Violet Matiru: “Communities around colonial Ruiru I Dam still struggle”
After many years of advocating for strong environmental policies at international platforms such as the UN, Kenyan Violet Matiru asked herself: "How does all this lobbying trickle down to our communities? How does this help our mothers who are still struggling with fetching water and cooking on wood stoves?" This is when she and her colleagues founded MCDI Kenya (Millennium Community Development Initiatives) and started to work with local communities. We talked to her about the historical and current power imbalance in water governance and her efforts to improve water governance in the Athi River basin, that runs all the way from upstream of Nairobi, through the city, into the Indian Ocean.
What kind of organisation is MCDI? How do you work with local communities and improve their access to water?
"When we started in 2005 we thought it was enough to inform people. We published a magazine with successes and challenges in local water governance. But soon we realized that more was needed, that communities needed practical help and that we had to empower them to stand up for their right to water.
In Kenya we have a national Water Resource Authority that stimulates the formation of a Water Resource Users Association (WRUA) for each of the 1,237 sub-catchment areas in the country. In these WRUAs, local water users jointly decide how the water in their catchment is being distributed and used. MCDI encourages community members in the whole Athi River basin to form a new WRUA or to join the existing WRUA for their area."
This sounds really promising. Does this mean that with the WRUAs, Kenya has an inclusive water governance system?
"It is a good system but it still has its challenges. For example, local governments often don't have the capacity to cooperate with the WRUAs. Also, in many cases big users have too much power within the WRUA. Privatization of water sources is also a big problem. Kenya is officially a water scarce country, with approximately 80% of the country classified as Arid or Semi-Arid, so there are many conflicts over water.
There are many power imbalances when it comes to water governance. Water is a very political issue, at all levels. For example, together with our partners PELUM and ICE we are working with communities around the Ruiru I Dam, which was built in the Athi River in the 1950s, during colonial times, upstream of Nairobi to provide the Europeans in the city with water.
The upstream communities nowadays still struggle, since they have no access to water. For example, officials remove water pipes that divert river water upstream of the dam. And one day, when we visited the dam we witnessed how a local woman who went to fetch water from the reservoir with some jerrycans was chased away by officials on a speedboat. After we discussed with the officials, they let her fill the jerrycans, but when we are not there, communities are terrorised this way.
But when the local residents went to their county government to complain, it turned out the dam is not controlled by the Kiambu county, but by the Nairobi Water Company. And now another dam, Ruiru 2, is being built by a state-owned corporation called Athi River Works and financed by Deutsche Bank through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. Again, with the goal to provide Nairobi with water. So the water resources are being privatised for the interest of the rich and powerful in the city, and the county government has lost power over their local resources. The interests and needs of local water users are not being taken into account."
What can you at MCDI do to change the situation for local communities?
"As we realised the Kiambu county has no control over the water at Ruiru I Dam, we are now working directly with the national Water Resource Authority to get information about what happened there in the past and to see how current local water users can regain their access to water.
We can then equip the communities with information. What is happening and what are their rights? We have also developed a community guide on the Kenyan Water Act of 2002 that was updated in 2016.
But we also investigate how different communities are solving their water issues. For example, some communities are quite successful in drawing water from upland forests, where there are many natural springs. We heard of a women-led project like this that seems to be very well-managed, and we need to go there and see how they do that for other communities to learn from.
With the support of Both ENDS, we have been able to connect the various WRUAs in the Athi River basin to form the Athi River Community Network. This way, they can inspire one another other and teach one another the lessons they have learned.
But we know: the solution is different for each location. When you don't take the local situation into account, the odds of causing a conflict over water are much higher. This is why it is best to work with the local communities themselves."
World Water Week Session "The politics of water and the choices we can make"
Violet Matiru is one of the speakers at the World Water Week session which will be led by Both ENDS on 23 August. Among other things, this session is about the importance of power relations in water management, with examples from Bangladesh, Kenya, Canada and Nepal.
For more information
Read more about this subject
A Negotiated Approach for Inclusive Water Governance
A Negotiated Approach envisages the meaningful and long-term participation of communities in all aspects of managing the water and other natural resources on which their lives depend. It seeks to achieve healthy ecosystems and equitable sharing of benefits among all stakeholders within a river basin. This inclusive way of working is an essential precondition for the Transformative Practices that are promoted by Both ENDS and partners.
Inclusive ways to sustainable and healthy food for all
All around the world small-scale farmers are using sustainable and inclusive methods to produce food. Working together with nature and each other, they provide their families and communities with sufficient and healthy food. But their production methods are under pressure from large-scale agriculture and the globally dominant system of industrial food production. Together with our partners, Both ENDS is trying to turn the tide in favour of sustainable, local practices that are mostly known as 'agro-ecological' or 'nature-inclusive'. Why are we focusing on these methods? Agro-ecological practices are climate-proof and inclusive and increase the opportunities for communities around the world to produce their food sustainably.
News / 30 September 2021
Agroecology in Kenya: fighting water pollution while securing food production
About 75% of Kenyans earn all or part of their income from the agriculture sector which accounts for 33% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, agricultural productivity has stagnated in recent years. Various factors have contributed to low agricultural productivity, including an overall decline in soil fertility because of the continuous removal of nutrients by crops; poor farming practices; land degradation and overuse/misuse of synthetic fertilizers that acidify the soil. The solution against these problems is: agroecology.
