18 Jan 2017 Story Climate change

Citizen science helps ecosystem renewal in Kenya

Nairobi, 18 January 2016: Kenya faces diverse sustainability challenges such as climate change, degraded ecosystems, poor health, waterborne diseases, and poor waste management. Unsuitable consumption patterns and limited environmental awareness are compounding the problem.

There is, therefore, an increased need for capacity development, environmental awareness, and information exchange to foster a generation of environmentally conscious citizens capable of positive action.

The World Student Community for Sustainable Development (WSCSD-Kenya) is one youth group that has taken up this challenge. Led by Nickson Otieno, an architect passionate about providing sustainable solutions in the man-made and natural environment, the group has embraced two ecosystem initiativesAdopt-a-river and Adopt-a-forest. The idea is to mobilize and engage students to conserve and restore water and forest ecosystems within and around their universities, contributing to a clean and healthy environment, in line with Article 42 of the Kenyan Constitution.


The Adopt-a-River initiative seeks to empower young people and communities to participate in river monitoring and restoration. Using citizen science, students and youth collect and identify aquatic macro-invertebrates which act as bio-indicators, and score them on the miniSASS app. The mobile app then scores the general river health and water quality in that river. Already piloted at multiple points along the Nairobi River, the information gathered guides youth, communities, authorities and policymakers in identifying sources of pollution, and put in place appropriate interventions to restore and conserve rivers.

The initiative will be rolled out in various river basins, once the training-of-trainers’ is completed. This not only contributes to ecosystem health, but also various targets in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6 relating to things like the elimination of dumping, protecting water-related ecosystems and strengthening the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

The Agenda for Sustainable Development is a set of 17 aspirational "Global Goals" called Sustainable Development Goals, with 169 separate targets to be achieved between 2015 and 2030. The United Nations spearheaded the process of developing the Goals in consultation with member states.

Kenya High School Environmental Club members showing monitoring equipment


Nairobi School students at the sampling point in Lavington, James Gichuru Road


Nairobi school students identifying macro-invertebrates.


To address climate change-related issues, WSCSD-Kenya is partnering with Kenyan universities through the Adopt-a-Forest initiative. The initiative calls for forests to cover at least 10 per cent of land in all public and private universities and neighbouring communities. This initiative complements the Kenyan Government and UN Environment-led Kenya Green University Network. It provides youth and women with alternative incomes through the establishment and management of tree nurseries; and combats climate change, thus contributing to taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, as set out in Sustainable Development Goal 13. Since its inception, over 20 tree nurseries have been set up in five universities, and 10,000 trees planted on or near Kenyan campuses.

Aqua Republica game

WSCSD-Kenya is also a national partner of the UNEP-DHI Center for Water and Environment for organizing the Kenyan Eco Challenge on Sustainable Water Resource Management.

The Eco-Challenge is a fun and innovative way of engaging high school students and teachers on issues of sustainable water management using an online virtual game that replicates the real world. Aqua Republica Challengeis an online game in which a simplified but realistic world is created for players to play and learn — by personal experience — about the conflicts and trade-offs that exist in a river basin. The game is part of a not-for-profit initiative developed in partnership with UNEP-DHI and UN Environment.

Biosand filters

To complement this initiative, WSCSD-Kenya has also enhanced community development through capacity and awareness creation on potable water. In Nyakongo village, western Kenya, over 250 community members have been trained on the assembly, installation and maintenance of biosand filters which are simple household water treatment devices. At present, over 124 filters have been assembled from locally sourced material, contributing to increased access to safe drinking water, and reducing water-borne diseases. This device will support Sustainable Development Goal 3.3 “ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases by 2030.” The experiences from implementing the Biosand Filters Water Project led to the conceptualization of Nyakongo Sustainable Village Initiative - a youth-led programme aimed at co-creating a model sustainable village in Kenya by the year 2030. 

WSCSD-Kenya also works closely with the National Environment Management Authority and various environment education stakeholders to build the capacity of students in schools. The organization, in partnership with its spin-off social enterprise, Greenbrick Enterprises, now seeks to address plastic and solid waste management by promoting construction of affordable buildings from waste materials.

Stream Assessment Scoring System http://www.minisass.org/en/

The UNEP-DHI Center for Water and Environment is a United Nations Environment Programme Centre of expertise. The Centre was established in 2001 and is hosted by DHIgroup headquarters in Denmark. The Center is supported by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and dedicated to improving the management of freshwater resources from the local to the global level.