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New pipeline brings hope to drought-affected communities in Kenya

By Rob McBride

TURKANA DISTRICT, Kenya, 16 August 2011 - In the middle of the dry river bed, children and adults alike worked to collect water from the dirty puddle at the bottom of the pit. Taking small, quick scoops in order to avoid the grit, the group patiently gathered just enough water for drinking. Without sediment, the water looked clean, but no amount of diligence could get rid of its saltiness or the fluoride contamination which makes this water barely potable.

VIDEO: 14 August 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on the contruction of an underground pipeline that will supply water to one of the worst drought-affected areas of northern Kenya.  Watch in RealPlayer


Help is on the way

“The water we get is very bad and it brings us sickness and diarrhea,” said villager Esther Nabulon.

Suffering from a bout of malaria, her 8-year-old daughter, Konzi Atabo, had to make the one kilometre walk to the watering hole by herself, balancing a large plastic drum of water on her head.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1306/Njuguna
Children and women dig for water underneath the sand in a dry river bed in the northern village of Kerio in Turkana District, in Rift Valley Province. High water costs, dried-up sources and equipment breakdowns are putting added pressure on functioning water points.

In contrast to the branches and straw of the surrounding huts, the solid mud walls of this family’s home once pointed to their relative affluence. With 53 goats five years ago, the family had financial security. Unfortunately, successive droughts have seen their livestock dwindle, until this year’s crisis finally killed the last of them.

Help is on the way, however, for this drought-affected village. A new underground pipeline, powered by windmill, will pump water 17 kilometres from a local river. Built with support from UNICEF, it will provide a constant source of water for the entire community, while replenishing the water tank - soon to be added to the village’s newly constructed secondary school.

Disaster risk reduction

This is just one of a number of projects implemented by UNICEF and its local NGO and government partners that aim to build a level of resilience into the communities of these drought-prone areas and prepare them for future shocks.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1305/Njuguna
A girl pumps water at a Mark II-type handpump near the northern village of Kerio in Turkana District, in Rift Valley Province. Others wait their turn around her.

“We need to immediately put in place measures for recovery, resilience and work more intensively in disaster risk reduction,” said Olivia Yambi, UNICEF Country Representative in Kenya. “Otherwise,” she warned, “we are going to see the disparities widening between the haves and the have nots.”

Innocent Sifuna, District Public Health Officer in Turkana Central, has witnessed the annual cycle that seems to have taken a hold on his area. “Year in, year out drought is coming in, destroying the livestock they have.”

New ways to grow food

Mr. Sifuna was speaking in the middle of a green garden of different crops, crisscrossed by bubbling water pipes and irrigation channels. An innovative agricultural project, it aims to challenge the traditional reliance on livestock and grazing, by teaching more reliable ways of growing food, through proper irrigation and crop planting. 

“It will actually make them be strong and make them withstand,” he said, talking about the affect such livelihood changes would have on local communities. “Maize you can harvest three times in a year,” he said, adding that farmers could be storing food for the lean times, as well as selling any surplus for cash.

Still, water must come first. For the time being, however, the villagers of Kerio seem to have their solution worked out. For the children waiting their turn with their plastic containers at the watering hole, being relieved of the daily chore of water collection, will allow them the chance of a childhood, where little chance of one has existed before.



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