It is 8:30 am when we arrive at the new Loosuk Water Supply Project in Tingasap village, about 30 kilometres from the town of Maralal in Samburu County. Women are lined up, patiently waiting to fill water cans. Among them is Veronica Leakono. She tells us she has been in line for 30 minutes. When her turn finally comes, she fills four 20-litre water cans.
“This will be enough for me today, to do my chores and water my few goats. I’m glad I got here early, that will give me time to do other work back home,” she says.
Before this new borehole water system was installed, she had to walk 6 kilometres round trip to get water from another village. It was so far away that she could fetch only two jerricans a day. “I had to leave home at 4:00 am to get to the borehole by 5:00 am so I could avoid the long lines,” she says. “We thank God for this water project. It’s long overdue, and we are grateful that it will ease our suffering here. Before, I couldn’t do other jobs such as farming and domestic chores, since most of my time was spent looking for water.”
Kenya Red Cross, in conjunction with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is responsible for the project, which seeks to attenuate some of the effects of perennial droughts. Here, trees have just a few green leaves hanging on, rivers have dried up, and visibly weak cows and goats walk to the watering point with herdsmen following close behind. Families and farmers never know if they will have access to safe water for their homes, fields and livestock.
Water insecurity has become a fact of life for both pastoral and nomadic pastoral societies. In the Samburu community, the responsibility for fetching water falls to women. Routine monitoring by the Drought Management Authority showed that at the height of the 2017 drought, women in some areas travelled more than 15 kilometres a day to find water, leaving them with little or no time for childcare, cooking or other activities.
Susan Leaduma, a member of the committee running the water project, says, “Young mothers and girls have been trekking many kilometres looking for water, making them vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Girls miss school, and women don’t have time for other jobs because they spend most of their day fetching water.”
Leaduma says they are often forced to get water from a local swamp, which poses health hazards caused by waterborne diseases—a situation aggravated by the fact that only one in 10 people treat their water prior to consumption. “Many locals, especially children, have suffered from stomach aches and diarrhea after consuming swamp water. We are happy the new borehole gives us clean water, which will drastically reduce cases of waterborne disease.”
Gabriel Letukei, the secretary of the committee running the water project, agrees that the new borehole will improve lives here, providing water to more than 5,000 households spread across Tingasap and Loosuk villages. He worries, however, that if the ongoing drought persists, the borehole could dry up.
Letukei says that to keep costs to a minimum, they have installed a solar-powered system to pump water to storage tanks, which will be placed at water kiosks installed at different points across the villages. This will make it possible for locals to get water without traveling long distances.
Morris Anyango, the Kenya Red Cross Regional Manager, says they have trained selected residents to be responsible for minor repairs on the water system. So far, his organisation has set up eight water projects in Samburu County, giving 25,000 residents access to clean water.
“These water projects will also be instrumental in helping fight sexual and gender-based violence against girls and women” he says, echoing Leaduma’s assertion. “Many defilement cases and genital mutilation of girls happen early in the morning or late in the evening, the times when they go out to look for water.”
Boreholes can change lives in other ways as well. One example is Margaret Esinyen, 45, who has a small farm in the interior of Katilu Ward in Turkana county. By midmorning, she is already sweating in the sweltering heat, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “I grow highly nutritious vegetables that include cowpeas, green grams and sorghum on my irrigated, one-acre farm,” she says. “Water is readily available thanks to a high-yielding borehole.” Her lush green vegetables stand out in this barren landscape of dry thickets scattered with acacia trees. Some 800,000 people in Turkana County currently depend on food relief because of the prolonged drought, but Esinyen and her family of six can count on decent meals from her fast-growing vegetables.
She turned to farming because the family’s livestock died whenever there was a drought. “Each crop takes three months, and I plant more every month so that when my children ask for food, I can just pick and cook. I sell the surplus to hotels, the local market at Katilu Centre and in Lokichar town. I use the income to buy cereals and meat, and I save part of it to barter for school fees and medication in case one of us falls sick.” She has trained her children to assist her with the farming activities whenever she is committed elsewhere.
This borehole project was implemented by the PanAfricare organization under an Improved Approach to Community-based Nutrition in Turkana (IMPACT) funded by the Bayer Fund.
Margaret Akiru, who also grows crops thanks to this project, says that before last September, she was among those affected by drought despite the area having a huge agricultural potential. The Turkwel River is less than a mile away and there is abundant arable land, she says, but without the ability to get water to the fields, residents had no choice but to continue traditional pastoralism, which meant losing their livestock to drought or to bandits during armed conflicts.
“Now that we have a borehole that makes it possible to irrigate and grow vegetables, we hope the women in the more than 300 families here will embrace farming. It is a reliable way to fight malnutrition.”
Peter Outa, spokesman for PanAfricare, says they are assisting 800 people in the area to transition from pastoralism to agropastoralism; the idea is for them to keep their livestock but settle in one place now that it is possible to grow food. So far, they have drilled 10 boreholes in villages located far from the Turkwel River.
PanAfricare also supplies free seeds for high-nutrition crops that mature in less than three months. “These boreholes are solar-powered and have water pumps and storage tanks,” says Outa. “That has transformed seasonal farms to farms that can produce food throughout the year.”
In partnership with the Turkana County Government, the NGO is also working to improve access to quality health services and to provide information that will help prevent and treat malnutrition.