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UPDATE: Lake Naivasha and the right to water

Green Left Weekly reports, “An estimated 2.4 million Kenyans are facing food insecurity this year. One cause is poor rains, which are probably at least partially the result of climate change. Another is the rising cost of imported food. Rising food costs are also partly caused by climate change, but also by speculation. For the finance industry, food is just another commodity to be bought, sold or hoarded to generate the most profits. …Neoliberal globalisation means that although Kenya depends on imported food, since the 1980s Kenyan agriculture has been increasingly devoted to crops for export to Europe.”

“Kenya is the largest supplier of cut flowers to Europe, providing more than a quarter of imports. These are mostly roses, and a third of annual production is for Valentine’s Day… In 2004, Kenya was exporting more than 88 million tonnes of cut flowers worth US$264 million… Foreign, mainly European, corporations own the flower farms.”

“Most of the industry in concentrated around Lake Naivasha (which is located north west of Nairobi). A January 2008 report by Food and Water Watch and the Council of Canadians, Lake Naivasha: Withering Under the Assault of International Flower Vendors, documented how overuse of the lake’s water causes levels to drop. …The report said: ‘Historically there was public access to the lake, but the private landowners have closed most of that … which really means the flower farms now own much of the land around the lake. Without adequate lake access, poor residents are left to get their water from communal taps and form long lines to do so. Cattle herders, such as the Maasai, can only bring their cows to a small section of the lake where there is still public access ― sharing access with women washing their clothes, hippos, and flamingoes. …The pesticides applied on the farms and in the greenhouses eventually end up in Lake Naivasha and in the groundwater, endangering the area’s people and wildlife…”

Additionally, in March 2009, the Guardian UK reported, “Maude Barlow, senior adviser on water to the president of the UN General Assembly, argues that the environmental costs (of giving flowers on Mother’s Day) are unforgivably high. Polluted runoff and depletion of water levels at Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, where more than 30 flower farms are located, are problems that we must take responsibility for. The lake stretches across 53 square miles and is fed only by underground springs; it is any important source of drinking water for local villagers and a habitat for hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife. …‘The water levels are down about 25%,’ she says, ‘and the hippopotamuses – the largest wild tribe left in east Africa – are dying. They’re baking in the sun. The lake can’t sustain this any longer.’ And it isn’t just Lake Naivasha. ‘Every single big lake in Africa is in crisis,’ she says. ‘Europe does wonderful work preserving its own water, but the way it’s doing that is to use other people’s water.’”

In September 2011, AllAfrica.com reported, “(Kenyan) Water minister Charity Ngilu (has) announced the Water Act of 2002 will be reviewed to make provision of water a basic human right inline with the new constitution.” Kenya was one of 41 countries that abstained at the United Nations General Assembly vote on July 28, 2010 recognizing the right to water and sanitation. In 2007 the National Water Services Strategy was formulated to guide the implementation of the Water Act. It is based on “the identification of sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation as a human right and (unfortunately) an economic good.” More on this at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=10566.

The Council of Canadians/ Blue Planet Project is now in the process of hiring a South Africa-based organizer to work on right to water and sanitation issues across Africa. That individual will maintain a watch on issues relating to Lake Naivasha and the common threats faced by all lakes in Africa.

To read the Green Left Weekly article, please go to http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/49188. To read the Lake Naivasha report, go to http://canadians.org/water/documents/NaivashaReport08.pdf.