How water cartels are subjecting residents of Kalokol to torture

Locals at a watering hole in Kalokol in Turkana County. Water cartels have diverted water pipes from a community borehole denying them water. [Fred Kibor, Standard]

Salome Ekai braces the morning desert chill as she joins other residents of Kalokol at the shores of Lake Turkana on a 10-kilometer trek in search of water.

It is almost 4am as the group winds up its walk at a dry river bed where they have dug a shallow borehole locally known as a ‘laga’ enabling them access clean water beneath the sunbaked sand.

“This has been of our livelihood for decades now. If you do not wake up by 4am, then you will spend the entire day lining up for water at the laga,” Ekai says as she balances a 20-litre full jerrican full of water on her head, ready for the long walk back home.

Thirty-year-old Ekai says that for as long as she can remember, Kalokol region has been dry, and people and animals rely on the laga for drinking water.

Ironically, Kalokol famed as a fishing point, is a stone throw away from the world's largest desert lake - Lake Turkana, but the residents thirst remains unquenched because the water is saline.

Community borehole

“The water situation gets worse during the dry season. Even though the county government drilled two solar-powered boreholes we still have no access to drinking water in our homes because water has been diverted by unscrupulous individuals,” Ekai says.

At the laga, we bumped into Maria Ekiru, a Class Eight candidate at a local primary school. She tells us she often misses classes because she spends the better part of her school days fetching water.

“My siblings are too young to assist our ailing mother fetch water. I walk about 20 kilometres to get the water and roll the jerricans on the ground back home. We use this water for drinking and cooking food,” she says.

Even at the water kiosks that the county had installed, the line is usually very long and the water which is sold at Sh5 for a 20-litre jerrican is too expensive for most of the villagers.

“We prefer the laga because the water is free even though we have to bear the scorching sun to walk all the way to fetch the water,” she says.

But the safety of the water at the laga is not guaranteed as it is highly contaminated.

“Livestock drink from the same water and at times people bath in there. There was a time a cow fell and died in the well. We were forced to dig another one,” said Thomas Longone, another local.

He said the laga despite being a lifeline was also a health and safety hazard to both the animals and people.

“The laga is also a source of conflict because commercial water vendors draw from it and fill tanks pulled by tractors, further straining the supply for locals,” he says.

Francis Epenyo one of the water vendors at Kalokol market says he spends up to six hours digging deeper into the ground to find water as he struggles to fill his containers.

To alleviate the water shortage in Kalokol town and its environs, apart from drilling the boreholes, the county government constructed two giant water tanks with the aim of supplying the commodity to the locals.

Sadly, cartels emerged and connected illegal pipes to the main line that supplies water to huge underground tanks. The tanks are filled at night draining the boreholes thus depriving the locals of water.

During the day, they sell the water to the locals, traders in the town and in villages for up to Sh70 for a 20-litre jerrican.

Turkana County Water Services Executive Chris Aletia blames the cartels for the artificial water shortage in Kalokol by diverting water to the illegal tanks.

“We shall henceforth deploy county enforcement officers assisted by armed police to aid in cracking down those behind the cartels operating with impunity at Kalokol,” he said.