The ugly side of a drought hit nation

Every day, we wake up to traumatizing news of the high number of people facing starvation in Kenya. The news in form of heart wrenching images filling our TV screens and doing rounds on different social media platforms.

These are images that no one can afford to view twice. They are images of emaciated children, women, men and even animals. The drought has not spared anyone; with animal carcasses being seen everywhere. Our country is slowly turning into a nation of abnormal creatures; leading abnormal lives.

People experiencing the real wrath of drought are the pastoral communities, with their efforts being divided between finding pasture for their livestock and food for themselves. They are watching helplessly as the cruel hand of death continue turning their once healthy livestock into carcasses.

From Turkana to Tana River, Baringo to Baragoi, Laikipia to Lodwar, Marsabit to Mandera, Ijara to Isiolo, effects of drought and starvation are real. People and animals are losing battle to starvation every other day. Those lucky to see sun rise are not sure about watching as the sun sets; they are staring at the ugly face of death.

With people spending days and even months without something to drink or eat, this reduces their hope of seeing another day. Some of them people especially those in Turkana and Samburu are now depending on some wild fruits for food.

The fruits are poisonous and hence cannot be cooked the same way we cook food at home. They require a lot of water to neutralize the poison. With the water scarcity nightmare they are experiencing, women are forced to trek miles and miles away in the search of water points.

They camp at there, light fire and begin the process of preparing “meals” for their families. They spend days at here and return home only after having prepared “enough food” to take their families for days.

Men and boys also move out to look for water and pasture for their livestock. People are spending months without interacting with each other. Drought has interfered with their social lives.

A government agency recently announced that the number of Kenyans facing starvation has increased rapidly due to the prolonged drought being experienced in different parts of the country. The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) said that the number has now risen from 1.3 million last year to 2.7 million this year.

These figures are worrying, bearing in mind that the situation is expected to get worse as time goes. Meteorologists have already warned that rainy season will delay; news that has now sent cold shivers down the spines of Kenyans.

Some of the counties where people are facing starvation are known to be perennial drought hit areas. Every year, residents have to wait for relief food from the government and well-wishers. Sometimes, delivery of relief food delays, arriving only after residents have starved to death and their livestock unable to withstand the severe conditions of starvation.

Kenya is a country full of resources and with their proper utilization, we can manage to counter the drought before its conditions extend to adverse stages. We have both underground and surface resources enough to deal with the situation.

In 2013, government through Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Regional Development Authorities Prof. Judy Wakhungu announced that hydrologists had found large aquifers of water in Turkana and Lotikipi basins. The two aquifers were estimated to contain 250 billion cubic meters of safe water. The water could serve the whole country for over 70 years, basing it on the fact that Kenyans consume around 3 billion cubic meters of water yearly.

Although several tests have been conducted since then, not much has been done initiate abstraction and treatment of the water estimated to be lying at about 300 meters from the surface. This is definitely sad news for the Turkana residents and Kenyans at large who celebrated the discovery of the aquifers.

With the increasing demand for water in Kenya including in major cities like Nairobi, it would be necessary for government, Non-Government Organizations and other stakeholders in the water sector to pool together resources and initiate this project that could see Kenyans having more than enough water for themselves and their livestock.

Late last year, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company announced plans to ration water supply to residents. The directive is still in force and is expected to extend up to April this year. The company cited low water level in the main dams supplying the thirst quenching commodity to Nairobi residents.

If we can utilize all the water resources available, we will start having a sustainable food supply for every Kenyans, for a whole year. Rationing of water especially in towns will be a thing of the past, with communities living in arid and semi-arid areas being able to engage in agriculture to produce enough food for themselves and their livestock.

Efforts by companies like Africaqua coming up with safe water models and initiatives aimed at dealing with water shortage nightmare might not be enough to quench the thirst of ever increasing number of deserving Kenyans. More entities should come on board and support such initiatives in order to help in dealing with the monster-drought.

With this, we will then be able to stand high and claim to have defeated drought and starvation. It is time to stand together, mobilize resources and invest in water projects or we sit, relax and continue watching heart wrenching images of fellow Kenyans and their livestock being mauled by merciless jaws of drought.

 

David Mwaura,

Communications Officer, Africaqua Limited

 

Dry Hope

Occupying an area of 17, 921.20 square kilometers in rift valley region, Narok County with an estimated population of 850, 920 (2009 census) is one of the perennial drought hit counties in Kenya.

The county has over 76 percent of her residents living in rural areas, most of whom are pastoralists and farmers. With majority of the residents being pastoralists from the Maasai community, any sign of drought sends cold shivers down their spines.

