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Desperate Nyanza farmers give calves soda as rivers dry up

By Standard Team | January 17th 2017
A boy fetches water in an improvised hole dug where river Awach passes near Oluch Kimira in West Karachuonyo in Homabay county in a picture taken on January 14, 2017. The persistent absence of rain has caused many rivers to dry up. (Photo: Denish Ochieng/ Standard)

Mzee Daniel Obage is living proof of how drought has wreaked havoc in Nyanza.

Mr Obage, from Kowuor village, Kokoth Kateng’, in Karachuonyo lost six head of cattle in the space of a few months.

He drives his cattle for 4km to Lake Victoria to quench their thirst since rivers, dams and water pans have all dried up.

Since 2015, the 73-year-old has lost 28 head of cattle.

Were it not for the on going dry spell, Obage would be the proud owner of 41 head of cattle. He has only 13 and with no end in sight to the dry spell their future is bleak.

The pain of losing two of his favourite cattle; a heavily built bull named Raila Odinga and a priced cow named after Kenya’s first First Lady Mama Ngina, is written all over his wrinkled face.

“I have lost many cattle to drought but I will never forget these two. Ngina used to give birth to quality calves which have increased the herd besides producing a lot of milk,” said.

The current drought is driving him to poverty and desperation as the cattle are his only source of livelihood. He makes money from milk sales and ploughing people’s farms.

“I have three oxen-driven ploughs where two are for hire while one is for personal use. None of them is operational because of inadequacy of oxen orchestrated by the drought. The few living ones are ailing,” he added. The fire in his eyes sums up the pain a man who is supposed to be enjoying his sunset years is going through.


There is no pasture or water for the remaining cattle and the cattle are now surviving on tree leaves.

“The area is too dry and without grass at all. The other problem is lack of water, forcing us to drive our animals over long distance to Lake Victoria,” he said.

Obage leaves home at 7am every day and arrives at the lake at about midday. By the time he gets back home it is 7pm.

Obage’s plight mirrors what many farmers in the region are going through.

His wife, Pamela Awino, said water shortage also impacts negatively on education. Ms Awino said children have to wake up at 4am to start the agonising search for water.

“Our children travel long distances in search of water. When they go to school, they just dose hence poor academic performance,” she said.

The most affected parts of Homa Bay by the drought are Suba and Mbita constituencies and Kanyadoto and Kwabwai wards in Ndhiwa.

Home Bay County director of disaster management Eliud Onyango said the county is putting in place measures to cushion locals from adverse effects of drought.

He said they would build 10 water pans in Suba and Karachuonyo, which are the worst hit, before the year ends.

“We are also going to consider Kwabwai ward and other affected parts to ensure drought causes no more water shortage in this county,” Mr Onyango said.

He said they were also developing a programme that will see farmers cease practising rain fed agriculture.

The situation is not different in Siaya County.

Siaya County Water Executive Sarah Ondego said the hardest hit regions are Sakwa, Rarieda, Uyoma and Alego Usonga.

“We are experiencing drought but not as bad as the one we had last time. This is because we have put in place measures to curb the perennial water shortage during such times,” she said.

Ms Ondego noted that the county had built water pans which still have water.

She told The Standard that those living in Rarieda and Uyoma are already benefiting from the Ndori Rarieda water project, in which water is pumped from River Yala.

Elsewhere, in the remote drought ravaged parts of Nyatike in Migori County, some villagers are feeding their thirsty calves on soda, to save their lives after fruitless search for water.

Government officials say that Bande in East Kadem, for example, has lost more than 200 cattle since the onset of the dry spell last year. The situation worsened after Bande Dam, which was dug in 1952 and the only source of water in the region, dried up late last year.

East Kadem reported almost 100 per cent crop failure as small rivers dried up.

Nyatike Sub-county administrator Appollo Ogutu said the situation was dire and confirmed some villagers were feeding their newly born calves on sodas. He said 90 per cent of households in the sub-county were affected.

In Kisii, whose water sources rarely run dry, springs and dams have dried up.

Nyanchwa springs, Nyambera and Getacho have all dried up leaving residents with no option other than to trek for long distances in search of water.

Kisii County Director in charge of Environment Samson Bokea said human activities and encroachment on riparian areas are the main challenges in preserving water sources.

— James Omoro, Olivia Odhiambo and Scophine Otieno

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