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Kenya: rising to the water challenge

The rains have arrived in Kenya.

You may be thinking that spells the end of the drought that has been devastating parts of Kenya throughout 2011.

Think again.

The rains have either been insufficient and sporadic, or have fallen in deluges, raising the risk of water-borne diseases.

Daily water shortages

The crisis here is not over yet and it’s my job to work out how, why and when we should respond to the desperate water and sanitation needs in this country — no small task!

My day never stops — communicating with the staff on the ground, coordinating with our partners, ensuring we take risk reduction measures after the drought, and highlighting the urgent issues in the worst affected areas.

Communities get together to lay pipes at Dunto Dispensary in Wajir East District

Visiting the communities who live in a landscape scarred by no rain, who face daily water shortages, makes me realise how important our role is.

It’s during these trips that I meet the people incapacitated through lack of water who spur me on to work harder.

Meeting Hassan

On a recent trip to Wajir East, I met twelve-year-old Hassan.

Hassan had suffered from acute watery diarrhoea for a week after drinking contaminated water — something we see regularly in north-east Kenya after the rains.

Save the Children is distributing water purification sachets in our hygiene kits to ensure people treat the water before drinking it.

Hassan can now fill the child-sized jerry can that the team gave him with safe, treated water.

Risk of disease

Now the rains have arrived, water is no longer in short supply.

However, this does not mean water is safely and securely stored — it’s quite the opposite.

Rainwater needs to be captured and treated otherwise there is a great risk of disease as children drink and play in the water.

Already prepared

The Save the Children team in Nairobi predicted the rains would arrive.

We knew we would have to harvest the water and protect people against the increased risk of water-born diseases.

As a result we have been working hard to install systems that would do just that.

A local artist branding the water storage tank at Dunto Dispensary in Wajir East District

Storing and treating water is not a complicated process, but one that can save lives.

In Kenya our team are working to install rainwater harvesting systems, that are comprised of gutters and tanks that catch and store the water.

We’re doing this in schools and hospitals to ensure the water is accessible to children and the community — not just selected families.

A huge challenge

I have worked in emergency responses in Darfur, Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan but this emergency is different because of the natural challenges here.

The distances between villages can be up to 100 km, which makes transporting water a lot harder.

This crisis is not going to be solved soon — but the water and sanitation team in Kenya will continue to work around the clock to try to meet the crucial water needs of those affected.

This blog was written by Rania Ali, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Advisor, Kenya.

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