The county is also characterized with massive floods that have occasionally been experienced especially in Narok town leading to destruction of property worth millions of shillings. This usually happens during rainy seasons especially in April.

Despite the fact that the county at times receive heavy rainfall, drought has always been a nightmare this pastoral community has not been able to move away from. This has forced them to travel long distances in the search for water and food for their animals.

Nairegie Enkare sub-location in Enosupukia location, Narok East sub-county is one of the areas majorly hit by drought. Residents, majority of whom are pastoralists usually have a hard time getting food and water for their animals every time drought season knocks on their doors.

A few meters from Nairegie Enkare trading center is a swamp; the main source of water for residents and their livestock. It is from the swamp that the name Nairegie Enkare originated. Around the swamp are ponds dug, owned and maintained by particular families. Despite of the poor conditions of the two water sources, residents have no option rather than sharing the water with their livestock.

A Nairegie Enkare resident drawing water from one of the ponds around.

The condition of the water in one of the ponds. This is the water livestock and residents will be scrambling for if drought persists.

 

During normal seasons and when there is no aspect of drought, residents and their livestock are free to drink from both the swamp and the ponds on mutual agreement. Hell breaks when drought bites. This is the time when swamp goes dry, leaving residents and their livestock with limited options on where to get water from.

At this point, families owning ponds start guarding them day and night to ensure that no unauthorized people drink or water their animals at the ponds. Anyone getting water from any of the pond must get clearance from the pond owners.

During our visit to the swamp, we met residents going about their activities which include washing clothes, watering animals and also collecting water for domestic use. Watching as the swamp goes dry is the most terrifying moment residents are now going through.

A resident watering cattle at the Nairegie Enkare swamp.

They have been hoping for rains but this does not seem to happen any time soon, as sun continues to heat. They are watching helplessly as the level of water reduces day by day. They are preparing for the worse. Pond owners have already started guarding their ponds, after getting a signal indicating that the dry season might prolong.

A middle aged woman, who only identified herself as Naisiae told us that fear is now taking better of everyone as the dry season does not seem to end any time soon. Being one of the residents without a pond around the area, her worry is that within the next few weeks, she will not be able to access water to wash her clothes or even perform other domestic chores.

“This is a very low moment for myself and other women; like the ones you can see here washing clothes. A few weeks from now, this swamp will go dry. I will not have any sure source of water for my family. My kids will go to school without washing their face or even without food in adverse conditions. These family owned ponds will now be at the helm of their owners who stock large herds of cattle. They will not allow us to collect water from the ponds. Now that even meteorologists are not giving us any hope of receiving rainfall in near future, I see danger”, said Naisiae with fear and distraught expressed all over her face.

Her story was shared by other women we met at the swamp. They are all fearing for their lives and those of their families now that the situation is changing from bad to worse. Even as non-pastoralists express their fears, those owning large herds of livestock are the most worried.

For pastoral communities, livestock is their source of wealth and pride. They therefore get frustrated whenever anything tries to threaten the lives of the animals they own. Fear has already started gripping them as the scorching sun continue burning, with its intensity escalating day by day.

They are watching in dismay as the swamp dries slowly by slowly. They only hope that the condition will get better especially when the rainy season comes (something that until now seems like fake dream). If drought persists, their livestock will be staring at the cruel hand of death.

Maina from one of the families owning the said ponds, told us that they are sometimes forced to light fire at night in order to guard their ponds from “intruders”. He told us that the thirst quenching liquid is very crucial but scarce in the region and this forces residents and their livestock to share the little available water irrespective of its unfitness.

“We do not take chances during the dry seasons. Like for now, we are close to starting guarding our ponds against other people. We have to secure the water for the sake of our livestock. We cannot afford to lose our livestock to famine. For us, we can stay withstand the situation,” said Maina.

“Whenever a woman is found fetching water from any of the ponds without permission from the owner, she has to receive a hard beating from the owner’s pond until she screams. Whenever a woman cries, this is followed by a heavy downpour”, he continued amidst laughter.

It is evident that the story of drought is no longer news in the ears of Nairegie Enkare residents. It is now a reality they are facing and might soon bite even deeper in the case of drought persistence.

The only hope for residents now is the Africaqua watershop coming up in the area. There is an excitement of its own kind. From health center to the villages, the word is spreading like airborne disease. Everybody is eagerly waiting for the watershop to start operating with some of them even telling those working at the site to alert them once everything is ready.

Residents will now be able to get safe water at an affordable price from the watershop. This is good news to the hundreds of people who have known no other apart from that one from the swamp.

