Relief for villagers after decades of long treks in search of water

Mariach Napune quenching his thirst at a water point in Chepungus village, Silale ward, Tiaty, Baringo County on November 7, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Beneath the radiant sun in Chepungus village at the foothills of Silale in Tiaty, Baringo County, Emily Torotok tends to her pawpaw trees.

Her small kitchen garden boasts a variety of produce, including kales and spinach. For the mother of three, life had been defined by nomadic pastoralism, marked by long journeys in search of water.

The Pokot community, predominantly nomadic pastoralists, grappled with the harsh reality of semi-arid conditions, compelling them to wander for pasture and water, an essential resource in the arid landscapes.

“The weather here is harsh, the land is dry, there’s no river nearby, only after travelling over 30 kilometres to River Nginyang or Lake Baringo. The rivers here are not permanent; they dry over a short period,” Torotok says.

She notes that various initiatives led by national and county governments, along with private entities to address the water crisis through borehole drilling have encountered limited success.

The challenging volcanic terrains in the region have posed obstacles to achieving sustainable solutions. Often, the water found is unsuitable, sometimes excessively hot, and, in some instances, the water volume fluctuates.

This frustration prompts villagers to endure long queues, eagerly awaiting a chance to fetch water from the unpredictable sources.

The challenges intensify the hardships faced by the community, compelling women to undertake arduous journeys to distant locations in order to fetch water.

Nevertheless, residents were excited when the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) entered Tiaty at Silale ward for geothermal exploration.

GDC successfully fulfilled the water needs of the locals by establishing over 20 water points for the community.

This offered a glimmer of hope for the pastoral community, marking a transformative era for the once-thirsty villages and bringing about positive change with newfound access to essential resources.

“In our community, women traditionally bore the responsibility of fetching water. GDC’s arrival transformed our lives, eliminating long hours of trekking in search of the precious commodity,” said Torotok.

“Thanks to the ground water system from Lake Baringo, our community has found respite after a water treatment plant and piped water were installed, I started growing vegetables and they flourished with daily watering,” she added.

Her small kitchen farm not only supplements animal products but also enhances her family’s dietary needs. Torotok, an Early Childhood Development (ECD) teacher at Chepungus Primary School opted to try planting pawpaw seedlings.

She also planted maize, achieving a significant harvest through basic irrigation. The surplus income from maize sales became seed capital for her retail shop in Chepungus centre.

Torotok’s journey into farming resonates with many locals, signalling a shift toward agricultural experimentation.

At the Chepungus water point, one of the 20 water points in Silale ward, hundreds of locals, mainly women and children, gather just a few metres away from Porokot’s farm.

They queue with their jerrycans, filling one bucket after another. The atmosphere is filled with lively conversations and laughter. The once treacherous journeys and painful treks are now a distant memory.

“Before the water system was installed in these villages, we encountered severe challenges. The water project has transformed our landscape, reducing hours of trekking to a five-minute trip and enabling children to attend school without challenges,” says Cheptoye Kanyikera, a resident.

The availability of water has alleviated tensions, and school enrollment has witnessed improvement, inspiring children to attend school according to locals.

Nakan Alebo, a Pokot community elder, expresses gratitude for the availability of water.

“The project has reduced conflict and communal strife caused by competition for water. It has improved our lives and livelihoods, increasing income from small farms and the sale of our livestock,” he says.