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Where tradition is harmonised with values, water gets used wisely

© UNICEF Kenya/ 2012/ Tiffow
Children drink water from Ilturot borehole in Kajiado in Southern Kenya

By Madhavi Ashok

KAJIADO, Nairobi, 27 June, 2012: The commissioning of Ilturot borehole in Kajiado in Southern Kenya two years ago brought untold joy to the community.  But it also presented a dilemma:  While the predominantly Masaai community believes that water is a natural resource that must be given freely, the villagers also realized that they had to generate income to sustain the supply of the clean water they had got after a long wait.

But, thanks to the community’s love for their livestock, it was easy to find a practical solution to this clash between culture and sustainable development. The villagers resolved that the people could draw water for free, but pay for their animals to drink the water.

 “The Masaai value their cattle as much as their children and believe they are a gift from their God, Enkai. They were, therefore, willing to pay for the water consumed by their goats and cows,” says Ally Tifow, a WASH specialist in UNICEF, Kenya.

By charging the livestock, the community raises enough cash to cover the running and maintenance costs for the generator and to meet all the operational costs.

“We maintain two bank accounts,” says the chairman of the group. “One is for daily running costs where we deposit the cash received from charging for consumption by cows and goats. We charge 35 shillings per cow and 10 shillings per goat for one month. The other account is where we have deposited the membership dues paid by households. This account is our back-stop should any breakdown occur.”

A valuable resource

Before the borehole was sunk in 2010 by the Tanathi Water Services Board under the UNICEF- supported Dutch funded Water Project, access to water was difficult for this community.

“Having the borehole close to our homesteads is most useful especially during the dry season,” says a village leader. “Previously we had to walk long distances in search of water for our cows and goats. It was a real challenge, especially in the dry seasons. We would stay away from our homesteads for long stretches, leaving our women and children to fend for themselves.”

Then, to drive home his point, he adds: “You have come after the rains and so you see so much water around. Come during the dry season and you will realise how harsh and difficult it is to find even a drop of water. That’s when the borehole is used most. It runs almost 24 hours a day.”

With more and more Masaai have settling into group ranching schemes, where former communal land was being divided into private holdings with title deeds, provision of clean and safe drinking water became a priority, says Samuel Oruma, the project manager at  Tanathi Water Services Board. The borehole serves about 5,000 people and 8,000 head of cattle.

© UNICEF kenya/ 2012/ Tiffow
The community fetch water from Ilturot borehole in Kajiado in Southern Kenya

Enriching community life

Bringing water closer to their homesteads has lightened the load on women, who used to fetch water from nearly seven kilometres away and had to spend nearly a whole day walking with their donkeys to and from the water source.

“Having water closer home has freed me up to do many other things, like weaving beads, making sure my children go to school, and also having some time to rest,” says Naishoo Ole Mebarne.

Her woven, colourful ornaments are a treat to the eye and her happy smile is a testimony to the satisfaction that she now enjoys with clean water available so close to her homestead. Donkeys help in carrying the water and do not get charged. Their service to the community is recognised through free provision of water to them.

Men too are happy to have their cows and goats well watered. Having water so close means there is extra time to chat and catch up on local news with other men at the water point.

“Our cows now look for flowing water and most often wait for the tap to be opened – they prefer flowing clean water from the tap to the stored water in the trough,” says a young herdsman who has been waiting patiently for his turn to speak after the elders have had their say.

Households which do not own large herds are provided with free for domestic consumption. This ensures equitable access to clean water to all. The community’s value of sharing natural resources equally applies here, with the haves meeting the costs of the have-nots.

Two other communities nearby have been connected to this water source. They too have agreed to adhere to the payment terms.

While having water now so close to them has eased their lives somewhat, the women and the men know that there is more work to be done. More cash needs to flow in if they are to realise their vision to provide overhead tanks in the two extension water points as well as have a constant cash flow to ensure their machinery remains functional throughout the year.

The district water officer and the water services board are always on hand to provide advice and support to get the repairs done quickly.

“We are very thankful to all of you for bringing this water so close to us,” says the village chief. “We promise to use it wisely and sparingly so that we can always reap the benefits.”

We leave Ilturot after planting some saplings around the borehole site and watering them with the water drawn from there knowing that when water is valued as a natural resource and treated with respect, it will never be wasted.

One of our team members jokes: “Even a cow in Ilturot would ask to close the tap once it has finished drinking water and quenched its thirst!

 

 
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