Residents spend days and nights looking for water as rivers dry up

Residents of Lomolo in Mogotio, at the dried up Rongai River on Thursday last week. [Harun Wathari, Standard]
The sun has almost set but Judy Cherono cannot stay at home because she does not have water.

She straps her five-month-old baby on her chest and a jerrycan on her back, then sets off to look for the precious commodity.

Cherono embarks on a 15-kilometre walk to a river in a remote part of Lomolo village in Mogotio sub-county, Baringo, hoping to get some water.

Rongai River dried up a long time ago, rendering residents of Soin without water. The dry spell has affected every aspect of their lives.

Residents dig out small holes in the dry riverbed, hoping that water can seep into them so that they can scoop it up. But they are not always guaranteed that the water will fill the holes.

“Sometimes we spent the night by the river as we wait for water to seep out of the dry riverbed. It has become our lifestyle,” says Cherono.

“Most rivers here have dried up partly because large-scale farmers upstream have diverted water for irrigation at the expense of the people downstream.”

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Cherono finds dozens of residents queueing with jerrycans, waiting to scoop water. Others can’t wait to quench their thirst on the dirty and untreated water.

Perhaps wishing

Dogs wag their tails as they watch residents fill their jerrycans, perhaps wishing for a drop to quench their thirst.

Cows moo as calves and goats roam the area, sniffing at abandoned holes in their search for water. The cloud of dust rises with every step of the residents and animals.

The animals have made the spots where water holes have been sunk their homes. Just like their keepers, the animals wait patiently for water to seep into the holes so that they can have a drink.

“The situation is getting worse by the day. We dig the holes but at times we don’t get a drop of water. Things are promising to get even worse,” said David Laboso, a village elder.

Mr Laboso said the acute shortage of water that has hit the area started in December last year. The water levels started falling due to the dry weather.

He said some of the residents had to walk 15 kilometres in search of water.

“Some have been fetching water from River Molo, 25 kilometres away. But this is not helping much because the water levels have dropped significantly,” said Laboso.

He added: “Life is hard for all of us. Women wait the whole day to tap water. Men join them at night to offer security.”

School children join their parents in the search for water.

“The children don’t get time to do their homework. They spend their evenings looking for water and this may go into the night. The search for water has affected their education, said Cherono. “From here, I will get home around 11pm, sleep for about two hours and come back.” 

Water levels

The hardest hit are about 1,000 people brought to the area in 2013 after they were evicted from Mau Forest. 

“We have been pleading with both the county and national governments to provide us with water. The situation is difficult. Lack of water has affected every aspect of our lives, including the education of our children. Also, the rate at which large flower farms are diverting water should be controlled to lessen our suffering,” said another resident, Norah Kiprono.

“The water we have been drawing from the holes is dirty. It often leads to waterborne diseases. But what do we do? Do we have any alternatives? We drink it well aware of the danger we are putting ourselves in.”

Last week, area MCA Irene Chebichi and her Mosop colleague, Daniel Mutai, stormed a flower farm in Rongai to demand that it stops diverting water from rivers.

“The situation is bad here. We don’t even know what will become of our people in the coming months. The risk of conflict over limited water sources is rife. We are asking the Government to revoke licences allowing farms to harvest water from rivers,” Ms Chebichi said.

Mr Mutai said water harvesting in rivers Molo and Rongai should be controlled.

“These rivers help many people as they traverse several counties. The Government can also dig boreholes as one way of addressing the problem.”

Conserving wetlands

Kenya is preparing for the World Wetlands Day, which is meant to celebrate the milestones made in conserving wetlands.

A report by the National Environmental Complaints Committee said major wetlands have been affected by deforestation, use of pesticides on farms and water harvesting.

Lakes Naivasha, Victoria and Nakuru, the report said, were highly affected by pesticides and herbicides used in the neighbouring large-scale farms.

The committee’s secretary, John Chumo, said Rongai and Molo rivers were facing similar challenges.

“We have received petitions from residents who have raised concerns over contamination and diversion of water in these rivers. We are currently investigating some of the cases that have come to our attention. The current season, characterised by the dry spell, is even worse as far as contamination, diverting and over-harvesting of water from rivers is concerned. This has seen some of the rivers dry up,” Dr Chumo said.

The report said deforestation has affected wetlands in the Mau water tower, Lake Ol Bollosat in Nyandarua County, Mt Kenya, Abadares and the upper Lake Victoria basin.

Also affected by human activities is Lake Naivasha.

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