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Without water in West Wajir

Kenya, September 9, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jill Morehead/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Women collecting water in West Wajir. Photo: Jill Morehead/Mercy Corps

"Look. Over there. See them?"

Yakoub pointed so that I wouldn’t miss them. We were driving past the first few of about a dozen giraffe we would see that day driving from Nairobi to the city of Wajir in northeastern Kenya. In spite of the seriousness of the situation we were there to address, I couldn’t suppress my smile and I turned to take pictures.

Over the next five hours, from Garissa to Wajir, I enjoyed my mini-safari and snapped pictures of dik dik, gazelles, giraffes, ostriches and a startled warthog. The farther we got from Garissa, the less green I was able to see. Within a couple hours I started to snap pictures of the dusty landscape and barren bushes.

Delivering water amid a four-year drought

Mercy Corps is providing hundreds of thousands of liters of water to villages in Wajir South and Wajir West in northeastern Kenya each week. I piled into the Mercy Corps vehicle with a few colleagues to visit these villages and do some monitoring of the situation in West Wajir.

Some of the communities we visited hadn’t received a drop of rain in four years. Plains that usually turn into lush grasslands a couple times a year after the rains were vast expanses of dust, rock and a few leafless bushes. Animal carcasses were scattered across the region.

We pulled into the first village and stopped at the water tank. The village alerted the chief that visitors had arrived and he came over to greet us. The women were gathered around the tank hauling up the water, but the chief told us his concerns. He was grateful for the water that was coming, but more and more families were settling in the village each day as herds died off due to the lack of food and water.

The day before our visit, six families arrived, that morning an additional five families. The water being trucked was no longer enough. Each household used to get 40 liters of water per day. Now, so many new families had arrived that each family was only getting 15 liters of water.

Similar stories were cropping up across the entire county.

Pumping water for everyone

Weekly monitoring of numbers of families in each village helps Mercy Corps to adjust the amount of water being trucked to ensure that families are getting the water needed. In towns that are lucky enough to have boreholes, Mercy Corps is providing fuel subsidies so that pastoral families can water their herds and protect what livestock they have left.

Water pumps used to run about 6-8 hours per day, but they are now running anywhere from 15-22 hours per day, depending on the size of the community causing fuel needs to more than double. Women queue for hours to collect water and haul it back to their homes. Boys bring their goats to drink from the troughs built near the water source for that purpose.

After requesting permission, I started snapping pictures. The women were shy but smiled and the children laughed and ran away, then ran back to pose for the camera. People take the water they can get. And everyone hopes that the rains will come in October.