The REACH Programme (www.reachwater.org.uk), funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and led by Prof. Robert Hope of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, is a seven year global programme that seeks to improve water security for millions of poor people in Asia and Africa. The main activities are focused in eight water security observatories across three countries: Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya. The REACH Kenya Programme is hosted by the ICCA, University of Nairobi, with Prof. Daniel Olago as the Country Director, and is working closely with UNICEF Kenya. In Kenya, Water Security Observatories have been established in Kitui and Turkana Counties with the support of the National Government primarily through the Ministry for Water and Irrigation, the County Governments of Turkana and Kitui, as well as the resident communities, private sector and other local partners in the observatory areas. The Founding Patron for REACH Kenya is the Cabinet Secretary for Water and Irrigation, Hon. Eugene Wamalwa. Millions of Kenyans face increasingly significant but uncertain impacts from climate extremes, water pollution, competitive resource use and distribution impacts for vulnerable groups, whether they be farmers, pastoralists or the millions without safe and reliable drinking water. The Kitui Observatory work revolves around the theme of "Building Water Secure Institutions" and explores how institutions can be designed to effectively mitigate rural water insecurity risks from rainfall variability, infrastructure unreliability and unsustainable finance. The Turkana Observatory work is centred on the theme "Small Towns in Fragile Environments" and explores institutional responses and risks for small towns in relation to the converging issues of resource variability, demographic growth, infrastructure fragility and financial sustainability to ensure inclusive water services for all.
Achieving water security for the poor requires decision-making across alternative and often competing choices with different outcomes at a range of scales. The REACH Consortium is using a risk-based framework that embeds the management of natural variability and associated political, economic and social uncertainties as the basis for interdisciplinary decision-making, and complements IWRM by explicitly recognising a range of alternative outcomes from multi-disciplinary data with inherent uncertainties over time (e.g. minutes for flash floods or decades for groundwater resources) and space (e.g. household poverty to national growth). It promotes a risk-based definition of water security as ‘a tolerable level of water-related risk’ that is also equitable, and recognises the interdisciplinary nature of choices, trade-offs and outcomes, with outcomes that influence water system sustainability, sustainable growth, and poverty reduction, considering the perspectives of different beneficiaries. This approach is novel, interdisciplinary and practical reflecting the need for hard policy and investment choices in contexts characterised by minimal, uncertain or absent data for decision-making. The evidence that will emerge on new approaches, models and methods will be of relevance across Kenya and the region. It is intended that the programme will deliver robust and accessible evidence on how to ensure sustainable water services for multiple users in developing countries at scale - evidence presented in a way that municipalities, rural water suppliers, governments, DFID and other investment/policy decision-makers can use to improve water security for poor people, and to better understand the costs-benefits and trade-offs associated with investment decisions. The result will be that as key policies and investment decisions are developed, they better take into account the water resources available and any impacts these decisions may have on other users.