

  1. Joel Gachomo Joel Gachomo

    Thanks, I like this view. For sure unless we all wake up to the environment issues we will leave a baggage for our children that will be difficult to recover. Based on what you have shared, it seem the gap is not too big for NBO water and just need consistent deliberate efforts to get it solved. But how about the other major cities?

    • Thank you for your feedback on this issue. Indeed it was a pleasure writing this article. Yes indeed a wake up call is needed. Well, the gap is not that big but every year in Nairobi, there is a water shortage.
      This concept can be applied in other cities as what PES does is to pay others for managing the environment. Since the concept has worked in New York, it can work too in other cities.

  2. Lovely read full of insight. I am glad you’re finally sharing the knowledge with us and I look forward to learning more from your articles.

    • Thank you for your insightful feedback. Indeed it was a pleasure writing this article. I appreciate the role being played by my articles. Stay tuned for more.

  3. Moronge Obonyo Moronge Obonyo

    Insightful! This is plausible, and quite feasible. It recognises the importance of incentives in guiding human behaviour, what Adam Smith referred to as ‘enlightened self-interest’, and it promotes a cooperative approach between the government and the citizenry in addressing a key issue today, that of environmental conservation.

    Unfortunately, in Kenya the law always seems geared to promote criminalisation and by extension, an antagonistic relationship between regulatory authorities and the citizenry. Yet, it generally remains oblivious to the incentive question, which looks into what drives people to act the way they do; in this case, not protecting the environment. By factoring in an economic incentive to conservation, better results are likely to be achieved as opposed to coercive measures, involving threats of arrests and prosecutions.

    • Thank you for your feedback on this issue. Indeed it was a pleasure writings this article. I do agree with you regarding the situation in Kenya. The Constitution obligates citizens to cooperate with the government in ensuring the protection of the environment. Indeed promoting criminalization does not ensure conservation of the environment. Rather providing incentives will ensure conservation of the environment.

  4. […] The other one is irrigation. According to USAID, only 20% of the agricultural land is suitable for farming. This leaves a huge chunk of land. Given this disparity, irrigation can help in ensuring that crops are produced throughout the year in spite of the season. More so, given that climate change has brought about an unfortunate reality of unpredictable weather patterns, it is important that we heavily invest in irrigation. This can be done by providing technical and financial assistance to communities on a credit basis. And then they pay back the costs through the proceeds of agriculture. The advantage of this is that is ensures that we create more jobs for the youth and at the same time increase food security. Desert countries such as Egypt have attributed their successful agriculture regimes to irrigation. Further, ensuring the protection of water catchment areas by employing incentives such as payment for eco-system services. […]

  5. Simon Ngigi Gachomo Simon Ngigi Gachomo

    Great article on an urgent matter. Conservation should be taken more seriously that it is currently.

    • Dear Simon,

      Thank you so much for your feedback!

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