Well folks, it’s that time of year again. The time when we stop, take stock, and put into perspective one of the world’s most pressing problems; Water.
In recognition of the critical water challenges facing Kenya, where I currently live, let me share a bit of perspective from my own experiences chronicling of the challenges, the innovations, and potential solutions for water access across east Africa.
Infrastructure is one of the regions greatest challenges when it comes to providing water access and services. The Garissa-Wajir highway in northeastern Kenya stretches over 370 kilometers of compressed sand and dirt, is difficult in the dry season, and nearly impassable during the rains. Camels are one of the few animals equipped for the harsh conditions, and are often found carrying an entire familys possessions as they roam in search of water sources.
The northeastern region of Kenya is mostly inhabited by marginalized ethnic Somali-Kenyan pastoralists. There are few if any valuable resources there, and little revenue coming in from the region – no industries, no big businesses just people and landscapes. The year before the latest major drought, the office of the Prime Minister released a bulletin from their early warning systems saying that there would be severe drought. Nothing was done to prepare.
As of September 2011, areas of northeastern Kenya went without a single drop of rain for over 16 months, devastating the only means of livelihood for most families – livestock. Decayed carcasses of goats, camels, and donkeys litter the main highways.
At a water trucking and distribution point in Lagos, 20 Km. from Garissa, Kenya, over 3,000 pastoralists temporarily survive off water brought in by the Kenya Red Cross during severe droughts.
Haretho Oloo is one of thousands of pastoralists who have been forced to temporary settle in the area of Lagos, Kenya, just outside of Garissa, living off of UN food aid and water distribution programs. Unable to find water for their livestock (camels and goats), they live near a Red Cross water distribution point along dirt highway.
Outside of Wajir, Kenya, the temporary shelter of Fatuma Abdi and her family has become a two-and-a-half-year settlement. Her husband has been off with their livestock searching for water for 6 months, while she is the cook for a local school-feeding program.
A Girl’s Secondary School Greenhouse Project in Garissa, Kenya, provides nutritious fruits and vegetables for students, while teaching them how to grow produce locally. The vegetables, carefully irrigated to conserve water, are also sold locally, earning a small income for the school. Aineah Kuseche, the school gardener, picks a fresh sweet melon.
The Tana River Drought Recovery Project in Mogado, Garissa, Kenya, funded by the Finnish Red Cross, currently supports over 10,000 formal pastoralists. With 20 small diesel pumps, water is pulled from the Tana River, and an irrigation system feeds 2,000 acres of farmland along the river. The farms are now owned and managed by formal pastoralists, allowing them to sell bananas, mangos, papayas, capsicum, tomatoes and sweet melons in Garissa town.
At the market in Garissa, Kenya. Sultana Bile, right, and Halima, left, sell vegetables which were produced along the Tana River. The Kenya Red Cross estimates that 10% of the capacity of the Tana River is currently being used for irrigation – an enormously under-utilized resource in the region.
At the site of a dried up animal watering hole in Wajir town, Kenya, a deep-water well is used to supply clean water trucks. These trucks are used to distribute to the more remote surrounding communities. The well is hundreds of feet deep, and even in drought season, will not run dry.
Adan Isscak, a young entrepreneur in Wajir, Kenya, fills water up in yellow jerry cans from a deep well, and sells them around town to residents for a few cents a can.
Grundfos LIFELINK, the first solely BoP-targeted subsidiary business from the world leading pump manufacturer Grundfos, has developed the LIFELINK system; a market-based approach to supply clean and affordable water to rural communities. At the Grundfos LIFELINK System in KMC, Athi River, Kenya, Musyoki, the system caretaker spends part of his day filling jerrycans for. He recieves a small income for doing so.
Redemta Ndanu of Wendano, Yatta District, Kenya, checks the balance of her prepaid Grundfos LIFELINK key fob after filling up. Her husband works in the city, and transfers money to her via M-Pesa, a mobile payment system. She then transfers the money via text message to Grundfos LIFELINK, topping up her prepaid balance and allowing her to purchase a single jerry can of clean water for cooking, drinking, bathing, and cultivating a small garden.
KickStarts Super MoneyMaker Pump can easily irrigate up to two acres with a simple foot-pedal system. The pump, which requires two people to operate, can draw water up from 23 feet (7m) and has a total pumping head of 46 feet (14m). It costs around $112. Rose Makunda, of Kiluvya, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, stands in one of her gardens, where she grows Mchicha (Amaranth), Kale, and Pumpkin Leaf during the dry season.
Pantaleo Anney of Kiluvya, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, holds up an article titled From Carrying Gravel to Owning A Garden, in Nipashe, a local newspaper. The article chronicles his personal story of using a KickStart Super MoneyMaker pump to harness water from a nearby river, and become a successful farmer. Only 4% of sub-saharan agriculture is not rain-fed, leaving enormous opportunity for efficient, small-scale irrigation technologies like the KickStart pumps.
In the hot, dry and harsh landscapes of northeastern Kenya skirting the Somali border, hundreds of thousands of nomadic pastoralists continue to eek out a meager living from the land.
Yet in September of 2011, conditions were unbearable. It had been 16 months and counting since a single drop of rain touched down on the scorched earth, and the region was crippled by the worst drought in decades, forcing residents to survive near-famine conditions. The riverbeds were emptied, leaving nothing but dusty scars on the landscape. Carcasses of goats, donkeys and camels littered the side of the 370 km dirt highway between the two major towns of Wajir and Garissa, and thousands of people were forced to set up temporary shelters, kept alive by charity.
As result of global climate change, weather patterns are shifting drastically. The rains in the horn of Africa are becoming more sporadic, erratic, unpredictable and unreliable. However, a lack of rain alone does not produce famine. While some countries have the infrastructure, policies, programs and emergency relief services to be able to provide resources for their citizens in times of crisis, this area of Kenya, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.
When it comes to the basic necessity of water, the northeastern region of Kenya is plagued by both a lack of infrastructure and extreme marginalization. Inhabited by mostly ethnic-Somali pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on their livestock, people carry their homes on the backs of camels and move nomadically from one water source to the next. They don’t vote, and even if they did, their voice would matter little- the region has such little economic importance due to lack of resources, its primary purpose is to serve as a buffer between Kenya and war-torn Somalia. An aid worker once mentioned offhand that “the elected officials want to keep these people poor. That way, come election time, they can easily buy their vote and retain power.” Though this can’t be verified, it certainly is a common perception here.
Across the region, infrastructure is still the greatest challenge. 96% of sub-Saharan African agriculture is still rain dependent, meaning only 4% can actually grow and harvest crops when the rains don’t come, or during the dry seasons. Resources are vastly underused, and the lack of agricultural innovation and investment is tragic. There is water, underground and above ground, that’s not being tapped into.
For example, along the Tana River in Garissa, the Kenya Red Cross estimates that only 10% of rivers capacity is actually being harnessed. The African Development Bank has cited that the region’s lack of infrastructure- roads, housing, water, electricity, sanitation- reduces its output by 40%.
While rains may be uncontrollable, famine isn’t. The ability to access, harness, and distribute what lies atop or just beneath the surface is perhaps both the greatest failure and opportunity of the region. This photo-essay explores the current situation of water in Kenya’s driest areas, and the multiple efforts of private and public organizations working around the region to fix it.