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Drying rivers leave thousands thirsty, hungry as drought bites

By Nathan Ochunge and Dalton Nyabundi | Published Tue, February 20th 2018 at 08:19, Updated February 20th 2018 at 08:23 GMT +3
A man with his children fetching water for his sheep from a dug up well at a dried up River Chesitet in Tiaty, Baringo county. Many rivers in the county have dried up. [Photo:Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

 

Its 4am on a chilly Friday morning, and a long queue of villagers armed with jerrycans has already formed inside Mukwa Primary School.

The school boasts of the only borehole with a water pump in the entire location.

To get the water, villagers must wake up before sunrise, not just to beat the long queue, but because by 8am, the borehole runs dry.

Prolonged drought sweeping through the area has seen entire families spend nights out searching for water.

At the school borehole, Rodgers Natembea, his wife and three children came to fetch water around 2am. In these thirsty times, fetching water has become an entire family affair. But by 4am, the family was still in the queue awaiting their turn, hoping against hope that the well would not run dry before they reach it.

Not guaranteed

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The family trekked for five kilometres to the school borehole, and is not guaranteed to walk back with at least a jerrycan to drink for the day.

“This pump serves more than six villages with a population of about 2,000 people,” says Natembea.

He would not dare let his wife and three children trek to the school borehole alone.

“Sometimes people fight for the pump, sometimes people get attacked on the way by thugs,” he says.

The situation is equally bad in neighbouring locations such as Toloso, Kolani, Butune, Lukala, Lwandanyi, Kabkara and Kulisiru. Here, nearly all water sources have dried up. What remains are a few occasional dirty puddles, from which water vendors have been making a killing.

The vendors are now the main suppliers of water in Bungoma town, Kanduyi, areas around Kibabii University and Chwele, selling a 20-litre jerrycan for not less than Sh30.

The situation is not any better in neighbouring Busia County where previously permanent streams have dried up. Only the heavily contaminated Suo River is still trickling downstream. Hundreds of thirsty villagers no longer mind about the dirt as they jostle for every available drop in the stream.

In Kisumu and Trans Nzoia counties, erstwhile dependable rivers such as Nzoia, Lwakhakha, Sio, Yala, Isukhu, Munang’uba, Khalaba, Musila and Lusumu are on their deathbeds.

In Kisumu town, Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company (Kiwasco) has been rationing water for the second week now.

Managing Director David Onyango said the rationing was occasioned by dropping volumes of water in River Kajulu, the main source of water for the town with a population of about one million people.

Sondu Miriu hydro-power station is struggling to build up enough water to run its turbines, while the majestic Nyando that flows throughout the year from the Nandi Hills is struggling, leaving rice farmers at the Ahero and West Kano irrigation schemes a worried lot.

In Gusii region, the source of River Gucha at Kiabonyoru Hills in Nyamira is drying up, spelling doom for thousands of people downstream.

Kisii University Environmental Scientist Tom Nyang’au blames people living along the banks of the main rivers and wetlands in the region for bad agricultural practices that have led to dying rivers.

More experts blame the dire situation on human activities such as deforestation, cultivation along the riparian areas for contributing to the dying rivers.

“People have also settled on river sources, interfering with springs,” says Vincent Wechabe, a former World Bank natural resource management officer.

Existing laws

Mr Wechabe, who is co-ordinating the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) in Bungoma, said poor implementation of existing laws on preservation of water sources was another stumbling block.

Experts blame climate change and agricultural activities for the current state of affairs. They also blame the dry spell on eucalyptus trees, which they note have sucked many rivers dry.

“Many people plant the eucalyptus along rivers for commercial purposes, one such tree uses at least 20 litres of water a day,” says Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology lecturer Humphrey Agevi.

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