Two thirds of Kenya is classified as desert or semi-desert and it has just two main rivers, the Tana and the Galana, which is also known as the Athi at its upper course. These rivers are the lifelines of many rural and peri-urban communities by providing water for drinking and irrigation and rejuvenating the parched soil of the savannah landscape with their floods.
Given such circumstances, one would expect that assessment, monitoring and maintenance of river water quality are major priorities; however, the situation could not be more different.
Upstream, the Athi River flows through Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, which I recall being proudly referred to as “The green city in the sun”.
Unfortunately, by the time I embarked upon my Master’s research at IHE, it had become one of the dirtiest cities in Africa.
To myself and other residents, the change in condition appeared not to have been gradual, but more like a sudden and rude awakening, as though a refuse truck had run amok, emptying its contents everywhere in the city so that it seemed as though plastic bags and rubbish spontaneously sprouted from the ground.
The truth was that the situation had been allowed to reach that point because few of us were brought up to be environmentally aware.
That was about to change when various residents, inspired by UNEP, met in 1999 to discuss how they could rescue Nairobi and her rivers in particular, and the Nairobi River Basin Project (NRBP) was born (UNEP 1999).
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