Turkana residents turn to barren lands to quench their thirst

world water day, turkana water crisis, water scarcity, groundwater, underground water
A resident quenches his thirst at a watering point in Turkana County on March 4
Photo credit: EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  •  On this year’s World Water Day, the theme is “Groundwater: making the invisible visible.
  • Jackson Mutia, WASH Specialist UNICEF Kenya, Lodwar Field Office, says they are partnering with the county government and other partners to strengthen community resilience to climate change through improved water services.


If there is one thing that Turkana residents have become accustomed to, it is the dry spells. They are longer and frequent. And when that happens, they are left with a barren land. One that they turn to, at least for water.

At this time of the year, Nakiria River in Kalokol, which is close to Lake Turkana’s western shore, is bone dry. The only evidence of the existence of a river are sandpits, rocks and other solid materials. Like the norm whenever it dries, locals come here to dig water holes for underground water. It is a backbreaking and laborious pursuit that takes eight young men at least two days. They dig using spades.

For decades, individuals here have depended on groundwater to serve their every need—domestic use, irrigation, watering animals and drinking.

To help solve the water crisis in their village, David Kiong’wa and his seven friends teamed up and dug one of the water holes here at Nakiria’s River bed. There are about five water holes, each owned by a different group of people. David recently turned 20 and shares that the much he knows about water is the lack of it and the torturous quest to bring a full jerrycan home.

“I remember as way back as 1998, my mother would have to walk for many kilometres in search of water. Then she started fetching at the water holes that had been dug here before and walked to town, more than 40 kms away, with a jerrycan atop her head to sell the water for a meagre earning. Water scarcity is a perennial problem here,” he offers.

According to Moses Natome, Turkana Water Chief Officer, 40 per cent of the population (more than 400,000) do not have access to potable water. The water holes at Nakiria are one of the unsafe water sources in the region yet depended on by thousands. “Water scarcity is a big headache in Turkana. It’s one of the Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL)counties and we are experiencing the impact of climate change, affecting the water sector and compounded by the drought. We had two boreholes where people could draw potable water but one of them was destroyed during the recent flooding. So there is only one left and the demand is high,” he offers.

Under the scorching heat and a whining noise from a generator, which they use to pump water from the water hole, he fills one jerrycan after another. There are three water vendors in line, each with at least 10 jerrycans.

Because of the scarcity of water in the region, it is a highly valued commodity and one that has to be protected at all costs.

“When dusk falls, we group ourselves to guard the water holes. Every day there has to be at least two us, whether it’s at night or daytime, to ensure that the water is not contaminated because it is not only used by communities around here but also the hotels in Kalokol town,” he shares.

As with water in general, demand for groundwater is increasing because of population growth and consumption patterns. In the same breath, this results in groundwater depletion.

A few metres from his water hole, a teenage boy is busy scooping sand from the hole. Due to the dry weather condition, the water table has dropped and he has to dig frequently to get water. He doesn’t own a generator so he fetches with a small tin into empty jerrycans.

A few minutes later, Job Wamalwa piles the jerrycans onto his motorbike. He is a water vendor who is depended on by many residents and hoteliers in the region.

To get water here, he parts with at least Sh200. “On average I make Sh3,500 every day selling water. There’s a portion that goes into the motorcycle’s loan repayment, fueling and savings. Unlike other previous jobs I have held, I am most certain about making money as a water vendor. That’s why I don’t like it when it rains because it becomes difficult to access clean water as the water holes get filled up with flood water,” he says.

The community around the water holes get water for free but resellers have to part with some money, which according to Kiong’wa is not enough to do much but it at least cushions them from hunger.

On this year’s World Water Day, the theme is “Groundwater: making the invisible visible. Jackson Mutia, WASH Specialist UNICEF Kenya, Lodwar Field Office, says they are partnering with the county government and other partners to strengthen community resilience to climate change through improved water services.

world water day, kaikor well, turkana, water shortage, groundwater, underground water
A man fetches water for selling at Kaikor well in Turkana County on March 2
Photo credit: EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“We are working to ensure that 98,000 people in Turkana have access to potable water by the end of this year. In areas where the water is not viable, we are doing sand dams. During times like this, we are working to ensure that water points are rehabilitated,” he offers.

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