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.”