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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

Forest of the Fathers Effective water management presents particular challenges among pastoralists who are moving into sedentary living in one the most remote areas of Africa


ebras and elephants roam among the cattle and goats. Lolpulelei is 200 kilometres from the nearest tar road and the preoccupations of the pastoralists who live here are a million miles from the busy minds of politicians in faraway Nairobi. Yet teacher Mary Kaoni’s day is every bit as hectic as theirs. “It is a bit too much,” says the 36-year-old mother of six children, as she describes a routine that starts before daybreak on her homestead, among 35 goats, 18 sheep and two cows she shares with her brother. “I first check on my animals and milk them. Then I walk up to the water tank and check how much is in it. If it needs filling, I go to the school and turn on the generator for the pump before attending to my morning pupils. After lunch, I check the tank again and if it still needs filling, I restart the machine and let it run while I am teaching my young shepherds, from 3pm to 7pm.” As a result of educational opportunities but also economics and the weather, Kaoni and the 200,000 other Samburus have gradually moved away from the nomadic lifestyle that defines their pastoralist identity. But the infrastructure and governance structures necessary to sedentary living are not in place in semi-arid Northern Kenya. Working with community-based organizations, UNICEF – backed by 1.8 million euros’ funding from the European Union (EU) – is helping the Samburus to bridge the gap.

A CULTURE IN TURMOIL The 200,000 Samburus, who live in Kenya just north of the Equator, are related to the better-known Maasai. The isolation of the Samburu National Reserve, where many of them live, has protected many of the tribe’s ancient pastoral traditions. But the reserve was only created because the land it occupies was considered sub-standard for agriculture. In recent years, the exposure of growing numbers of Samburus to education, to migrant work opportunities and certain comforts of sedentary life has spawned tensions between generations and between men and women. Environmental pressures on the land have heightened rivalry with neighbouring pastoralist tribes, such as the Pokot. On both sides, cattle-rustling forays are now led by men armed not only with spears but with rifles. The Samburu men and women wear bright cloth and many necklaces, bracelets and anklets. A girl chosen for marriage will be given a string of beads by her suitor. The beads will be gradually increased in number until they can be sown into a large


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

After Samburu elders abused community funds, Mary Kaoni (right) was chosen as water attendant.

Kaoni’s heavy workload is the price she pays for being part of a transition that pits young against old, educated against illiterate, and which questions long-established gender roles. Because she went to school, she is Lolpulelei’s teacher. Because she can keep records, she has been chosen to be the volunteer water attendant. All this in a community that, within living memory, relied on the free bounty of flowing rivers, and considered it more important to quench livestock thirst than to find clean water for humans. “Sometimes I spend my whole day by the pump. When I need fuel for the generator it is an 80 kilometre round trip to Maralal and I have to walk and take public transport. It takes two days to get there and back, and I go about once a month,” she says. Kaoni became Lolpulelei’s water attendant in October 2009 after a major scandal in the community. Mark Leagile, community organizer for CODES (Community Organization for Development Support) explains: “Elders who were collecting contributions for pump maintenance and diesel purchases were found to have embezzled money. With support from the EU and UNICEF we came in and trained the community to understand their rights and know how to manage their water system. “This prompted a group of women, including Mary Kaoni, to tackle the elders,” said Leagile, himself a Samburu. “The women called a meeting of the community and argued that water is women’s responsibility

“The women argued that water is their responsibility. They asked the elders to give them a chance at managing it” Mark Leagile, community organizer, CODES

collar. The tribe’s initiates, the moran, pay particular attention to their appearance. They wear their hair in long braids which they shave off when they become elders. The moran are the watchmen of the tribe’s cattle, goats and sheep and traditionally lead a harsh and highly disciplined existence – characterized by a ban on contact with the opposite sex – in the wilderness. But educational opportunities and economic pressures have curtailed the amount of time young men spend as moran. It is not unusual for a modern moran to eat at his mother’s homestead – an unthinkable practice a few generations ago when the initiates were expected to hunt their own food and consume it in isolation from the community.

SUPPORT THROUGH THE TRANSITION As part of a partnership between the European Union (EU) and UNICEF, the Samburus are being supported in their adaptation to a settled existence on arid and semi-arid land. Started in 2006, a 2.37 million euro programme – 75 per cent or 1.8 million euros of it from the EU – centres on the provision of water in 10 droughtprone areas. Target-access is set at 1km from each dwelling or a maximum 30 minutes’ round trip. Household sanitation is targeted at within 30 metres of the dwelling. The project also extends to supporting settled people further south – the Borana and Turkana communities, near Gambela.


