In the parched village of Banissa in Mandera County, there are no taps. The only water available to drink comes from the single drying borehole about 13 kilometres away.
The land is bare with small rocks and scattered acacia shrubs. Mandera is one of the Northern Kenya counties that have experienced unprecedented drought in five consecutive rainy seasons.
Lack of rain has depleted nearly all pastures, threatening pastoralism, which is the main source of livelihood for majority of residents.
The pastoralists have lost over 80 per cent of their livestock after wells dried up and crops failed and now thousands of people are facing hunger, putting the lives of over 4.5 million Kenyans at risk in the arid and semi-arid areas.
According to the government, close to one million children aged between nine and 59 months are malnourished and 134,000 lactating women are also malnourished and in need of treatment in the drought-hit counties.
Rukia Said, 57, a widow in Banisa village, was left with five children to look after. The husband was killed by bandits two years ago. The 18 goats she was left with have since died due to the ongoing drought.
“When my husband died, the 18 goats that died were the only inheritance I was left with and the main source of livelihood. I am unable to put food on the table and have been forced to hawk handkerchiefs and pencils in Isiolo town to fend for my family,” said Ms Said
She added: “Schools have opened but my children have not reported back to school because of lack of school fees. They will just sit at home until I get money to take them back to school or join me in looking for food.”
She said they no longer bathe as the only borehole remaining is over 10 kiliometres away serving over 700 households and to get water, one must brave the chilly night. “It’s better to have water to drink and cook than bathing. It’s better to survive than to die,” she said.
Said’s case is just the tip of the iceberg. The situation is dire among the pastoral community in the arid and semi-arid areas and they are only surviving on food relief from the government and food donations from non-governmental organisations.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
To mitigate the situation, the government in partnership with the World Bank has launched a six-year programme aimed at solving the perennial water shortage in Northern Kenya, starting with five counties: Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir and Garissa.
The project dubbed ‘The Horn of Africa Groundwater for Resilience Regional Programme’ with an ambitious plan to rehabilitate and drill boreholes will see at least 1.5 million people access clean water in phase one of the project in the five counties.
Water Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome said the project would entail the rehabilitation, construction and sustainable management of boreholes as well as from aquifer-restoration, recharge, and conservation activities.
“Our objective is to ensure that water is available to everyone and is well-managed. Through a Sh15.5 billion World Bank loan, we shall rehabilitate about 400 rural water schemes and drill new drought strategic boreholes to ensure there 100 per cent water coverage in the five counties,” said Wahome
Wahome said the project would also finance development of technology for generating groundwater information.