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Pre-competitive collaboration could be key to solving water risks in Kenya

 
Water Scarcity in Kenya

The UN classifies Kenya as a chronically water-scarce country. A new cross-sector partnership in Nairobi aims to manage the city’s water resources sustainably Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Pre-competitive collaboration could be key to solving water risks in Kenya” was written by Flemmich Webb, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th January 2014 15.08 UTC

For most companies, competing comes more naturally than collaborating. Why would you work the people you spend most of your time trying to wrestle market share from?

But increasingly, businesses find they are fighting for more than customers – they are also competing for, or at least having to share, finite natural resources. And not just with each other, but with other users, such as governments, local communities and farmers.

This is the situation that has Diageo found itself in regarding water, via its subsidiary East African Breweries, which itself has three subsidiaries based in Nairobi – East African Maltings, Central Glass Industries and Kenya Breweries.

Combined they use about 2.5m cubic metres a year and rely on a regular water supply for their operations – as do other businesses in the city, companies such as BASF, British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola Nairobi Bottlers and Chandaria Industries.

The UN classifies Kenya as a chronically water-scarce country. Nairobi already has water problems, only about half of its residents have direct access to piped water and supply is intermittent. Access is likely to become more constrained, with the city’s population projected to increase by 6.7% a year to seven million by 2025. And if temperatures rise in East Africa, as climate change models indicate they might, that could mean less rainfall and more evaporation.

Diageo, which runs water initiatives on the continent as part of its operations anyway, decided this potential scenario required a more substantial response. One that involved working with all stakeholders in the city, including other businesses and being viewed through an economic lens.

“Future investment in brewing capacity in the city will inevitably rely on a sustainable supply of water,” says Michael Alexander, Diageo’s global head of environment.

“We realised we couldn’t do it on our own and that to make a real difference in the broader watershed, businesses will have to work together with new partners, many of whom we hadn’t worked with before.”

That watershed is the Tana catchment area in central Kenya, where most of the water for drinking, hydropower and industrial use for Nairobi comes from. Industry also uses its own boreholes, as these ensure a more reliable, better quality water supply.

The first step was to get all interested parties in a room. Diageo got GIZ, the German department for international development, on board and, realising the need for local ownership of, and passion for the initiative, handed over to Kenya Breweries, the lead partner on the ground.

The taskforce has now met twice, in September and December last year. Among those present were officials from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, GIZ, and a number of other businesses and organisations.

No one was sure how it would go, but companies reportedly put aside their competitive instincts. So far, they have agreed on the taskforce’s aims and initial commitments, including to share best practice and identify and commit to specific intervention projects.

“We have a common objective, which is the management of our water resources in a sustainable manner,” says Donal Fitzgibbon, global environmental risk & performance manager at BAT. “This initiative provides us with an opportunity to share best practice and pool our collective expertise and experience in managing our valuable resource, on which we all depend.”

So far, so positive. “It’s early days, but I’ve been really struck by the level of consensus about the scale of the water risk in Nairobi, together with a real sense of commitment to address the issue, both through specific projects and working with government,” says Christian Von der Heide, supply chain director for Kenya Breweries.

“Inevitably there are challenges around driving a multi-stakeholder watershed approach, but this initiative has certainly got off to a good start.”

These challenges include achieving consensus on all decisions with all partners, with various work practices and cultures; identifying projects that will have meaningful impact in the short and long term; and establishing effective measurement and evaluation.

 

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