Publication / 21 March 2023
News / 21 March 2023
Agua es vida: Both ENDS and water governance
Water is literally life, the lifeblood of ecosystems, of nature, of humans. However, in many places the distribution and use of water is unjust and unsustainable. Water management is generally focused on short-term economic interests, on maximizing the profit of a well-connected few at the expense of people and nature. This dominant view of water and water management has its origins in the European industrial revolution, which became the global norm through colonialism and globalization. But according to Melvin van der Veen and Murtah Shannon, water experts at Both ENDS, this view will have to give way to equitable, sustainable and inclusive water management. Both ENDS cooperates with and supports communities and organisations worldwide who are working to this end.
News / 17 September 2021
Beyond trees: the importance of Non-Timber Forest Products for communities
About one in every six people, particularly women, directly rely on forests for their lives and livelihoods, especially for food. This shows how important non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and forests are to ensure community resilience. Not only as a source of food, water and income, but also because of their cultural and spiritual meaning.
Event / 23 March 2023, 09:00 - 11:00
Towards just water governance in Colombia; a dialogue on the Transformative Water Pact
Online side event at the UN Water conference in New York
This event will present The Transformative Water Pact (TWP), an innovative framework for water governance that has been developed by environmental justice experts from around the world. The TWP will serve as a starting point for dialogue between representatives of the government of Colombia, academia, regional and international NGOs in relation to Colombia's current ambitions in multi-scalar water governance.
Press release / 20 March 2023
A Transformative Water Pact : A radical response to the global water governance crisis
Academics and civil society representatives from around the world came together to articulate an alternative vision and framework for water governance, in the run-up to the UN Water Conference 2023 in New York. The Transformative Water Pact was developed in response to the continued exploitation of nature, neglect of human rights and the extreme power-imbalances that characterize contemporary water governance throughout the world. It details an alternative vision of water governance based on the tenets of environmental justice, equality and care.
News / 3 July 2019
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).
News / 27 September 2021
Analog Forestry: sustainable food production with a feminist perspective
In times of ecosystem degradation, deforestation and climate change, rural communities often struggle to make a living in a healthy and autonomous way. One of the solutions to counter their problems is Analog Forestry, a sustainable practice promoted by many of Both ENDS's partners. We spoke to Carolina Sorzano Lopez*, Analog Forestry trainer from Colombia for the International Analog Forestry Network (IAFN), and Luz Marina Valle*, a local Analog Forestry promotora in her community of El Jocote in Northern Nicaragua, to explain to us the advantages of Analog Forestry.
Blog / 12 October 2022
Op-ed in Trouw: "Give more money to local sustainable food producers in developing countries"
The Dutch government and Dutch businesses spend a lot of money on food production in developing countries. But, according to Karin van Boxtel, policy officer at Both ENDS, far too little of that money finds its way to sustainable, nature-inclusive producers.
News / 26 January 2022
Ondiri shines again during World Wetlands Day
Ondiri wetland in Kenya will host the official national World Wetlands Day
celebration on the 2nd of February. This news was received with much joy by the residents of Kikuyu Town and conservationists. For many years, Ondiri Wetland was
polluted and degraded, especially due to encroachment and greenhouse farming. But thanks to sustained and concerted efforts by the residents together with a broad range of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, the conservation of this critical wetland is now being secured. Violet Matiru from Kenyan organisation Millennium Community Development Initiatives (MCDI), finds it a great honor that Ondiri was selected for the celebrations. "The cherry on the pie!"
Video / 8 November 2019
Athi River Community Network
The Athi River Community Network is made up of communities who live along the Athi River watershed. Members of the Athi River Community Network promised to join forces with the Friends of Ondiri Wetland to ensure that this critical wetland is restored and conserved for the sake of current and future generations.
Agroecology is a diverse set of agricultural practices, a field of science and a social movement. It aims to transform food systems towards greater ecological sustainability, social justice, and resilience. Both ENDS and CSO-partners around the world support farmers and pastoralists practising agroecology, both on the ground and in gathering political and financial support.
News / 13 August 2021
Food sovereignty in the polders of Southwest Bangladesh
The situation in the southwest delta of Bangladesh is critical. Because of sea level rise, floods are increasing and the area is about to become uninhabitable, despite Dutch-style dikes and polders built in the previous century. Partner organisation Uttaran works with local communities on climate-friendly solutions that restore the living environment and give the inhabitants a say about their future and food production.
Finance for agroecology
The lion's share of public budgets for climate, agriculture and development still goes to conventional agroindustrial projects that contribute to the current climate, food and biodiversity crises. Both ENDS and our partners are calling for a transition to agroecological practices that are people- and environment-friendly.
Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration
In various countries in the Sahel, vast tracts of degraded land have been restored by the local population by nurturing what spontaneously springs from the soil. They do this using a method called 'Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR)'.
News / 14 June 2021
Concerns about a new airport in vulnerable Manila Bay
In Manila Bay, a vulnerable coastal area next to the Philippine capital city, a new airport is being planned, with involvement of the Dutch water sector. Local civil society organisations raised their concerns about this airport, which has large impact on the lives of local residents and on the ecosystem.
Event / 23 August 2021, 13:00 - 14:00
World Water Week seminar: the politics of water and the choices we can make
What do we mean when we say the 'politics of water'? How are the distribution of water and the access to water influenced by political-economic interests? And who has the power to reverse the flow and change tides?
News / 26 July 2021
CSOs call upon Dutch government not to support destructive land reclamation in Manila Bay
Both ENDS, together with nine other parties has expressed their concern on the development of a new airport off the coast in Manila Bay, Philippines, where the Dutch company Royal Boskalis Westminster has been contracted for the land development. In a joint letter of concern, different organisations and stakeholders describe the alarming situation around this contested airport that will be built on newly reclaimed land.