Droplets of Hope: A Water Story

by Noah Wekesa

A mountain peak with beautiful waves of cloud smashing against it, like the surf on the ocean crashing on a beach. Mount Kilimanjaro is a sight to behold from up in the air.

Next to Amboseli National Park where the last vestiges of wildlife still roam free in their natural habitat and the brave Maasai graze their cattle, a few kilometres away from the beautiful mountain is a school that is still standing against all odds.

At the height of the 2017 drought in Kajiado South, when the weather turned harsh and the relentless sun mercilessly starved precious livestock by drying up their grazing lands and slurping up the meagre water sources, Olgulului Primary School had a terrible dropout rate of up to 50% as pupils stopped attending school to either migrate with their pastoralist families in search of better grazing lands for their livestock or support their families in the big search for blue gold – water.

Against All Odds

Olgulului Primary School has a paltry school population of 685 pupils, with 216 of these studying under a mixed boarding program. Emmanuel Lenkishon Kesaine has the unenviable job of being the school’s headteacher in this hardship area whose posting is viewed as punishment by most headteachers.

At one time, the school had to juggle between learning and searching for water – but the search for water unfortunately always won, with widespread absenteeism and loss of class time whenever pupils trekked for up to seven kilometres per trip in search for water. How does a girl on her menses maintain personal hygiene in such a place where water is prioritized for drinking and a shower is essentially a luxury?

“The learning environment used to be very harsh. Although we had water pipes and taps, they were dry for weeks on end, so the borehole located seven kilometres away was our only water source. Pupils used to go for days without taking a shower and absenteeism was rife.”

Olgulului little ones accessing water at school, courtesy of Amref

Amref Health Africa in Kenya’s WASH & NTD Programme, in partnership with Charity Water, helped to cushion the school from such climate change shocks by enabling the school access to potable water through pipeline extension from the constructed borehole. This runs on solar energy in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 of affordable and clean energy. Headteacher Emmanuel Lenkishon Kesaine can now sigh in relief and focus on his main commission – to educate the next generation of Africans.

Disease Burden

A climate-smart solution for enabling community access to safe water and affordable water

Extreme water deprivation from climate change also negatively impacted community health in Kajiado South. Rural health facilities are expected to perform immensely well while working under minimal availability of essential resources. They are the frontiers of a typical sub-Sahara African country’s fragile health system. Olgulului Health Centre is such a place, serving more than 3,500 villagers scattered across a vast area:

“Due to water shortage in the community, people used to consume water from contaminated sources which caused them water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea. Before Amref intervened through the provision of safe water, the health facility used to treat an average of 15 diarrhoea cases per day, but this has now reduced to about 5 cases per day. Children used to suffer the most, with up to 20 cases suffering from eye problems due to the use of unsafe water in cleaning the faces of these little ones. These cases too have gone down. I am grateful to Amref and I hope that you shall continue partnering with us, especially on water treatment.”—Isaac Dakane, a clinical officer at Olgulului health centre.

Water Poverty

“I used to wake up early in the morning to go fetch water from the borehole. I used to walk for more than 6km only to get one bucket of water which would be rationed for cooking, drinking and bathing…But one bucket could never be enough, so I used to make up to three such trips to the borehole on a typical day.

Erubi, one of the many women in a local village used to trek for a whopping six kilometres just to fetch one jerrican of water.

Sometimes I’d go and find cattle being watered there, the only other alternative in such times was to go down to the drying river to fetch muddy water. I used to have a lot of back pains from all that water-hauling. But now I only have to walk for about 100 meters to fetch clean water, thanks to Amref.”

Water and Climate Change

Climate change is already here and Africa has borne the biggest brunt of its negative impact, especially on water scarcity. We cannot wish it away, there is no denying it.

Erratic rainfall affects the replenishment of both ground and surface water supply sources that sub-Saharan Africa populations depend on. Flooding creates another set of water, sanitation and hygiene challenges that health systems and communities have to adapt to.

Water can help mitigate against climate change shocks, through sustainable, affordable and scalable water and sanitation solutions. This is what Amref Health Africa’s Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Neglected Tropical Disease programme has been doing for the last 33 years.

Everyone has a role to play, the time is now.

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