why we exist
The Tana River fuels Kenya’s economic growth.
The Tana River supplies 95 percent of the water for Nairobi’s 4 million residents, and for another 5 million people living in the watershed. It also feeds one of the country’s most important agricultural areas and provides half of the country’s hydropower output. With Nairobi contributing 60 percent of the country’s GDP, the Tana River truly fuels Kenya’s economic growth.
Since the 1970s, forests on steep hillsides and areas of wetlands have been converted to agriculture, removing natural areas for storing runoff water and soil from the land. Now, as rain falls over farms, soils are washed down into the river, which reduces the productivity of farmland and sends sediment into the rivers. This increased sedimentation can choke water treatment and distribution facilities causing complete service disruptions for days or weeks at a time. Today, 60 percent of Nairobi’s residents do not have access to a reliable water supply.
This challenge required an innovative way to protect the Tana River, increase downstream water quality and quantity and provide positive benefits for tens of thousands of farmers in the watershed. Water funds are founded on the principle that it is cheaper to prevent water problems at the source than it is to address them further downstream. Public and private donors and major water consumers downstream contribute to the water fund to support upstream water and soil conservation measures, resulting in improved water quality and supply.
The Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund Trust builds on The Nature Conservancy’s experience addressing similar issues across the globe, with more than 40 water funds are either underway or in development. UTNWF Trust was founded by The Nature Conservancy and was the first of its kind in Africa. This water fund grew quickly and the need for its services became abundantly clear as over 40,000 farms and numerous downstream partners joined the UTNWF Trust. Thanks to its huge success, UTNWF Trust became an independent and locally operated non-government organization in 2021. The Trust is now serving as a model for leaders across the continent who are looking for innovative ways to solve ever-increasing water challenges.