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

The Samburu from Lolpulelei (above) meet in a community meeting which provides a forum for community discussions. Samburus like this youngster (right) have become loyal to Serian FM, a community radio station. Community radio has proven to be an effective tool for reaching communities with little or no access to electricity and other basic services.

because it is they who collect it for the homestead. They asked the elders to give them a chance, offering to hand back responsibility if the community was unhappy.” CODES, which has worked in the area since 2002, arranged training for Kaoni. The busy teacher now keeps books and has opened a bank account on behalf of the water committee. “In Lolpulelei, the people have turned things around but in the three districts where we are working, three-quarters of community water committees are corrupt. We need every community to hand over water management to women because they are more honest than the men,” says Leagile. An added problem in Northern Kenya – an area neglected since before independence for being deemed “low-potential” for agriculture – is poor governance. Leagile says: “The 2002 Water Act contains a system of checks and balances so that people can be taken to court if they are abusing funds. But it is just not happening. The only tool we have, unless water boards act, is to empower women and give communities as much information as possible.” Among the tools used by CODES is Serian FM, a community radio station in Maralal that, partly with funding from the UNICEF initiative, broadcasts messages about water and sanitation, and rallies listeners to put pressure on the local authority to improve the environment.

For the first time in two years, the prayers worked and the ‘short rains’ of April came. But pressure on the land remains huge

MANAGEMENT AND GOVERNANCE The tangible benefits of water and sanitation are what could be termed the “above the line” aspect of the programme which is facilitated by two community-based organizations, CODES (Community Organisation for Development Support) and FONI (Friends of Nomads International). But given the arid climate and lack of infrastructure in the area, strong emphasis has been placed on sustainability and, crucially, management. Recent reforms in the Kenyan water sector are intended to decentralise management of water resources by creating new institutional infrastructure. However, many of the institutions are in their infancy or have proved still-born, and do not have the capacity to effectively translate policy objectives into action. Thus, the EU-UNICEF programme places a major emphasis on supporting capacity development for the institutions and communities. For example, a Samburu-language radio station, Serian FM, receives funding to broadcast a weekly programme offering water and sanitation tips and alerting listeners to their rights. Initially set up with World Bank funding, the impressive FM radio station is run by a small team of volunteers from a tiny hut on a hill outside Maralal. It reaches an estimated 50,000 people in an 80km radius. Station manager Nick Lenyakopiro said: “Eighty per cent of the people we broadcast to are illiterate and few understand Swahili. Our mission is to enlighten them about a range of things in their lives – animal husbandry, the environment, water catchment, drought earlywarning. We also have phone-ins which cover cultural issues and complex subjects like female genital cutting.”


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

Girls have to assume responsibility for collecting water, from an early age. When asked about his aspirations for his children, a Samburu man said that he hoped his son would complete his education, but that his daughter would make a good marriage.

Besides focusing on the important role of women in water provision, the UNICEF programme – which totals 2.4 million euros thanks to added support from the Swedish development agency, SIDA, and UNICEF itself, in addition to the EU funding – takes care not to sideline Samburu men. A few hundred metres from Kaoni’s home, in a clearing by a wood, CODES project manager Joseph Lepariyo leads a meeting of elders. The men, some of them dressed in traditional crimson wraps, engage in lengthy greetings before humming a prayer and incanting “ngai” (God) through rhythmical movements of their sticks and spears. For the first time in two years, the prayers worked this year, and the “short rains” of April came. Nevertheless, it is clear that pressure on the land is huge. “Two weeks ago Pokot rustlers came and took 30,000 of our cattle. We launched a counter-raid and recovered maybe 4,000 of them. But times are hard for us,” said Philip Lekimaroro, aged 43, who lost 45 of his own animals. Lepariyo says that even though cattle-rustling is an age-old pastoralist tradition, rivalries between communities have worsened – and become more violent – due to pressure on the land caused by increasingly severe droughts. “The need for pasture has forced the pastoralists to take cattle into the forests. By doing

“Since the EU gave us a generator last year, 600 families have been benefitting from clean water. There have been plenty of improvements in people’s lives”

Key aspects of programme for arid and semi-arid areas of Northern Kenya: • The project covers 10 districts. Total funding is 2.37 million euros, of which the EU gives 1.8 million euros or 75 per cent. SIDA (Sweden) gives 20 per cent and UNICEF gives five per cent. The target is to provide water to within 1km of dwelling and household sanitation within 30 metres. • The programme, targeting 400 communities, started in 2006 for three years. The programme is a partner project on water management and governance for the poor in northern Kenya. • UNICEF did an evaluation at the end of the third year, 2009. It found that about 70 per cent of intended districts had been reached. An acceleration plan was activated to ensure 100 per cent coverage by now. • Estimates of improved water and sanitation coverage for Kenya in 2002 were 62 per cent for drinking water and 48 per cent for sanitation. • A survey by Oxfam in 2003 found that 69 per cent of people in northern Turkana had less than 5 litres of water per day while only 25 per cent had between five and 10 litres. In the same survey, the sanitation coverage in North Eastern Kenya was 23 per cent with Wajir district having only 15 per cent coverage.

