By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kenya launched Africa's first water fund on Friday, a public-private partnership aimed at raising $15 million to provide clean water to 9.3 million people by protecting the basin of the country's longest river.
The Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based charity backing the fund, says it will provide $2 in benefits for every $1 invested.
It said the fund could serve as a model for other water-stressed African nations dealing with the impacts of climate change and population growth.
"Our civilizations will survive or will cease to exist just because of one element - water," The Nature Conservancy's director of field programs in Africa, Charles Oluchina, said at the launch. "At the moment there is very little investment... and this is a way of trying to begin to shift the mindset."
Kenya swings between drought and flood virtually every year, with vast sums spent on aid as crops either wilt or are swept away, along with people and homes.
The Tana River Basin supplies 95 percent of the capital Nairobi's water and provides half of Kenya's hydropower-generated electricity. It also supplies water to a million farms.
The fund plans to invest in agroforestry, drip irrigation, terracing and planting vegetation on riverbanks.
It has started a pilot in which 5,000 farmers belonging to the Green Belt Movement, founded by Kenya's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the late Wangari Maathai, are planting trees.
"This is the next step to the legacy of Professor Wangari Maathai," said Aisha Karanja, head of the Greenbelt Movement. "I think this is the best conservation and environmental thing that has happened to this country because everyone is involved."
Deforestation and quarrying have caused massive soil erosion at the source of the 1,000 km long Tana River. Sediment is washed into the water, reducing both quality and supply.
Kenya's population of around 45 million is predicted to double by 2045, according to the World Bank, increasing pressure on water supplies.
The fund will also make it cheaper to produce hydropower and clean water, its backers said. Kenya Electricity Generating Company will earn an extra $600,000 annually while Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company will save $250,000 a year through lower water filtering costs.
These government-owned companies are supporting the initiative, as well as Coca-Cola and East Africa Breweries.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Ros Russell)