A Kenyan glass half full

Cliff Nyaga is a beneficiary of The Coca-Cola Company funded Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship, which sponsors his place on the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, class of 2012/2013. He reports on his second term studying at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment.

Despite having now settled into the academic rhythm of Oxford University life I am still struggling to understand when (and if!) the English winter will end. Since the new year, classes have come thick and fast in the second teaching term.

Hilary term started with an assignment due on the first day and immediately after, a class to attend. Soon thereafter heavy loads of work began flooding in day after day and the library became my new best friend. As the term got busier, I was left with little time to explore the rest of England.

A highlight of the term was meeting my Coca-Cola Company sponsor and discussing my experiences and the numerous initiatives the company is involved with in Africa to improve water access – what a great connection to my area of study!

A scheduled study trip to the Ebro River Basin in Spain at the end of term to learn about water management in the basin provided a stimulating environment to understand how the science, policy and management issues we have been studying on the course play out in a real and complex context.

The Ebro basin trip started on a rather medieval note high up in the Pyrenees mountains, where we stayed in dormitory accommodation built several hundred years ago! The rich Spanish history in Murillo marked a perfect start to our trip.
As we drove down the basin, different dynamics of the basin’s challenges emerged. Most interesting were the competing positions taken by upstream, middle and downstream water users. Today, understanding the Ebro River from the source to the mouth has changed my perspective on management of water resources.

The weather got progressively warmer as we drove towards the Mediterranean coast, and in Barcelona I wore just a T-shirt for the first time since arriving in Europe. Unexpectedly so many other firsts also came my way: my first sip of desalinated water, Spanish beer and my first Spanish dish – paella – which was something to really look forward to after a rather mobile day!

Arriving back in Oxford for spring break just before start of the Trinity term, there was tension in the air from the moment we landed; perhaps a reminder of what lay ahead – revising for examinations. My Spanish memories were immediately engulfed in a deep study period, and time passed so quickly as I approached the exam days in mid-May. This was probably my toughest and most stressful period in Oxford.

The examinations were an experience in themselves: the University dress code required me to wear academic dress – the Sub-fusc – when sitting for all the papers! It was an exciting moment that made me feel honoured to be part of the old Oxford tradition. Within one week the exams were over and a much needed break set in.

Post-exams, I am more relaxed and focused on an exciting dissertation topic for the next three months. My research aims to understand predictors of payment for water services in urban Kenya and Tanzania. This will help identify key factors to enable urban water utilities to improve revenue collection and therefore lead to more sustainable and inclusive piped water services.

Thanks to the Oxford mobile/water for development team, I now have access to multi-country data sets which will provide an empirical basis for objective analysis. I look forward to disseminating my research findings sometime in September and hope they will influence policy decisions in the region for a more sustainable water supply sector in the future.

This is the second in a three-part blog series. Read Cliff’s first and final blogs.

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