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Making water infrastructure investment decisions in a changing climate: Kenya

Research reports

Written by Naomi Oates

In many developing countries, investments to harness water resources for development have tended to focus on built infrastructure such as large dams for irrigation and hydropower production. Who truly benefits from these investments, and who pays their costs, however, remains contentious. Also unclear is the extent to which the health of natural ecosystems, and the services they provide to people and the environment, is considered. Built infrastructure projects can favour socio-economic development, but can also have negative impacts on local communities’ livelihoods, and may not always be the best response in the face of climate variability and change.

The Water Infrastructure Solutions from Ecosystem Services Underpinning Climate Resilient Policies and Programmes (WISE-UP) project aims to demonstrate how natural infrastructure can be combined with built infrastructure in balanced investment portfolios to deliver economic and social development, while ensuring that people and the environment can adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

Under the WISE-UP project, we conducted a political economy analysis to explore the contexts within which decisions about river basin development are made in Ghana and Kenya. Our goal was to understand the barriers to introducing natural infrastructure solutions in water management and development strategies, and identify entry points to address them. This report outlines the findings for Kenya, where we focused on two planned infrastructure developments in the Tana Basin: an inter-basin transfer from the upper Tana to Nairobi known as the Northern Water Collector Tunnel (NWCT) project and a large multipurpose dam (known as High Grand Falls (HGF Dam). The methodology consisted of interviews with key respondents in government, donor organisations and civil society at the national and local levels, supplemented by documentary evidence.

Also available is a briefing note summarising the key findings of the research.

Naomi Oates and Martin Marani