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Water brings new hope as Wajir tries to recover from drought

Posted by Alun McDonald Media and Communications Coordinator for OPTI

5th Jul 2012

One year since the launch of Oxfam's appeal for the food crisis in East Africa, Polycarp Otieno returns to Wajir in north eastern Kenya, to see how Oxfam's response is helping communities to recover.

At 7pm, as night sets in, primary school children across Kenya are already at home, resting and spending time with their family. But in the village of Shidley, in Wajir, the school day is just beginning. Most of the 60 pupils have already spent their entire day searching for water and looking after goats.

"This night school is a compromise I have to make with the parents," explains Ahmed Hellow Gedi, the Headteacher of Shidley Primary School. After last year's drought, the recent rains in Wajir were fairly good and there is currently enough pasture to feed the livestock on which most families here depend. "But there is no steady source of water here," says Ahmed. "Boys and girls walk up to 25km every day in search of water for the family and their animals. It is practically a full day's job, so for a parent with five children of school-going age they give me three (to attend school in the daytime) and the remaining two have to go and search for water and rear goats. That's when the idea of the night school began, and we now have about 60 students doing their classes from 7pm to 11pm."

This way, children do get to go to school, but, Ahmed explains, "The fatigue of both students and teachers, the lack of proper lighting, and the short duration of classes, means it's far from an ideal way of learning."

So Oxfam, with our local partner WASDA, is working together with the school and the community to bring some permanent change that helps children go to school at normal daylight hours. During the crisis we have been bringing in water by trucks to the village three times a week. However, to provide a more long-term solution, Oxfam is drilling a new borehole that will provide the community with a permanent source of clean water. With WASDA we are also installing tanks for the school, so that water can be stored nearby during the dry season.

With water close by, children don't have to spend their days walking for hours to find a source, meaning that more can attend school in the daylight and have the chance of a proper education.

The supply of water is also helping communities in Wajir to keep their livestock healthy and profitable, as pastoralists in the area try and recover from the drought. In Harakhokhot, Oxfam and WASDA have been repairing the water point where herders from miles around bring their animals. Every month the water point here serves 5,000 camels, 1500 cattle and several thousand goats and sheep.  

"The animal watering troughs were run down and pipes were broken, so we were spending a lot of money on fuel for pumps to cover for the leaked water," says Dubow Ahmed. "Our water tanks were dilapidated and could not hold any water." The dirt that built up around the broken systems was also exposing the animals to disease, he adds.

By mid-2012, Oxfam engineers have repaired three watering troughs, built a new tap stand, repaired broken pipes, and constructed a new drainage pathway to reduce the amount of dirt. A new water tank acts as a small reservoir.

"There is now a constant flow of water, which has helped reduce congestion of both people and animals," says Dubow. "The repaired pipes have greatly reduced the cost of fuel to run the pump, as there is no leaking."

The key is maintaining the supply and the new pipes, and ensuring their condition does not deteriorate again. A new building now stores equipment for repairing the borehole in case of breakdown, and a Water Users Association has been set up - a five-person committee elected by the people using the water point, which oversees the day-to-day operations and ensures the community take on the responsibility of managing the site.

The water-point is increasingly self-sustainable. A small charge is made for users - it costs 2.5 Kenyan shillings (about $0.03) to fill a 20-litre jerry can with water. Camel owners pay 15 shillings (about $0.17) to water a camel, while the price for goat owners varies depending on the size of the herd. The money collected pays for maintaining the water point, paying for staff and buying fuel.

The water project in Shidley is funded by AusAID. The Harakhotkhot water point is one of 23 being rehabilitated in Wajir by Oxfam and partners WASDA and ALDEF, with funding from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

Oxfam's response to the East Africa food crisis

Blog post written by Alun McDonald

Media and Communications Coordinator for OPTI

More by Alun McDonald