They only hope operations at the watershop will kick off soon in order to save them from the jaws of hunger and thirst. With water to drink, they will be able to get food and water for their livestock.

David Mwaura, Communications Officer, Africaqua Limited

New dawn as operations commence at Matuu watershop

A new chapter has opened in the lives of Matuu and surrounding areas residents as operations at the Matuu watershop kick off.

This is a reprieve to thousands of the residents who have been trekking for miles away in the search of water. They have to brave the scorching sun and dusty roads just to collect this vital commodity.

At times, children have to keep out of school to join their parents and other family members as they walk from one village to another looking for water. This is a very tough journey especially for children and the old people but they have no option other than doing it.

The Matuu watershop comes at the most appropriate time, bearing in mind that Matuu and the larger Machakos County receive very little annual rainfall. The rainfall little rainfall received makes rivers and the canals in the region to be seasonal.

Matuu residents depend on water from water kiosks around the area and the seasonal Yatta canal. Some of the water kiosks supply salty water and hence not suitable for drinking. Whenever the canal dries, residents have no option other than drink salty water from the water kiosks around, where they are subjected to long queues.

The first few days of operations at the watershop saw Matuu residents and their animals get water for free. They came from far and wide to witness the “Kivandini miracle”. Cattle and donkeys quenched thirst at the watershop as residents filled their jerrycans with free water. This is something residents have never experienced before.

They could not hide their joy as they narrated of where they have come from and the hardships they have gone through to make ends meet. They termed the watershop as their “savior”, who took a bit too long to come.

“Why did it take too long for the watershop to be set up? We have suffered for years and have always been wondering who will come to rescue us. I have been struggling to get water for my family and the journey has at times been tough. The watershop will help me a lot as I will not be trekking as I used to”, said Jennifer Nduku, a Matuu resident.

At the Matuu watershop, people will not be forced to queue for long as there is plenty water. This will enable them to collect as much water as possible though out the day.

Take water shortage seriously

The World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of national leaders, economists and corporatists met last month in Davos, Switzerland. Before the meeting, a survey was conducted among some 900 leaders in business, politics and civic life that concluded that the most important global risk today is the world water crisis.

According to Circle of Blue, a programme of the Pacific Institute and one of the best web-based sources for water information, this is a major shift in world attention, explained in part by climate and weather phenomena, drought, pollution, and other limits on water that dramatically affect vulnerable populations, be they in California or the American southwest, China, India, southern Europe, South America, or Australia.

Circle of Blue quotes Bob Sandford, chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative, as follows: We did not realize until recently how much our economy and society relied on hydrologic stability.

Well, that is not entirely true. China, for example, has been building massive water transfer systems to move water from areas in the south to the more arid north where drought, industrial irrigation, and flagrant pollution have brought scarcity as well as economic and political crises.

There is a direct link between water abundance and human well-being, between adequate supply and the sustainability of any community, rich or poor. Northern California is a region of great fertility and wealth in the US, entirely dependent on water from the Rocky Mountains distributed by engineered solutions.

Water rationing, inadequate supply at key points in growth of fruit and crops and weak and declining harvests can bring even such a community to its knees. Right here in Kenya there are several communities who have been at war for decades over food and water. Each year the government spends millions of shillings on relief foods for these communities mostly in the north of Kenya and elsewhere.

The problem is not insurmountable. It was caused by our greed and carelessness with our resources and poor policies on how to conserve our resources, adapt to climate change and poor planning.

-PEOPLE DAILY

Say no to a starved nation

The current drought and starvation that has hit almost every part of the country is something that if not properly and timely mitigated, can lead to loss of thousands of lives.

It breaks my heart whenever I watch or view images of heart wrenching images of people and animals struggling to survive after spending months without neither food nor water. For those who have never spent a day without a meal (not by choice), might not understand what it feels to spend days, weeks or even months without having something for the stomach.

Whenever hunger strikes, children and women are the most affected. They have to trek miles away in search of food and water. Sometimes, the journey becomes tough and unfortunately lose battle to the adverse effects of starvation.

Watching people from Turkana, Samburu and other drought hit regions struggling to obtain water from already dry swamps and rivers leaves me wondering about how the situation will be in the next three or so months.

The water they are lucky to get for drinking is not fit for not only human, but also animals’ consumption. This exposes them to more serious health problems that could easily cut short their dreams of seeing another day. Remember, death by starvation is slow.

School going children are no longer in school just because they have to join the rest of the family members in the search for water and food. Theirs is a story of broken hopes and shuttered dreams. Their lives now depend on the muddy water and wild fruits that they are struggling hard to get.

