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How Kenya’s largest wind power project is breathing new life in surrounding communities

RIFT VALLEY
By Joe Ombuor | February 15th 2016

TURKANA, KENYA: 22 year old Gurati Sahado went into labour at a manyata in Burriaramia village, Marsabit County and was safely delivered of her first child, a bouncing baby boy. On hand to assist her in the home delivery were her mother and grandmother. But within days and as happiness permeated within the family, Gurati developed puerperal sepsis, a debilitating bacterial post-partum infection of the reproductive tract.

 The sepsis was fast in squeezing her young life. She quickly wasted away, even answering calls of nature indoors. Her legs could not carry her around. Fearing for the worst, the distraught relatives who included her husband bundled her on a wheelbarrow for a slow two kilometer trundle to Burriaramia Health Centre that only recently acquired delivery and emergency equipment from Winds of Change, a foundation of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP).

Thus the health centre  built by the  Constituency Development Fund (CDF) minus crucial facilities was installed with a solar panel, a refrigerator, shelves for drugs and beds at a cost of €3, 700 (Ksh421,800)

Nursing officer in-charge Mr. Hussein Koyan says Gurati would have succumbed to her sepsis had she delayed a little longer in reaching the facility where she was put on emergency treatment.

The nurse who is the only trained medical personnel at the health centre handles an average two deliveries a week, a feat that is saving many maternal and child lives. Notes Luka Gambari, one of the two community health workers assisting Koyan: “More of our people’s lives would have been saved had these winds started blowing earlier. We can only imagine how things will be once the project is complete and running”.

90 kilometres to the north on the shores of Lake Turkana, winds wafting from the project are blowing to change a trend whereby a majority of pupils at El Molo Bay primary school and neighbouring areas are virtually  condemned to a life of damaged limbs and teeth that render walking and smiling a frustrating experience.

Headmaster Mr Jacob Naikeni has for the last nine years sat at the helm of the school with little or nothing to do about a menace that leaves victims with permanent deformity manifest in bow legs and rotten teeth. “I feel like crying when I see my pupils looking like elderly people because they cannot stand straight, their legs curved like twigs by excessive fluoride present in the water they drink,” he laments.

And talking of fluoride, Lake Turkana water is said to contain 16 per cent per litre of the mineral known to weaken and damage the bones. Springs around the lake have 10 per cent fluoride concentration.  Mr Naikeni says El Molo Bay Primary School draws its water from one such spring due to repeated vandalisation of a steel pipe that carried wholesome water from Loiyangalani, nine kilometres away.

The Deputy General Manager of Lake Turkana Wind Power Project Ms Caroline Ongeri puts smiles of hope on the faces of Mr Naikeni and his pupils with the news that pipes invulnerable to vandalism are among long term plans envisaged for the school by the winds of change initiative. “We have identified the project and we are looking for money to implement it,” she divulged at the school recently.

The school is among 24 others in areas covered by the project that have so far received 500 desks to enhance learning in a region where ingrained tradition has stifled education to the extent that parents are not bothered when their children have to sit on the floor or on stones. Ms Ongeri says €2,500 (Ksh285, 0000) has been spent on desks in deserving schools.

But nowhere has the winds of change blowing  from the power project expected to start work by 2017 been felt more than Illaut, a shopping centre nicknamed Damascus because of its age and inability to grow. The wind power project has changed that, but residents still have to climb surrounding rocky hills in search of mobile phone network. ”Communication remains a nightmare here,” laments Chief Charles Lepasanton of Illaut location. Illaut town sits half way between Loiyangalani and laisamis on the Isiolo/Marsabit highway.

Only after compensation for land and other property on the path of the road marked out for improvement to facilitate the transportation of heavy equipment to the sites did Illaut show signs of growth. Beneficiaries included owners of reed and grass manyatas if the structures were on road reserve. Chief Lepasantion was among those compensated. He says people were paid between sh4.5 million and sh300, 000. The same happened at Nemarei trading centre down  the road to Laisamis.

“ I used part of my compensation to put up a business premises that together with another one built by a lady  beneficiary, have changed the face of Illaut,” says Chief Lepasantion whose new office together with a store for relief food were built by the  Winds of Change initiative at a cost of  sh720,000.

But it is in the provision of water, a scarce commodity in the region and major source of communal conflict that Winds of Change has performed wonders. By drilling and pumping water from the entrails of the scorched earth for thirsty pastoralists and their livestock, peace that once seemed so distant is slowly becoming a reality as long held perceptions about insecurity triggered by cattle rustling fade. Ms Ongeri says the lion’s share of the €400,000 (Ksh4, 600,000) so far spent as Corporate Social Investment has gone to the construction of boreholes and troughs for the watering of livestock in the project areas.

“Availability of water where it previously was totally absent has titivated the people and changed age old rigours they endured to reach it,” says Ms Ongeri citing Illaut where folks used to sing as they brought the essential commodity to the surface from the depths of what came to be known as “singing wells’. 

Explains Ms Ongeri: “A solar driven borehole pump that cost the project Ksh1.4 million via winds of change has replaced the men and women who down the years sang their hearts out as they hauled water from the depths in pales. The changed lifestyle is palpable in the people’s faces.

“Coupled with employment that is trickling a regular income into over 600 families of various communities that used to steal from each other for a living, hostilities are on the dwindle in favour of economic upturn and a flicker of revitalization on the all-important education front,” says Ms Ongeri.

At Gatab, a dry area where nobody lived before water was drilled by Winds of Change, herders today mill around from as far away as 30 kilometres across the jungles with their animals. The borehole sank at a cost of 3,700 (Ksh421,800) is a source of permanent employment to two security guards, among them father of six Seramba Lepasaiya  who ensure sanity prevails and vandalism does not take place.

Ms Ongeri says Lepasaiya and other security guards employed at various sites covered by the project earn a pretax salary of sh16, 000 per month and are provided with a shelter, meals and medical services. “Casual labourers take home sh150 per day while drivers, carpenters and masons earn a net daily income of between sh 1000 and sh1, 500,” says Ms Ongeri.

“The unskilled and semi-skilled workers are the face of communities living in this area. Meanwhile, we have embarked on a program to equip the locals with skills to work on the completed project by improving their education through well-equipped schools. The desks are but the beginning in this important phase,” says Ms Ongeri.

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