Uh oh, you are using an old web browser that we no longer support. Some of this website's features may not work correctly because of this. Learn about updating to a more modern browser here.

Skip To Content

Kenya: digging deep in the life and death search for water

Improving access to water in northern Kenya is not a simple proposition: rivers and streams simply don’t exist at the moment, and when the rain finally arrives, water is liable to arrive in the form of a flood.

Women in Wajir sit beside their dry well

Water is the second priority of everyone I’ve spoken to in northern Kenya, after food. But even solutions come with problems. Making new boreholes, for example, requires lengthy government permissions and is liable to cause conflict between rival clans if one group is left out of the equation. Water assets are so valuable, they are worth fighting over.

Often pumps or generators are broken or committees need diesel, so even if people get what they want, helping people manage what they have is still essential.

“When will the rains arrive?”

I’m in Nairobi after doing assessments in Eastern Wajir, an area badly affected by the current drought in this region. Eastern Wajir is pretty flat, so calculating and increasing water inflow to rainwater collection pans will not be easy without a serious topographical survey, and even then I find myself asking “when will the next rains actually arrive?”

Stopping and storing some river water on its way past may be possible, however we need to bear in mind the needs of people downstream. Subsurface dams have been dug already, holding up subsurface flows.

Around Wajir town the ground water is oddly close to the surface, though the level has dropped steadily in the last few months. Not surprisingly there are a lot of wells, and people from surrounding areas have started moving into town.

At least we can get involved with making this community more resilient: Save the Children will identify strategic shallow wells and pay to dig them a little deeper.

Working all hours

Delivering water using tanker trucks is the last resort as it’s unsustainable. However, in one area our team visited, Barjenai, people have arrived with animals as the pond was the only source for miles around. The animals would not now survive further travel and the pond is running dry. So trucking water may be the only means to avoid a catastrophe.

I can’t escape the feeling that this problem is bigger than all of the aid agencies. I see my colleagues working all hours, and no doubt many children are alive today, thanks to their efforts.

In Wajir town, Hasan, one of Save the Children’s outreach workers from the far north was in town for a planning session. “My family were pastoralists, but a few years ago we decided to settle in Elwak and get jobs,” he said, in a matter of fact way. “We realised that global warming was making our way of life impossible.” I was humbled by his wisdom.

Share this article