Kenya: 'Wow' for Water
by Brian Oxley
Schoolchildren celebrate the arrival of clean water
FOR many people there are special moments during a lifetime when there is a ‘wow’ factor, when something happens that is out of the ordinary and your whole spirit is so uplifted that you want to – or have to – shout out in joyful acknowledgement. Maybe this doesn’t happen very often but when it does it makes the whole world seem a better place, no matter the difficult circumstances of everyday living.
Such an event took place in November 2006 in Machakos and Makueni divisional Salvation Army compounds in Kenya. They are south-east of Nairobi, between two and three hours’ drive into arid, dusty and parched landscapes. For five consecutive years there has been inadequate rain and the government and United Nations have declared an ongoing emergency operation.
In these districts crops have partially or totally failed, with devastating effect on people who normally get 50 per cent of their income from livestock production and 30 per cent from food crops. The ongoing drought has reduced livestock and the livelihood of an estimated population of over 1.8 million rural people, with more than 60 per cent now living below the official poverty line, according to government statistics.
|children gather next to one of the tanks that will collect rainwater from a school roof|
|International Emergency Services intern Chris Parker tests the new water source|
|Water bowsers can be moved around by tractor|
|Soil samples from the bore to find water|
The Salvation Army’s Kenya Territory responded earlier in 2006 and asked for assistance from Salvation Army International Emergency Services to make an assessment and immediate intervention that would bring long-term benefits to some of these needy people. This resulted in a decision to sink two boreholes, one in Machakos and another in the neighbouring district of Makueni. These used to be areas where the land was rich and fertile but today river courses have totally dried out.
Work continued throughout 2006 and the ‘wow’ moment came in mid-November when electric power was connected to the borehole pump and water gushed from the three taps located beneath the 10,000-litre tower storage tank. The local people reacted with huge smiles, shouts of joy and prayers of gratitude that, at last, potable water was available – literally – on tap.
The tank is located in the Salvation Army compound at Machakos and the water is available for wide distribution. Makueni followed with similar shouts of joy, especially from the teenage girls attending the Salvation Army school located in the compound. For too long there had been no water for drinking, cooking or washing.
Some of the first people to taste the water, drawn from 120 metres underground and with an authorised extraction of more than 2,400 litres per hour, were divisional leaders Lieut-Colonels Julius and Phyllis Mukonga, who have been praying for water to be brought to Machakos – a dream also of Territorial Commander Commissioner Hezekiel Anzeze. Phyllis Mukonga pronounced the water to be good, saying, ‘This is going to mean a great deal to the people of Machakos.’ At Makueni the sentiments were similar, with thanks offered in prayer to God for his provision and the donations from people in other parts of the world who care enough to give generously to help others they will never meet.
Matthew Mulwa Kimanywa, who grew up in Machakos and whose parents live nearby, was having a ‘wow’ moment and as he drew water in his container he commented, ‘What a wonderful gift, to bring water where there has been only years of drought.’
The Salvation Army located the boreholes in the compounds at Machakos and Makueni for security of water source and to monitor the distribution through newly formed water committees, whose job it is to sell water at a price the local people can afford. This will create a maintenance fund for timely repairs to the pumps, pipes and taps, to ensure that water is available for years to come, even after the drought is over.
People have flocked to the compounds to taste and see water flowing freely. Engineers have forecast a continuing supply of water for years to come. Not that Africa is short of water, says a new report of a study commissioned by the United Nations that concludes enough rain falls on the continent to supply the needs of millions more people and to grow an abundance of food, if only more is done to capture this rain, to channel it to new reservoirs, pipe it to places where the rainfall is sparse and to harvest this much-needed source of life (see box below).
It is good to be able to report that The Salvation Army is alert to this truth and is helping people to harvest and store clean water.
|According to a recent United Nations report, Africa has more than enough water to fulfil its needs – if only the water was properly harvested and managed.|
‘Africa is not water scarce,’ says the report, compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). ‘The rainfall contribution is more than adequate to meet the needs of the current population several times over.’
Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director, says: ‘As we look into what Africa can do to adapt to climate change ... rainwater harvesting is one of those steps that does not require billions of dollars, that does not require international conventions first – it is a technology, a management approach, to provide water resources at the community level.’
A rainwater harvesting project in the Kisamese area of Kajiado District in south-western Kenya has solved most of the water problems experienced by the local Masai community, Agnes Loikert, a community leader from the area, told reporters. This type of project, highlighted as good practice, is precisely what The Salvation Army in Kenya is setting up.
‘Rainwater harvesting has helped women and children a lot,’ said Agnes, adding that women used to walk up to 10 kilometres every day in search of water, leaving their school-going children unattended, before the mini-reservoirs [earth pans] to conserve rainwater were installed at Kisamese village. Women now had more time to engage in other economic activities, she said.
The Kisamese project has the capacity to store more than a million litres of water, some of which the community is using to irrigate small vegetable gardens, thus enhancing the community’s food security.
‘In the popular mind, Africa is seen as a dry continent,’ said Dennis Garrity, Director-General of ICRAF, ‘but overall, it actually has more water resources per capita than Europe. However, much of Africa’s rain comes in bursts and is rapidly swept away or is never collected.
‘The time has come to realise the great potential for greatly enhancing drinking water supplies and smallholder agriculture production by harvesting more of the rainwater when and where it falls.’
According to the study, Kenya, whose current population is estimated at about 33 million people, has enough rainfall to supply the water needs of six to seven times that number. The country’s capital, Nairobi, has the capacity to provide for the water needs of a population of up to 10 million people, supplying each with 60 litres a day if rainwater were efficiently harvested, the study noted.
The current population of Nairobi is estimated at three million, with only 21,000 people served by the city’s existing water system.
‘Large-scale infrastructure can often bypass the needs of poor and dispersed populations,’ said Executive Director Steiner. ‘Widely deployed rainwater harvesting can act as a buffer against drought events for these people while also significantly supplementing supplies in cities and areas connected to the water grid,’ he added, urging African governments and international aid donors to put more resources into rainwater harvesting projects on the continent..
Along with the new boreholes came 233 water harvesting tanks installed at primary schools in Machakos and Makueni, each able to harvest 5,000 litres of water from the roofs of the schools during the ‘short and long rains’ seasons, when rain does fall at all. Dirt and debris are diverted away from the tank during the first rains of the day.
For some 100,000 young children this means an end to the daily foraging for water before attending school, walking up to six kilometres for not-very-clean water from pools and stagnant streams. This also means they have more time to play, to concentrate on lessons and to be children. Good news and a joyful ‘wow’ for parents and neighbours living close to the schools, where the tanks have been installed at the request of the government. Their prime aim is to safeguard the lives and health of the children and security can be better observed at the schools. All can share in this huge improvement to life and better health through potable water.
Because it doesn’t rain so much these days in Machakos and Makueni, and insufficient water from reservoirs is piped to these districts, there is now a tractor provided to tow any one of 10 new water bowsers, each able to carry 5,000 litres, to these schools to top-up with water from the boreholes.
Children know that when they get to school there will be clean water to drink and for washing their hands, and that they will be able to enjoy all the associated benefits of improved hygiene and health.
Also experiencing these joyful times have been Major C. J. Bennymon (India South Western Territory), Captain Comfort Adepoju (Nigeria Territory) and Chris Parker (UK Territory) who are on a year-long internship programme with International Emergency Services.
As a team, they have been working with the local Salvation Army to oversee and complete these life-changing projects which they then handed over to the Kenya Territory for future management in partnership with the Government of Kenya and the District Water Authorities.
|A machine used to drill for water||Some tanks are located high above ground to help with water pressure and security|
|Schoolchildren gather proudly in front of a new water tank|
Brian Oxley is team leader of The Salvation Army’s emergency services internship programme