What you need to know:
- Turkana and Samburu counties are among regions in Kenya where walking kilometres and queuing at the water points is a daily chore for women and girls, following long dry spells.
- Thank you isn’t enough to show how grateful they are for initiatives to assuage their pain.
It is 8.30am when we arrive at the freshly built water point in Tingasap village, about 30 kilometres from Maralal town in Samburu County.
A group of women are lining up, patiently waiting for their turn to fill their plastic containers with water.
This is Loosuk Water Supply Project in Samburu North Constituency, which was recently constructed by a well-wisher, much to the happiness of girls and women in this locality.
Among the women is Veronica Leakono, who says she has been in the queue for the last 30 minutes. When her turn to fetch finally comes, she fills her four 20-litre containers with this precious but scarce commodity.
“This will be enough for me today. I will use some for my household and give some to my goats. I am glad I have managed to get it this early. I will have ample time to do my household chores,” she says with a smile on her face.
Prior to the commissioning of the borehole, Ms Leakono would get water from another borehole in a village about six kilometres away. This means she would trek 12 kilometres to and from her home. The long distance only allowed her to fetch two 20-litre containers of water per day.
“I would be forced to leave home at 4am, to get to the borehole by 5am. That’s the only way I would find a short queue," she says.
Even though the new water project is two kilometres away from her home, Ms Leakono and the other women are a happy lot.
“We thank God for the project. We are grateful because it will ease our suffering. Before it came, I was unable to do other jobs like farming and domestic chores, effectively. Most of my time was spent looking for water,” she adds.
And as she places the water on her back and embarks on her two-kilometre journey back home, we cannot help but notice the joy the mother of seven has, perhaps due to the realisation that she will, henceforth, walk a shorter distance to fetch water.
The effects of drought are evident here. The trees are almost dry, rest for a few scattered green leaves. The rivers have dried up. The visibly weak cows and goats walk to the watering point to take water, as the herders closely follow them behind.
Access to water is a global crisis. It is also a women’s crisis. Water insecurity is a feature of life for both pastoralist and nomadic pastoral societies with women and children bearing the biggest burden of fetching it.
Providing households with drinking water often requires an enormous investment of time. Globally, women and girls collectively spend 200 million hours every day collecting water, according to studies. Women and girls walk an average of six kilometres each day gathering water.
Among the Samburu community, women are responsible for both domestic water supply and watering of livestock, which requires them to travel long distances and spend a considerable part of their day fetching water.
Time and energy spent collecting water means time and energy not invested in earning an income generating business or going to school.
Routine monitoring by the Drought Management Authority shows that at the height of the drought in 2017, women in some areas travelled up to 15km a day to find water, leaving them with little or no time for other chores including childcare and feeding their families.
Susan Leaduma, a member of the committee that runs the water project, terms it the best thing that has happened to the community. She tells Nation.Africa that women and girls in the area would spend hours looking for water, something the project has since solved.
“The young mothers and girls would trek for kilometres looking for water, making them vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, and girls to miss school. It has also been hard for women to do other jobs since most of their time has been earmarked for fetching water,” says Ms Leaduma.
The mother of two reveals that the acute water problem in the area has most often forced women and girls to collect water from a local swamp, posing a serious health hazard to locals, as it exposed them to water-borne diseases.
“Many locals, especially children, have suffered from stomach aches and diarrhoea after consuming the swamp water. The new borehole now enables us to access clean water, which will drastically reduce cases of water-borne diseases,” she says.
Gabriel Letukei, the water project committee secretary, says the project will serve more than 5,000 households spread across Tingasap and Loosuk villages.
“Everyone is excited here that the perennial water problem has finally come to an end. Women will now be able to till their land and do other domestic chores. Girls will no longer miss school to look for water,” Mr Letukei says.
To ensure the project has minimal operational cost, Mr Letukei says they have installed a solar system to pump water to the storage tanks.
The tanks will be placed at water kiosks installed at different points across the villages. The kiosks, he notes, will help locals access water near their homes. This project has been undertaken by the Kenya Red Cross in conjunction with the United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
Morris Anyango, from Kenya Red Cross, says they have trained select locals who will do minor repairs of the water system whenever breakages are reported.
