GARISSA, Kenya, March 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - At
the only borehole with water for miles around, the troughs are
under siege in Saretho village as hundreds of camels, cattle,
sheep and goats await their turn.
On the other side of the solar-powered well, women and
children fetch water for household use, loading 20-litre jerry
cans onto donkeys or dragging them off home.
On a single day, thousands of livestock drink here, while
hundreds of people collect water.
Two years ago, the scene would have been different. Without
the solar-powered pump they have now, the villagers found the
local boreholes difficult and costly to operate.
But since the Kenya Red Cross installed a solar system in
2014, they no longer have problems getting water.
The village of Saretho, which lies between the eastern town
of Garissa and Dadaab, is home to around 6,000 people and the
local water supply is more than enough for them – even as
swathes of the country are suffering from a drought emergency.
The borehole also serves thousands of other livestock that
flock from neighbouring areas.
Abdi Ibrahim, a former chief of Saretho and chair of the
borehole committee, said the pump was previously powered by a
diesel generator - but it often malfunctioned, especially in the
“During droughts... we didn’t pump water often and most
people used to drive their cattle for many kilometres,” he said.
To operate and repair the generator was costly for villagers
who had to pay for fuel and sometimes a mechanic, said Ibrahim.
The solar power system means they no longer incur the bulk
of those expenses. They still use the generator at night but
recoup some of the money by levying fees.
“We charge 10 shillings for every camel, four shillings per
cow, and one shilling for every goat and sheep,” said Ibrahim.
According to Red Cross project officer Saidi Katana, around
65 solar panels were installed for the project.
“This enables the borehole to pump 32 cubic metres of water
per hour, which is a lot and ensures that the residents of
Saretho never lack water,” said Katana.
FRUIT & VEG
Elsewhere in the county, a group of former pastoralists have
taken to growing fruit and vegetables. Its chairman Mathar Shale
said he hasn't kept livestock since he started planting bananas,
tomatoes and cabbages. “I can earn 70,000 shillings ($680) in a
good month,” he said.
Shale is one of 40 farmers working a 20-acre plot set up as
a farm by the Kenya Red Cross in Garissa’s Balambala
constituency in 2014. The aid agency plans to start more farms
along the Tana River, which offers a steady water supply, to
improve local people’s livelihoods.
“People in Garissa depend mostly on their cattle... which
can perish during drought. Small-scale irrigation is an option
we have given the people of Subar,” said Katana.
The Red Cross installed a pump to bring water from the river
to the farm, where it is distributed to crops via furrows dug in
In the past, Shale would lose his livestock to drought and
had nothing to fall back on. But nowadays, even without animals,
he can feed his family.
“My only problem is the market,” he said. “If I could get a
better market for my bananas and tomatoes, I would earn more.”
With more than 300,000 people in dire need of food in
Garissa, County Governor Nathif Jama Adam said half the
population was food-insecure.
But projects like those of the Red Cross would go a long way
in addressing the scourge of drought in the long term, he said.
The Red Cross work in Garissa aims to build the resilience
of nomadic herding communities to climate extremes by
introducing them to irrigated farming – something the Kenyan
Somali ethnic group here is unaccustomed to.
Other cases suggest it may not be such a hard sell. In other
parts of Kenya’s northeast - from fodder farmers along the River
Daua in Mandera, to a women’s group farming vegetables in Wajir,
the Somali community is slowly embracing irrigated crop farming
as an additional activity to livestock-keeping.
So far, the Kenya Red Cross has cleared 200 acres of land
and started nine other projects similar to the Subar farm, in
parts of Garissa County where there is a reliable water supply.
Other agencies - both national and international – are also
working to protect rural communities against drought, in
addition to government-led efforts.
The National Drought Management Authority, for instance, has
been undertaking climate change adaptation projects in five
vulnerable counties - Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir, Makueni and Kitui
- with funding from the British government.
Richard Munang, coordinator of UN Environment’s Africa
Regional Climate Change Programme, said there was no lack of
ideas and innovation to tackle problems of clean energy,
agriculture and water in Kenya and across the continent.
Up to now these have not been well coordinated, but that is
starting to change, he added.
His agency supports a pan-African platform called the
Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA).
In Kenya, for example, it is working to drill a borehole and
install a solar pump and drip irrigation on 100 acres of
farmland in Turkana County with the local government and other
Munang urged countries to focus on building synergies and
partnerships “rather than siloed interventions that are not
sustainable beyond the life of single projects”.
($1 = 102.9500 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Anthony Lang'at; editing by Megan Rowling.
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