Raising the benchmark on environmental management: Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) seeks water harvesting solutions

The coastal city of Mombasa experiences heavy rains and flooding several times a year. Whenever the rains pound this historic destination, the storm water causes havoc sometimes resulting in loss of human life and destruction of property.

Despite the constant flow of the mighty Tana River into the Indian Ocean and the huge volumes of rain water that Mombasa receives annually, the city suffers a major deficit in water supply. The constant flooding and lack of water management systems poses a health hazard as well. Case in point, in May this year an outbreak of Cholera and other water borne diseases followed in the wake of flooding and heavy downpour.

Large government institutions have not been spared from constant shortages as, The Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) says it has never had enough water for use by either its workers, clients or general port users. Bernard Kyumbu, a frequent user of the port says many are the times he has been thoroughly embarrassed when he could not access sanitation facilities at the port, because they were locked.

“I import cars and there have been times when after spending hours at the port waiting for clearance of containers and when the toilet facilities are shut down we are informed it is due to lack of water.”

The Green Port Policy adopted by the port management with the support of TradeMark Africa (TMA) is expected, among other things, to address the issue of water harvesting, recycling, water purification, and sewerage treatment.

Under the Mombasa Resilient Infrastructure Programme, United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) through TMA, has provided KPA with US Dollars 36 million to implement some of these environmental interventions among them water supply, reticulation and storage.

The policy will also address the issue of hillside protection at the port to avoid the repeat of 1997 El Nino rains when the container terminal at the Port was shut down for two weeks after the El Nino floods hit the coastal city.

“We dream of a port that is not just green but one whose employees, management and clientele are environmental champions,” says Senior Economist at KPA Mohammed Golicha.

Golicha acknowledges the concerns of scientists and geologists that the sea levels are sinking and in the event of a Tsunami, the port which is on a hilly location could literally disappear. KPA therefore seeks to develop infrastructure that is resilient and protects the port from the vagaries of nature. In this regard, TMA has supported the integrated design for all hillsides at the Port and implementation of Eco Terra Facing works for 2 critical zones at the Port while KPA is financing Eco Terra Facing for an additional zone.

Mohammed A. Hassan, KPAs Senior Environment Officer says: “Another challenge we face is marine pollution from our own sources at the port and from our neighbours.”

His team has established many points where waste water drains into the sea directly in its raw form. “We need to put up facilities such as biodigesters that would treat sewerage before it goes into the sea,” he adds, “In the long term we should also invest in the purification of the seawater for use at the port to complement the rainwater harvested.”

A polluted sea damages the corporate image of KPA and can even cause loss of business from global clients that are environmentally conscious.

Mohammed says that the port has taken the water harvesting and waste management so seriously that it has met all key stakeholders over its Green Port Policy and even signed a memorandum of understanding with the County Government of Mombasa on water sanitation and tree planting within the ports of Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and the South Coast.

The KPA senior management is alive to the fact that carbon emissions within the port are extremely high and carbon absorber trees need to be planted urgently.

The port generates a lot of liquid and solid waste which is not catered for by the county government. This included waste from ships. With no designated waste management facility at the port, both the KPA and the County Government of Mombasa must act fast to restore good environmental management practices and standards.  Through a consultative process, KPA with support from TMA is developing a comprehensive waste management plan to cover the entire Port of Mombasa.