A grandmother’s promise
A health facility with clean water offers hope to drought-stricken families
Babo Gure Shabin is a grandmother to Zamzam and Isnini. They live at her house, which is made from straw in the traditional Somali style. Babo has her hands full. She juggles rocking her youngest grandchild with serving a ladle of stew to the others.
The cooking pot, which bubbles above a single fire log, is one of the few small possessions she owns. The family sits on a smart rattan mat, which helps them stay clean, despite the gusts of dust blowing up from the ground. The children’s clothes and faces are spotless, but they are sick from lack of food.
“A few days ago, my youngest grandchild cried from hunger,” Babo recalls, frustrated. She recently offered to care for the grandchildren while her son, who keeps livestock for a living, sought pasture to keep the animals alive. The children’s mother is not producing any milk, a common symptom and enabler of intergenerational malnutrition. “I can't lie. Times are different” Babo says. “We had everything before the drought. Now times are bad.
Kenya is suffering its fifth consecutive failed rainy season which is impacting the lives of children, who are least responsible for climate change. 1.5 million children under five years old are chronically malnourished (more than a quarter of children that age in Kenya).
“I have lived with my grandchildren for one month now,” Babo explains. The children were so small and sick when they came here. And one of them couldn’t walk properly. The eldest of the children was malnourished and was given ready-to-use therapeutic food. The younger child was recently diagnosed with the same illness.”
RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food) is the peanut paste that UNICEF uses to treat manourished children. The use of RUTF has a very high success rate: more than 90 per cent of children treated for severe acute malnutrition in UNICEF-supported nutrition centres recover.
In Babo’s community, UNICEF and partners supply an outpatient program with RUTF for malnourished children. In Garissa County alone, through UNICEF and partners, a total of 23,318 children below five years old suffering from malnutrition were enrolled into treatment from January to September 2022.
“It feels good when you treat a sick child” says Francis Mwangi, Community Nurse at the Daley Dispensary. “When you give hope to an innocent kid, it feels good.”
Francis is the local nurse who is treating Babo’s grandchildren. He describes the realities of operating the local health post. He says, “Running a facility without water is a challenge because it is a place where you have every kind of bodily fluids, which are a risk to me as staff, my colleagues and the community. Somebody comes in the hospital for treatment, then when he leaves, he goes home with an infection. That's a challenge, when it comes to water scarcity.”
Mothers and children alike face increased risk of disease and infection when nurses have to treat patients with no clean water. Healthcare facilities in rural parts of Kenya sometimes require pregnant women to bring their own water for assisted deliveries. Medicines in health posts also regularly run out of stock. [GP1]
A UNICEF-supported solar-powered borehole in Babo’s village now provides safe water to the dispensary where children like four-year-old Zamzam and one-year-old Isnini undergo therapy. The borehole also supplies drinking water to a kiosk run by a local cooperative. Those who can’t afford water are assisted.
Halima Bashir Elmoge is the Treasurer of the Daley Water Users Association and explains about the kiosk. “If there were no water, nothing would be possible. My work as a treasurer is to collect money (for maintenance) and take it to the bank. At the water kiosk, we charge 5 Kenyan Shillings per jerry can. Those who cannot afford to pay are not charged because it’s not good to be thirsty.”
“We use the water from the kiosk” says Babo. “It's the only water source and it helps us. I use the water to cook for the kids, bathe them, and other chores. I get water for free”.
UNICEF has supported the rehabilitation of 21 water supply systems in Garissa County reaching a total of 92,279 people with access to safe water supply.
“One of the kids has already recovered and the other one is still in therapy” reports Babo, with hope. "My love, my love, my little one” she sings to Isnini. “My love, you will be brought up well.”
[GP1]This is also from the recent health supplies flag off briefing