Thursday, September 17, 2009
I know I always seem to be harping on the issue of water - it's conservation, drinkability, accessibility and many other water-related items. However, I believe water (or lack thereof) is the number one crisis in the world today; and, global warming is only exacerbating the situation.
Nearly three weeks ago, I was blogging about water riots in Yemen. Three people lost their lives in that riot - 2 police officers and 1 rioter. Now the horror in Kenya is as bad or worse than the nightmare in Yemen.
Watch the video and ask yourself: "What would I do to obtain water for my children and family?" Now ask yourself: "What wouldn't I do to get water for my children and family?" Death from dehydration can take 3 agonizing days.
The story in Kenya is the same as in Yemen. In many of the remoter places there is not enough clean water available to the villagers within walking distance; sometimes, not even within donkey distance. So clean water must be trucked in.
The difficulty with this plan is that while it is some relief to the villagers, the water does not last until the next delivery. By the time the next truck arrives the villagers are so desperate fights erupt and sometimes injuries happen.
Hawa Hassan comes leading three donkeys, accompanied by two female relatives and a handful of the family's smallest children. Hawa explains what finally forced her family to abandon the ways her ancestors had held to for generations. That life was a nomadic existence in the isolated lands where Kenya meets Somalia and Ethiopia. She explained that she feared this would be end of an entire way of life destroyed by the unprecedented decade of successive droughts.
One of the main water sources outside Moyale in Kenya runs dry. Photograph: Sarah Elliott/EPA
"We have no water," she explains, "and no food. We have left the pastures because we have lost so many goats. We had to come here to seek assistance. For the past two months we have talked and talked about making this decision. We waited because we thought there might be some rain."
Hawa and her family have exchanged the life of a nomad for the life of a community settlement member. She has became a pastoral dropout as many of her fellow herders have done before her - no longer free to live that nomadic, close-to-earth life she has lived all her life. She says: "I'm not sad that I came. I can get water here. I don't want to leave my life. If I could get some goats then I would return to herding... I can't feel good about being in a settlement. It has been forced on me. I don't wish it for my life."
Where water is provided by the government, it is delivered in a solitary tanker with a broken steering column. Even though the water is occasional and insufficient, the nomads will gather and be encouraged to drop out of their nomadic lifestyles.
The drivers of the tankers have been forced to make an uncomfortable; and, possibly dangerous decision to keep driving the truck until it breaks down totally. Their other choice would be to suspend water deliveries while waiting for parts from Nairobi. This could take up to three months. Some of the villages would never manage to survive for three months without these water supplements.
The watering points in the new settlements also attract wild animals. The smell of water draws them from the bushes. Sometimes, there are tiny droplets of water left in the puddles caused by the water tanker. From the villages come stories of infants and livestock snatched by predators.
At the first stop on the "water run" is a settlement named Iresuki. A group of women are already waiting by the road with empty 20-litre plastic canisters. The closer the tanker gets the more several women start to fight and shove.
The answer is pathetically simple. The tanker only visits an average of once a week or longer. The water it brings only lasts the villagers four days; so, those without access to donkeys to fetch water from far away have probably been without water for 3 or more days. They are reduced to begging, borrowing or going thirsty.
In the village of Dowder a tarpaulin laid into a broad trench in the earth serves as a water pan. The tanker deposits water for the livestock in it. When they're finished a few muddy puddles are all that remain of the water.
Two villagers are scooping up the puddles, a few spoonfuls at a time. "It's for my family to drink," says one of them. "For our homes."
The other villager states they have chosen to settle on these remote and dusty roads so that their plight remains visible to the government. "If we went to the big towns, no one would notice us. We have settled here where people will notice us and where we can be helped."
The escalating collapse of the pastoralist way of life is having a profound social impact on the dropouts, those on the verge of dropping out, and the few settled communities in the region.
Other problems erupting from the influx of nomads to the small villages are more obvious. The dropouts congregating in the town and by the road have little access to health care and sanitation. Most of the nomadic dropouts are unemployed; and, thus lack the money to better their lives.
For the children it is a particularly harsh existence. The children are vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and pneumonia due to malnutrition. There is no money for medicines.
Ahmed Ibrahim, of Northern Aid, a local partner of the British charity Christian Aid, which is about to launch an appeal to counter the effects of the drought in Kenya, describes the situation of the nomads as desperate. "The pastoralists know that to take their livestock into areas like Somalia, where there is a war, is unsafe. It is a mark of their desperation."
When the nomads have tried to take their herds into pastures in surrounding areas, they have been forced back into their own territory. Many have returned gravely injured and/or with their herds stolen.
"The way the climate is changing – if it continues – it will be very difficult to sustain the nomadic way of living. It is a very hard task. We fear that soon people will begin dying not just from the lack of food but from a lack of water."
It is believed that the nomads are on the brink of extinction - a lifestyle that will exist no longer.
In Kenya, more than three million people are facing food and water shortages. The worst problems have been in the north of the country, where conflicts over resources have broken out between groups of nomadic pastoralists killing dozens.
So Kenya is facing two crises - the water shortage that is taking such a heavy toll on its people, livestock, wildlife, plant life and absolutely every other living being and the possible destruction of an entire way of life.
It may be years before we know the full ramifications.