Government has said that it has already spent more than 800 million shillings to supply relief food to deserving Kenyans. The truth of the matter is that, there is still a lot to be done. There is a Zimbabwean proverb that says, “You cannot tell a hungry child that you gave him food yesterday.” People are still being threatened by hunger, innocent children are still dying. There must be solution to this challenge.

Even as we head to the August 8 general election, as we tell people to vote wisely and maintain peace, let us not forget that a peaceful world cannot be created on empty stomachs and human misery. We must fill stomachs first to have a peaceful nation.

Kenya is a very beautiful nation with limited, but enough resources for everyone. As a country, what we have been unable to do mobilizing the available resources for the benefit of everyone. Last year, the country experienced more than four months of heavy rains.

Everybody witnessed floods sweeping through major towns including Nairobi. Even in Turkana where heavy rains are experienced once in a blue moon, massive flooding occurred. We watched as the runoffs destroyed our houses, business premises, roads, schools and other facilities and forgot to take advantage by conserving the water for future use.

It is very shameful that today, a few months after the heavy rains, there are people dying of starvation. What if we tapped the runoff and used it to irrigate our lands? Why do we have to wait until people die to realize that we can do something to safe lives? These questions among others can only be answered by people on their proper senses. We have to wake up and start facing the reality.

As a country, we have to start thinking about the future. It is very shameful that more than fifty years of independence, there are people whose lives are being threatened by hunger and starvation. We have to come up with alternative solutions to curb this nightmare; or we sit, relax and watch as innocent people lose lives to starvation.

Before I sign out, I wish to echo the wise words by Frances Moore, “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy.”

 

Africaqua participates in the First Annual Kenya Water Week expo at KICC

Last week, Nairobi was a beehive of activities as the country held the first ever Kenya Water Week expo (KEWAWK) at Kenyatta International Convention Center.

Organized by water services trust fund, Kenya Water and Sanitation Civil Society Network (KEWASNET),  Kenya Water Institute (KEWI) and other collaborating institutions, the expo brought together hundreds of water companies, government institutions, Non-governmental organizations, Private sector companies, water utilities among other stakeholders from across the world.

With the theme of From Aid to Trade: Enhancing business partnerships and innovation for sustainable water and sanitation provision and irrigation in Africa, the 5 day event enabled key stakeholders in the water sector to share ideas on how to stimulate and enhance trade, innovation and development in the sector.

Africaqua being a stakeholder in the water sector participated in the expo, where our various products including foldable bottles, collapsible water jerrycans among other products were exhibited.

At the end of the long and busy week, it was evident that the event was a success, as participants recounted their experiences and the new things they learnt from the expo. Many are those who wished the expo could have been extended.

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Entrance to the exhibition courtyard at KICC

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Some of the visitors at our stand at KICC

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A general view inside the exhibition courtyard.

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A general view of the exhibition courtyard at KICC.

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Some of the visitors at our stand at KICC

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Some of the visitors at our stand at KICC

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Our technical manager Andrew Ndai explaining a point to some of our visitors.

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Our technical manager Andrew Ndai explaining a point to some of our visitors.

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Our technical manager Andrew Ndai explaining a point to some of our visitors.

With such events it will be easier for us to handle the water challenge in Kenya and the whole of Africa, as people from across the world have different ideas on how to handle water problem.

Africaqua CEO David Kuria makes a special address at the HLM2

Africaqua CEO David Kuria yesterday took to the podium at Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC) to make a special address on ways in which governments can encourage and support inclusive business to scale and contribute to the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Kuria was addressing thousands of investors, inventors, parliamentarians, heads of governments, ministers and other stakeholders attending the Second High-Level Meeting (HLM2) at KICC. Africaqua operates on an inclusive business mechanism where local community members who are the end users of our product (safe water) play an active role in the production, packaging, marketing, distribution and consumption of the commodity.

The 3 day meeting aims at amplifying the positive impact of development co-operation over the next 15 years.

Power to Improve Sanitation Standards Lies with us

Sanitation is a major priority in the world development agenda. It is an issue that has been addressed in the sustainable development goals launched in 2015, where the target is to ensure that every Kenyan has access to improved sanitation by 2030.

Toilets have a great role to play in stimulating the economy of a country, improving health standards as well as protecting and upgrading the dignity of people, especially women and girls.

Poor sanitation usually causes stress to women and girls, and this exposes them to more risks as they try to look for places where they can relieve themselves. Some of them have been sexually assaulted, leaving them with deep wounds in their hearts; wounds that are difficult to heal. They have also been exposed to serious health hazards.