Mary Kaoni, water attendant, Lolpulelei 4

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

Kenya Population, 2008

38.8 million Primary cause of death among under 5s

1 Diarrhoea 2 Pneumonia 3 Malaria Under 5 mortality rate, 2008 Mandera Isiolo


128 per thousand MDG target

Wajir Samburu


Laikipia Garissa

so they destroy the catchments. We are explaining to the men that they should protect their Ijara catchment. If they do, the water systems downstream where their cattle drink and the borehole they depend on for drinking water will be replenished by percolation from this forest. Tana River The elders seem enthusiastic, and so are we. Despite all the challenges the Samburus face in this area, the water system can be sustainable if it is properly managed and if the catchment is protected.” Despite her extensive commitments and the long days she has to endure, Mary Kaoni says she will continue in her volunteer role, chiefly because of the health benefits she has seen in her community. “I would like some support but if that is not possible I will still carry on. We used to have a hand pump that had been put there by the government. But the supply was not very reliable. It was a long way for women to walk and some of them miscarried or suffered other injuries from the carrying. “Since the EU gave us a generator last year, 600 families have been benefitting from clean water. There have been plenty of improvements – we can tell because one community not far from here is still drinking the same water as the animals and their children have coughing and vomiting and diarrhoea like we used to. I wish we could have pipes on our system so that we could supply them, too.”


per thousand

% of population using improved drinking-water sources, 2008



% of population using improved sanitation facilities, 2008

31 % of population practising open defecation, 2008

15 Sources: index.html


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

No rain on the plain In semi-arid Northern Kenya, the EU-UNICEF partnership focuses strongly on protection of catchment areas. At regular meetings (above right) Joseph Lepariyo, 47, of community-based organization CODES explains to Samburu elders that by taking cattle into the meagre forest they have, they risk destroying catchment areas. As a result of the meetings, elders now patrol the forest, looking out for people who might attempt to collect firewood there. They also make sure that no one in the community allows cattle to use water points among the trees, nor is anyone allowed to live there. Near Isiolo, at Gambela (below, right), community-based organization FONI is working with members of the Borana tribe to put in place a water-management system. Pump attendant Ibrahim Racho (below, right) was chosen for the job after the 52-year-old played a heroic role during a Turkana raid in 2007. “People ran away but I decided to stay behind to protect the water. After that the community said my role was to look after the water but to be honest I would like someone else to take over now so that I can go back to my tomatoes.”

“People did not realise that drinking river water was causing them to spend money on hospital bills because family members were falling ill” Hussein Yussuf, project officer for FONI


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

Girl talk Women, be they Borana (above) or Samburus (top right) are the custodians of water, by virtue of their daily toil. In Lolpulelei the issue of water became a rallying point for women after CODES, funded by the EU-UNICEF project, gave the community information about water management. Sanitation (right, below) is also new. Ally Tifow, UNICEF water sanitation and hygiene specialist, said: “When the Samburus moved regularly from place to place, sanitation was not a health priority. Nowadays, people are leaving the pastoralist lifestyle and congregating in one place. So we see more and more illness around settlements”.

“At first there were problems because Samburu people are not used to buying water. They believe it should be free. But they have gradually come to realize that clean water is now a scarce resource and it must be paid for” CODES project manager Joseph Lepariyo 7

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

Seeds of change At Kambi Juu, a dynamic 27-year-old Borana community organizer, John Ekai (centre, right) is working hand in hand with FONI, under the EU-UNICEF scheme – to enrich sub-standard farming land. Over an area of 200 hectares, 100 farmers are cooperating in a programme of works that includes digging rainwater harvesting dams and laying a grid of piped irrigation. The dam in the picture behind Ekai is the size of a football pitch and was dug by 273 people in the space of six hours. “We grow maize, beans, fodder crop, tomatoes and onions and we have introduced sorghum because it is fast-growing,” said Ekai who is secretary of the scheme. Ekai is one of a number of young Boranas who went to school and entered professions – in his case computer science – before deciding to return to their rural roots.

“Ever since independence there has been a deliberate government policy to end pastoralism. Investment has been centred on the Rift Valley and Central Kenya. There are no veterinary services in this part of the country yet there are 100,000 livestock” Hussein Yusuf, programme officer, FONI


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya

GROOMED FOR MANHOOD Samburu moran arrive at the crack of dawn for the wedding of Japron Lenguris. While making a gentle humming sound, they coax a chosen ox to a clearing in front of his bride’s house. On this, the final day of the wedding ceremony, his new mother-in-law will be presented with the hide which she will use on her bed. Later in the afternoon, women and men will arrive from all over the district to dance and sing the day away. The moran pride themselves on their looks (right) and spend hours preening and grooming themselves.

“Pokot rustlers took 30,000 of our cattle. We launched a counter-raid and recovered maybe 4,000 of them. But times are hard for us” Philip Lekimaroro, a 43-year-old Samburu elder who lost 45 of his own animals in April



Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Kenya.

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