Championing access to water and the sustainable use of natural resources

Equity Relationship Manager, Religious Banking, Sr Teresa Mukhwana (R); Founder of Mother Earth Network, Fr Hermann Borg (C); and Chaplain of the Catholic Justice for Peace Commission (CJPC), Fr Albert Njagi (L), plant a tree seedling at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Utawala.

Photo credit: Equity Bank

Currently, over two million Kenyans are facing starvation due to drought that is affecting 12 out of the country’s 47 counties. The drought, which is a result of below-average rainfall during the long rain season of March-May, was declared a national disaster by President Uhuru Kenyatta at the beginning of September 2021.

The effects of climate change are now real. Climate change has become a defining issue of our time. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the issues of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

After one and a half-century of industrialisation and deforestation, the quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years. As population and human activities increase, so do the cumulative levels of greenhouse gas emissions with devastating effects on the environment and water resources.

Burning solid biomass like wood is one of the leading contributors to the accumulation of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but more tragically, increases the rate of deforestation.

Trees are the best-known sequesters of carbon from the atmosphere, and therefore when trees are cut for woodfuel or charcoal, we significantly contribute to the rising global temperatures. What’s more, cooking with wood increases the level of Indoor Air Pollution that is attributed to more than 21,000 deaths in Kenya every year and more than three million globally.

Kenya accounts for more than 20 million of Africa’s 320 million people without access to clean water. Persistent droughts and water scarcity are among the biggest causes of community conflicts – especially in the arid and semi-arid parts of the country.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation not only poses a health challenge; it also disproportionately affects women and girls, as they are more often than not the ones usually responsible for fetching water in most families. This takes their time away from school, caring for the family and working to supplement household income. The lack of water and sanitation, therefore, locks women in a cycle of poverty.

Under SDG 6 and SDG 7, Kenya committed itself to achieve, by 2030, universal and equitable access to safe and affordable water, and clean energy for all, respectively. Today, more than 18 million Kenyans still live without access to electricity. Wood and charcoal are the primary sources of cooking fuel in Kenya, estimated at 65 percent, according to the Kenya Household Cooking Sector Study.

Equity continues to support efforts to mitigate and address environmental impact caused by economic activities, by facilitating access to clean energy and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) solutions. The Bank participates in environmental conservation initiatives such as tree-planting and promotion of the use of efficient technologies and fuels for households, businesses and industries, all aimed at reducing carbon footprint.

In 2019, while celebrating 35 years of providing inclusive financial services, Equity launched an ambitious project that will see 35 million trees planted by 2024. This is in support of the national government plans to achieve and maintain the country’s forest cover at over 10 percent by 2022. So far, Equity has planted over seven million trees.

In addition to tree-growing to conserve nature, Equity supports learning institutions to transition to cleaner technologies and fuels and reduce reliance on woodfuel, which is a major course of deforestation and environmental degradation. According to a 2018 report by the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya, 97 percent of primary and secondary schools in the country rely on firewood derived from forests, as cooking fuel.

In March 2021, Equity launched the ‘Clean Cooking Project’, an initiative aimed at supporting learning institutions to install modern technologies for cooking that are environmentally safe such as steam-based cooking, biofuels, sustainable biomass and Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG). Equity provides financing for the equipment and other installation costs based on an institution’s needs. The initiative has already been rolled out in a number of schools in the country.

Other interventions include improving water security, climate-smart agriculture to improve food security, increasing access to clean energy products for households and promoting the use of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies.

Ministry of Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha (right), Ministry of Environment Principal Secretary Dr Chris Kiptoo (second right) and Equity Group MD and CEO, Dr James Mwangi (third right), are taken through the Alliance High School kitchen by the School’s Principal William Mwangi (left). The kitchen is fitted with modern cooking equipment.

Photo credit: Equity Bank

The Bank targets to provide financing for one million clean energy devices and transition all schools that use woodfuel for cooking in their kitchens to cleaner technologies and fuels. So far, over 300,000 clean energy products have been distributed through this initiative. By transitioning to cleaner fuels, institutions can realise significant savings in their cooking and lighting budget with better health outcomes, improved kitchen hygiene and motivation of workers, but more importantly, save the environment.

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