The issue of poor sanitation is not only a national disaster, but an international nightmare mainly facing the third world countries. Although governments and Non-Governmental Organizations like World Health Organization are trying to curb the problem, there is a lot that is yet to be done.

Image showing garbage dumped in a river. Photo Credit: Google

Image showing garbage dumped in a river.
Photo Credit: Google

Currently, 2.4 billion people in the world lack improved sanitation, with one out of ten people opting for open defecation due to lack of toilets (World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF, 2015). The open defecation exercise is a serious issue that has to be challenged by all means possible.

Mostly, people living in unimproved settlements commonly referred to as slums practice open defecation, and this has exposed residents to serious diseases like diarrhea, cholera and others. This has mostly affected children and women.

According to a research by WAS-Hwatch, 2016, diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water kills 315,000 children every year. This is a huge loss, bearing in mind that there are other challenges posing threat to the lives of children and humankind at large.

Poor sanitation also has negative impact on the economy as it reduces the productivity of the people. Those suffering from sanitation related illnesses are unable to work well and this costs countries a lot in terms of medication and also people being unable to engage in any development activities. This costs countries up to 5% of GDP (Hutton 2012)

As we approach the D-Day; November 19, 2016 when the whole world will be marking the World Toilet Day, I only have one hope; that conferences and forums being held all over the world to mark this auspicious occasion will come up with a solution to curb poor sanitation nightmare. We have the resources, we have the skills and we have full potential to ensure that everyone in the world has access to proper sanitation.

David Mwaura, Communications Officer-Africaqua

African cities must confront climate change

Public-private cooperation on a local as well as international level can help African cities play a key role in tackling climate change, argues David Kuria, Eco Ambassador and head of Kenyan social enterprise Africaqua.

Nearly 200 countries will convene in Marrakech on Monday to advance progress made on the Paris Agreement on climate change. The journey from Kyoto to Morocco offers relief, and hopes of a better Africa – and especially sub-Saharan Africa. But these hopes must be accelerated if we are to make sense of a fast-changing African urban landscape.

Africa’s population – currently 1.2 billion – is predicted to double by 2050, and reach 4.2 billion by 2100. Plagued by poverty, political instability, food insecurity and fast-growing, unplanned cities, Africa must be proactive in setting a new narrative.

Africa and its leadership must ask – and attempt to answer – hard questions. Do we mitigate or follow adaptation? Africa still has opportunities for mitigation rather than adaptation. But COP22 must be bold enough to provide solutions that are practical, immediate and realistic.

We have witnessed two decades of lack of substantial action by transnational networks on climate adaptation, poor leadership, little financial allocation for infrastructure system change, and an absence of practical support for fragile urban ecosystems in sub-Sahara Africa.

Last month, another major UN conference outlined some of the challenges the continent faces. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Ecuador addressed issues of sustainability, and especially the urgent need to change our consumption patterns and implement an ecological approach to urban planning.

The city is an increasingly important site for climate response. While there remains much debate over the exact contribution cities make to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as who and what is most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the New Urban Agenda adopted at Habitat III regards urban centers as a vital part of the global response to climate change.

Mathare slum, Nairobi: Africa's huge informal settlements posing special challenges for green urban planning.

Mathare slum, Nairobi: Africa’s huge informal settlements posing special challenges for green urban planning.

In Kenya, our urban ecosystem remains very delicate. A growing urban population, expanding urban slums and a lack of basic services in informal settlements, are a recipe for climate chaos.

In Nairobi, 60 percent of residents live on just 8.7 percent of the city’s land, mostly in informal settlements in the city’s most fragile areas, such as flood plains, steep slopes, river valleys, or adjacent to sewers or dumpsites. As these settlements expand, the quality and quantity of fresh water used for domestic purposes is drastically reduced, and the risk of epidemics rises.

To tackle this challenge and protect the population’s health, we need appropriate laws and practical models that offer solutions by improving governance, reducing waste and ensuring water rights for those living in poverty.

Africaqua is providing just that – piloting collaborative projects to strengthen Kenya’s safe water value chain offers relief to the “last mile” population through innovation in water treatment, packaging, distribution and health monitoring.

A social enterprise model such as this, bringing together government agencies and corporate and civil players, also offers a way forward for urban climate action.

Addressing climate change requires an unprecedented level of cooperation and commitment, not only between countries, but also between different levels of government and the private sector. We must save our cities, and secure a future for the next generation. This cannot wait any longer.

 

David Kuria is a project management PhD researcher and CEO of Africaqua. He is also a 2016 Eco Ambassador for Eco@Africa and 2015 Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.

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