Water Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki on July 6 issued a Legal Notice designating six bulk water systems and wastewater treatment facilities servicing Nairobi City as national public waterworks.
Although this may not have made big news then, the move was significant coming against the backdrop of a Ksh 18 Billion projects to upgrade the capital’s water and sewer systems.
Also, the infrastructure in question supports the bulk of water and sanitation services in Nairobi and its environs and was previously managed by the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company. Water and sanitation is a county government function as provided in the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution.
Incidentally, one of the water facilities taken over by the State, Sasumua Dam, was temporarily shut down in May when heavy rains in the Aberdares damaged the water transmission pipeline to the dam.
Sasumua Dam accounts for 11.6 per cent or one-eighth of Nairobi’s water supply. The disruption was therefore significant considering that it occurred as the country was already grappling with Covid-19 pandemic with access to clean water and sanitation being crucial in curbing the spread of the disease.
The takeover by the State of the water systems and facilities was not only timely but underscored the need to effectively secure critical national infrastructure, given its role in the country’s sustainable development, governance and security.
Critical infrastructure refers to both physical and intangible assets or systems that support a country’s essential functions and services. It cuts across sectors and includes highways, bridges, railways, power plants, transmission grids, telecommunication networks, water services, ICT systems, airports, seaports, government buildings, schools and hospitals.
The term also refers to national assets, which if damaged, disabled or destroyed, would result in severe disruption of the normal functioning of a Nation or State.
Every State, therefore, has a responsibility to protect essential infrastructure, not only from natural hazards like floods, earthquakes and climate change but also risks posed by human activities such as terrorism, war, riots, arson and cyberattacks.
Given that critical infrastructure naturally deteriorates over time due to age and use, it has to be regularly maintained, upgraded and even de-commissioned at some point.
Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) refers to measures taken to protect a country’s vital assets. The significance of CIP at a global level is highlighted by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2341 in February 2017 on the protection of critical infrastructure and prevention of attacks on the same.
The formation of the Critical Infrastructure Police Unit (CIPU) to provide security at vital public installations shows that Kenya has already embraced CIP as a national security function. CIPU is tasked with securing banks, government buildings, water systems, energy installations and other public facilities.
There is however need and scope for a more robust national CIP framework. It is estimated that Kenya loses Ksh 2 billion annually due to damage and degradation of vital infrastructure, excluding indirect economic losses arising from the disruption of businesses and essential government services.
Think of the colossal damage to the economy, if for instance, the Olkaria geothermal power complex or the Lake Turkana Wind Power project was suddenly taken out by natural or human forces, or the Sabaki River Bridge on the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway was swept away by floods.
If bioterrorism was unleashed using the water infrastructure or at a major transport hub like an airport or railway station as happened during the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro, the consequences would be catastrophic.
A large scale cyberattack on national ICT system would cripple the economy and result in untold financial loss and comprise data.
The vulnerability of critical infrastructure, therefore, has economic and security implications on lives, property, investments, businesses and livelihoods. Some national assets like highways, ports and airports have a strategic role in the East African regional economy.
Fortunately, the process of creating a critical infrastructure protection policy and legal framework in Kenya has been underway since 2015, with a task force appointed under the Ministry of Interior to look into the matter.
In March this year, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i was quoted by media saying that the task force had completed its work and presented a report to him. A draft of relevant legislation has reportedly been prepared but is yet to be published or tabled in Parliament.
Effectively securing the country’s critical infrastructure will move us toward the national development goals espoused in the Big 4 Agenda and the Vision 2030 roadmap to transforming Kenya into a middle-income, industrial economy.
It would also support sustainable development, more so, the realization of international Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Some of the goals include Goal no. 9; building resilient infrastructure which also supports other SDGs related to inclusive growth (Goal 8), tackling poverty (Goal 1), reducing hunger (Goal 2), good health and wellbeing (Goal 3), quality education (Goal 4) and clean water and sanitation (Goal 6).
What should be in the CIP framework? Some of the salient features would include a national register of critical infrastructure that is readily accessible to the public, and identification of the broad spectrum of risks and a detailed risk management approach. It should also provide a participatory mechanism involving all stakeholders – government, private sector and communities– with security dimensions taken into account considering the sensitive nature of some of the installations.
The role of the counties where such infrastructure is domiciled should also be elaborated since security is a national government function under the Constitution.
And since various studies have revealed that failure of critical infrastructure disproportionately affects vulnerable communities, people living in the locality of such assets have a frontline role in addressing environmental and climate-related risks to infrastructure.
In this regard, public participation is crucial and must be incorporated into the framework, which should also anchor collaboration between public and private sectors considering some critical infrastructure is managed by private firms, for example, telecommunications networks.
It is also important to entrench a multi-agency approach to ensure efficient and effective coordination of CIP activities at national and county level.
Accelerating the CIP national agenda will cushion the country from future economic disruptions and save billions of shillings in yearly losses incurred by the State.