Embrace collective action to protect water catchments like Lake Naivasha

26 February 2024

World leaders, ministers, civil society groups, scientists and the private sector are travelling to Nairobi for the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), the world’s highest environmental decision-making body.

Ambitions are high to restore harmony between humanity and nature, improve lives for vulnerable people and tackle the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

This requires multilateral cooperation and collective action on a global scale. In Kenya, the global climate action NGO WRAP, is partnering with World Wide Fund for Nature-Kenya (WWF-Kenya) through the Kenya Collective Action Water Stewardship Project, to enhance sustainable sourcing and water management around Lake Naivasha, with plans to extend the initiative elsewhere in the country.

Close up of pink roses in a flower farm in Kenya

Lake Naivasha, home to hippos and the African fish eagle, is essential to local communities, businesses and tourism and is designated a wetland of international significance by the Ramsar Convention. It provides flowers and vegetables to Europe and the UK.

Having suffered major water scarcity, there’s an urgency to ensure commercial flower farms use water sustainably, adopting appropriate waste-water management systems. WWF-Kenya and Water Resource Authority (WRA) provide technical assistance to flower farms in Naivasha to improve waste-water treatment with artificial wetlands where gravel and plants filter out pollutants resulting in clean, reusable water. Here a powerful circular economy exists, reducing water use by 10 percent.

A hand holding a magnifying glass examines water quality in bowl

Conservation of water sources is a collective action across government agencies, non-state actors, private and local communities. Smallholder farmers take part in the Water Resource Users Association. In collaboration with WRA, WWF-Kenya has trained hundreds of locals as citizen scientists who conduct health assessments of rivers, collecting data on water quality and quantity. This information, alongside pH, oxygen, and turbidity, helps calculate river health scores via an App so WRA can direct attention to pressure points.

Collective action projects are dealing with problems at a water catchment level, but action across these huge catchments requires the full attention of multilateral agencies, with funding at a level to mitigate the triple environmental crisis for real change to the climate crisis to be possible. These topics must be discussed and decisions made, at UNEA for progress to follow.

By Harriet Lamb, CEO of WRAP and William Oweke Ojwang, National Freshwater Focal Point at WWF Kenya. 

This article was first published in the Business Daily newspaper, Africa.