The organisation has, so far, rehabilitated eight water projects in Samburu County, which will see 25,000 residents have access to clean water, he says.
“These projects will be instrumental in eliminating sexual and gender-based violence against girls and women. Many defilement cases and cutting of girls happen early in the morning or late in the evening, mostly when they have gone to look for water,” says Mr Anyango.
Ms Leakono’s story is not an uncommon one. Some kilometres away on the north-western side of Samburu County, we meet Dorcus Imekwi Amenele at Konyipad village, in Loima Sub-county, Turkana County.
She is seated inside her manyatta, waiting for the sweltering heat to reduce so that she can make one more trip to a seasonal river located 10 kilometres away.
Access to water is a huge challenge here too. About 40 per cent of the Turkana population has access to the commodity, largely in urban centres. Locals who reside in manyattas have to grapple with long distances in search of water.
In Konyipad village, locals have made scoop holes where they obtain water for domestic use.
Ms Imekwi tells Nation.Africa that her younger brothers, Etabo Amenele and Emuse Eliwanyang, are in the grazing fields with the family livestock. “We need at least 40 litres of water per day for domestic use. I am responsible for fetching water. It is a tedious job, but I have to do it because we don't have a functional borehole here," she says.
Families headed by elderly women and children have suffered the most, she reveals.
“Here you have to walk long distances to find water, wasting time that should be spent engaging in economic activities," Ms Imekwi notes.
Climate change has intensified environmental and economic development challenges in Turkana County, impeding the local community’s capacity to access food and water - culturally a preserve for women. The county has, for long, experienced periods of repeated drought.
She explains that fetching water is usually a women’s and girls’ job, which impedes their participation in educational and productive economic activities.
“Malnutrition, too, is common here because most households lack proper food. Diseases related to poor sanitation are also common because clean water is inaccessible,” she discloses.
More than 54,000 children under the age of five years, suffer from acute malnutrition in Turkana County, according to statistics by the Kenya Food and Nutrition Situation Seasonal Assessment Report (March 2019).
The report also indicated that the nutrition situation in Turkana County remains at critical level, with a Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) level among infants and young children falling in the range of 15.0 — 29.9 per cent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says severity of malnutrition is only acceptable if the prevalence is less than five per cent while a GAM value of more than 10 per cent indicates an emergency. Turkana’s has been teetering between 15 and 30 per cent.
Turkana County government has stepped up efforts to address water scarcity amid biting drought through development partners’ support.
Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai says his administration is committed to solving water challenges across the county, especially in Lodwar Municipality and its environs.
"My administration will procure 10 elevated steel tanks to support the water supply system in the municipality. We intend to exploit key groundwater resources including the Napuu aquifer and a number of high yielding boreholes along the River Turkwel," he says.
He acknowledges support from Unicef in developing a 25-year master plan to guide the county’s investment geared towards meeting water needs for Lodwar Municipality.
He also lauds the partnership between the county government and Koica/Unicef, through which 76 boreholes have been drilled and equipped in Turkana Central and Loima Sub-counties.
The water department has sent out teams who are currently repairing boreholes that have broken down, across the county. This is part of the devolved unit's efforts to boost access to the essential commodity since many locals walk long distances in search of clean and affordable water for domestic use, and their weakening livestock.
Mr Lomorukai says the water services team in Loima Sub-county has repaired a water pump at Kang'alita village unit in Turkwel Ward.
In Turkana West Sub-county, more than 3,000 families at Nalamacha village, who have been grappling with water scarcity for decades, are breathing a sigh of relief after Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) unveiled a 190-metre deep borehole with a yield of four cubic metres per hour.
KVDA Managing Director Sammy Naporos says the recurring drought prompted them to invest in reliable interventions to rescue residents in far-flung areas.
"We have supported the county government of Turkana drilling the borehole that will ensure availability of water for domestic use and livestock," Mr Naporos says.
The county government will support the operation and maintenance of the borehole. There are also plans to set up pipelines from the borehole to the nearby Nalamacha School to help residents access water.