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United Nations doing good job in arid areas

By Mohammed Guleid | March 5th 2020

The United Nations estimates that sub-Saharan Africa loses 40 billion hours per year looking for water.

In most of Kenya’s water-scarce regions, this invariably involves an already poorly-nourished mother lugging a 20kg jerrycan for about three hours every day under 40°C while  often carrying a baby on her back.

In economic terms, Unesco says, for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there is an economic return of between $3 and $34. 

For the people living in Kenya’s frontier counties, finding solutions for the social and economic effects caused by lack of clean water is their highest priority. Finding a sustainable solution to the water problem was the mission of a team supported by the United Nations that visited the counties last month.

Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC) brings together counties in Kenya’s northern frontier. These regions have for long been economically marginalised, have suffered fragility, instability and poverty. 

Of late, they have witnessed droughts, followed by floods and more recently swarms of locusts have been threatening food security.

This joint mission included representatives of the National Government, Council of Governors, the UN and donors. FCDC helped coordinate this important visit.

Positive effects

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The mission was conducted as part of ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Devolution, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) CS Eugene Wamalwa and the UN to solidify devolution.

The Swiss Ambassador to Kenya, Ralf Heckner, once wrote: ”Kenya’s decentralisation is among the most rapid and ambitious devolution processes going on in the world.”

Thanks to President Uhuru Kenyatta, the once marginalised counties are feeling the positive effects of devolution. Governors from northern Kenya deserve recognition for their unwavering efforts to change the lives of their people for the better.

The FCDC appreciates initiatives that indicate a firm commitment for equality and inclusion and tangible gains for the residents of these counties. 

As far back as 2014 when Siddharth Chatterjee, the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya, then the Representative of UNFPA, decided to tackle the outrageous rates of maternal mortality in northern Kenya, we have seen the UN’s determination to change the region.

The UN helped establish public-private partnerships that resulted in transformation of the public health infrastructure and a reduction in maternal deaths.

Climate change

We have reason to be optimistic that the new focus on water will bring lasting transformation, considering the deleterious impacts caused by lack of water.

Combined with the negative effects of climate change, scarcity of water is one of the root causes of conflict and a driver of extreme poverty, leading to degraded health, livelihoods, crime and forced migration.

Above all, we commend the leadership of the UN in opting for consultation among the different players delivering development in the region.

Without local engagement and collaboration among partners, development can at times perpetuate conflict and worsen inequalities.

Collaboration will ensure development programmes by different players are done within a wider context and local nuances such as relations between and within different ethnic groups, religious groups or gender are not missed out.

Thanks to UN reforms, the country teams are delivering as one, in lockstep with the country’s development priorities and not hamstrung by competing bureaucracies and inter-agency turf wars.

We believe that the UN is on the right path in bringing regions - long considered lost frontiers – right into the centre of Kenya’s development narrative.

That is the true spirit of a UN that is fit for purpose.

Mr Guleid is the CEO of the FCDC Secretariat and former Deputy Governor of Isiolo County


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