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Water Day: Turkana residents no longer at ease as drought rages

Women draw water from manually dug holes in Lokichoggio, Turkana County. The affair of making sure that animals have drinking water squarely rests on women. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

As the world marks Water Day, the worsening drought situation in Turkana County has exposed over 600,000 residents to the risk of starvation.

The county administration has reported that the residents across the drought-prone six sub-counties of Turkana could face food shortage.

More families have been exposed to starvation with humanitarian support from the government and donors delay.

This comes on the backdrop of only 58 per cent of Kenyans having access to basic drinking water.

According to Unicef, only 30 per cent of Kenyans currently have access to basic sanitation.

The United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide also states that only 29 per cent of the population has access to safely managed and basic service sanitation.

The last rains witnessed in Turkana was in September last year when floods saw the banks of Lake Turkana burst and destructions experienced along waterways in the arid region.

Kenya uses about three billion cubic metres of water a year, according to 2013 statistics.

In September 2013, two aquafers were discovered at the Lotikipi Basin in Turkana.

The aquifers are said to hold 250 billion cubic metres of water and could supply the country for 70 years.

A Turkana woman in Turkana East on February 16, 2021. Most residents walk many kilometers away from home to fetch water. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

The water, however, has not been of use since then because of high levels of salinity.

Turkana County partnered with Saudi Arabia-based firm to desalinate the aquifer water but the plant construction is expected to cost between Sh5 billion and Sh10 billion.

According to county authorities and the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Nasinyono and Nanam area in Turkana West, Turkana North (Kibish, Napak and Koyesa), Turkana East (Lomelo, Katika, and Ayengyeng) and Loima’s (Lobei, Lorengipi and Kotaruk) were listed as the worst-hit areas.

Eripon Ekoonon, a resident of Lokwatuba in Turkana East, said thousands of locals in remote villages have no access to food.

Ekoonon said livestock are dying due to lack of pasture and water.

Since 2000, the government and development partners have significantly increased overall spending on water.

However, donor funding still makes up 64 per cent of the total sector financing.

Kenya’s National Water Master Plan 2030 estimates that $14 billion in investment in water supply and $5.4 billion in investment in urban sewerage infrastructure are needed over the next 15 years.

"Residents have gone without food for months. Relief food has not been forthcoming. Getting water has also been a big challenge,” said resident Nayanae Lokitela.

Lokitela said water sources in Turkana had dried up by February, making it difficult for residents and livestock to survive.

According to Unicef, unsafe or inadequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene has a profound effect on public health.

An armed herder watches his animals at a drinking point in Lokichogio, Turkana County, on February 17, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Diarrhea alone is responsible for 10 per cent of under-5 mortalities in Kenya, and nearly 90 per cent of diarrhoea is attributed to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.

John Louren from Nasinyono in Turkana West said the price of food, including maize, has nearly doubled in the areas as well as Turkana North.

“Villagers are beginning to sell their goats and cattle at throw-away prices but still can’t access food in some remote areas,” he said.

Deputy Governor Peter Lotethiro said the drought situation has degenerated into a humanitarian emergency in some remote areas.

This comes as the UN says the world is not on track to meet the development goals targets by 2030.

According to findings presented to at the 2012 conference on water scarcity in Africa, it is estimated that by 2030, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will be living in areas of high-water stress

Lotethiro said Turkana North, East, Central, South Loima and Turkana West have been affected by the ravaging drought that is beginning to kill livestock.

“Under the NDMA drought management indicators, we are actually getting into an alarm and emergency in some areas. Kibish area in Turkana is the worst hit,” the Deputy County chief said after flagging off the relief food destined for the worst hit areas.

The exercise, Mr Lotethiro said, is part of a response plan by the County Government to aid residents from food insecurity.

Women make a conveyor belt to draw water using bowls from manually dug holes in Lokichoggio, Turkana County. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

“The entire county is affected. We have not had rains since September last year. We have reached a situation where humans and livestock are affected,” Mr Lotethiro said.

He added: “The County Government through the Covid 19 fund has procured 70,000 bags (50kgs) of white maize, 6,500 bags (50kgs) of rice, 16,000 bags (50kgs) of beans and 15,000 cans (20 litres) of cooking oil which will cover 11,000 families.”

The County Government is also working closely with World Food Programme and World Vision to transport the 3, 037 tonnes of food to all Sub-Counties in the region.

In addition to food assistance, the Deputy Governor said, the County Government will continue to provide support to its residents appealing for further partners’ support for animal feeds, water and food to hard hit areas of Turkana North and Turkana East Sub-Counties.

County Chief Officer for Public Administration and Disaster Management, Esther Ikaru said Sh 451 million had been budgeted for procurement of relief food in the current financial year.

Ikaru said the funds may not be enough to feed affected families the entire year. She said 640,000 residents are staring at starvation across the county, noting that the 11,000 families in dire need of food were identified by county and national government officials.

The Chief Officer said each of the affected families will get 36 kilograms of maize, seven kilograms of beans and three litres of cooking oil, which will last for about a month. She said the rice supplies will be distributed to vulnerable groups including the sick and the elderly.

“We had budgeted Sh 451 million for relief food but we only have Sh 211 million is available. As a Government we appeal for partners’ support to cover the Sh 240 million deficit,” she said.

The CCO also said Kibish and neighbouring area has been prioritised in the relief food distribution exercise.

 Ikaru further noted that the food distribution exercise will be done in compliance with the government's Covid 19 protocols.

The Deputy Governor was accompanied by County Secretary Peter Eripete, Covid 19 Fund Board Chairperson Rev. Samson Akoru, Board Member David Ekod, Director Disaster Management Vincent Palor, World Vision and World Food Program representatives and senior warehouse staff.

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