As drought hits crop yields and livelihoods, Kenya approves the first of a planned fleet of plants to get drinking water from the ocean

“Small rains” in Kenya failed this year, putting water resources high on the agenda (Pic: Flickr/EU Commission)

After a year of severe drought, Kenyan authorities are resorting to desalination to quench the thirst of coastal communities.

In the face of an unprecedented emergency, the technology, which is used to remove salt from the sea to produce drinkable water, is now seen as a lifeline by both national and local authorities despite its long term costs and environmental impacts.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Kenya is set to experience more dry weather in the first quarter of 2017. An estimated 1.3 million people are likely to go hungry as a result of crop failure, loss of livestock and lack of fresh water.

After what Kenyan officials describe as a “total failure” of the short rains – a brief wet season normally occurring between November and December – president Uhuru Kenyatta has given the go-ahead to the first of many desalination projects set to dot the country’s coast.

It will produce 10,000 litres of drinking water a day and serve about 3,500 people in Lamu county, which was particularly hard hit by this year’s drought.

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Desalination is widely used in desert countries like the UAE and US states such as Florida and California, offering a buffer against water stress as the planet warms.

But the technology in turn contributes to other environmental impacts brought about by a changing climate, in particular on marine ecosystems. In order to produce…