Water is one of those natural resources which people, including myself, living within the privileged confines of the Global North, take for granted. The accessibility of water works on our leverage, our desire. Need a shower? Turn on the tap and hot water is at your disposal. Need a cool refreshing drink? Bam, with just the flick of the tap you have a chilled glass of water. There is little to no thought about where water comes from and how it gets to our tap, rather the access to water is an assumed privilege we use for our own personal needs. On the other hand, people in the Global South are not so lucky or have such privileges. How was this lack of access to water resolved? Have ‘no fear’ said transnational companies, for they are here to rescue the “poor” people of the Global South in exchange for privatizing their water. What that meant was that companies would set up water meters by which residences would have to pay an extreme amount of money for each and every drop of fresh drinking water. Rather than cleaning the polluted rivers and lakes, these companies have decided to commoditize a human right; the one thing we as humans need to live. This new form of colonialism does not come in ships anymore.
I recently watched a thought-provoking documentary surrounding this issue of water and within the documentary they had a brief segment about Lake Naivasha in Kenya and the Flower Farms. I decided to do more research and learned about the exploitative nature of these Western flower companies. Lake Naivasha is a freshwater lake in Kenya, which is located North West of Nairobi, outside the town of Naivasha. The fresh waters of Lake Naivasha support multiple complex ecosystems which sustain hundreds of species. The lake has always been the sole source of water and food for the locals living within the Great Rift Valley area, however dating pre-Kenyan independence, when the British colony was in charge of running East Africa, the lake was deemed for communal usages between the locals and their colonizers. The colonizers began to use and abuse the lake that provided sustenance for the locals’ livelihood . However, the British colony used the freshwaters to establish the export of fresh horticultural produce farms on the lakeshores. After independence, the floriculture continued to flourish and exports began going to Europe thus opening up the potential for Kenya to have a role within the export market. With the increase of business, the fresh water consumption of the flower industry increased dramatically. Flower farms began to pump water from Lake Naivasha. Water shortages began. Many locals residing within the surrounding region were forced to pay a fee to acquire water from the city pumps since the Flower farms had monopolized Lake Naivasha . While locals struggle to acquire the basic requisite of life, a flower could be harvested from any Lake Naivasha farm in the morning, and found ready for sale in any EU florist shop by the evening.
Kenyan exporters ensured the production of high quality roses to their customers within the EU which increased the use of pesticides and other chemicals. The lake’s water level and water quality had begun to deteriorate as a result. Farmers, locals and every ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ with a flower company began extracting too much water for irrigation. The effect of the pesticides and chemicals began killing the fish due to the substantial pollution. These corporations have bought thousands of acres of prime lakeside bush and cleared out locals to make way for their massive poly-tunnels in which roses and other forms of flowers are industrially propagated. They are grown, sprayed, harvested and packed using cheap local labour and flown out of Nairobi, which is just a couple of hours drive away, to reach lucrative European markets within a day. It has long been clear that Lake Naivasha and its surrounding regions are running out of water, and it is mainly due to over-exploitation of this scarce resource. The greed of these corporations have essentially destroyed the surrounding ecosystem.
Our greed and failure to establish harmony with our environment has resulted in the direct depletion of our natural resources. It is imperative that we begin to be conscious of the validity and importance of conservation. Our natural resources are all we have. We must stop the economic exhaustion of raw materials especially within the Global South where nations and citizens are vulnerable to the manipulation of these transnationals companies. Lake Naivasha should be a warning of how corporate greed has managed to take away our humanity and capitalize on our bare necessities.
Whenever you walk buy a vendor selling some cheap flowers, be sure to think twice about the footprint of that flower. Remember where it may have come from; remember the exploited workers, and the diseased waters. Remember the soon-to-be lost ecosystem in Naivasha. Remember Lake Naivasha.
This was the second piece I wrote about Lake Naivasha in Kenya. I watched a documentary titled, ‘blue gold’ and I was intrigued by the desperation and ‘by any means necessary’ attitude these corporations had towards obtaining water. I decided to write about it.