Kenya: Community Network for a healthy Athi river
Through pollution and water scarcity, communities along the Kenyan Athi River have learnt the hard way that upstream and downstream communities are inevitably connected. In response to indiscriminate impacts on the environment and people's livelihoods, civil society organisations within the Athi River Basin formed the Athi River Community Network (ARCN).
"The Athi River Basin is degrading rapidly. We need to re-establish our connection to water, and get a sense of responsibility to our rivers. That's why it's a community network; it is people who directly interact with the river. We must manage the river sustainably for our benefit." – Violet Matiru, Millennium Community Development Initiatives (MCDI)
Through the ARCN, civil society organisations and community members have a platform to network, discuss their challenges, and explore opportunities for collaboration. These contribute to mutual capacity development and in creating a sense of solidarity among the people of a shared river basin.
Thanks to interactions among the members of the Athi River Community Network, the ARCN has come to a better understanding of how different localised problems are oftentimes related to overarching institutional problems. Problems on the ground vary from one location to another – including pollution, encroachment of riparian land, and erosion – which may require different types of interventions. Yet, in order to make local interventions possible and fit the needs specific to the context, (local) institutions need to enable communities to actively participate in decision-making processes. Moreover, as local interventions should be in harmony with the carrying capacity of the entire river basin, members of the ARCN underscore that communities' local perspectives and needs should be incorporated in a governance plan for the entire river basin.
Dialogue with government authorities
The ARCN also engages in dialogue with government authorities, who actively participated in ARCN's workshops. During one of the workshops, government officials welcomed contributions by the ARCN for the implementation of the Water Act, which speaks of a decentralised and participatory approach, assisted by Water Resources Users Associations and Basin Water Resources Committees (to be established). Hence, Both ENDS' support to ARCN's endeavour to design and pursue a development path of their own, comes at an opportune moment.
Both ENDS support to ARCN's efforts toward an inclusive river basin approach for the Athi River also includes South-South exchange. Recently, we facilitated such an exchange between the network and Professor Vijay Paranjpye from India, who shared his experiences of using a Negotiated Approach to a river basin in India. Vijay Paranjpye has also been a key contributor to the development of a Negotiated Approach on the basis of already existing local initiatives, which is nicely captured in the book 'Involving Communities'.
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