Rain, rain everywhere and not a drop to drink

July 25, 2012

NAIROBI (AlertNet) – It’s bucketing down outside, washing away houses and people and causing total gridlock in the city’s evening rush hour.

And when you finally make it home and switch on your tap, it’s dry.

It’s infuriating.

In Nairobi, private water vendors do a booming business, selling water in 20-litre jerrycans to the poor and in 4,000-litre tankers to the rich.

City residents are the lucky ones. In rural areas, women and children walk for hours to collect water from streams and wells.

In the 80 percent of Kenya that is arid or semi-arid, people struggle to stay alive during recurrent bouts of drought and hunger.


It needn’t be like this.

Kenya receives enough rain to supply the needs of six to seven times its 40 million people, according to a 2006 study by the United Nations Environment Programme and World Agroforestry Centre.

The same story applies across Africa, which receives enough rain to supply the needs of 9 billion people. The continent’s population is around 1 billion.

“Africa is seen as a dry continent. But overall, it actually has more water resources per capita than Europe,” Dennis Garrity, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, said in a statement to launch the report.

Yet most of it is untapped, flowing straight into the sea.

For AlertNet’s latest special package, The Battle for Water, we travelled to Kajiado County, an hour’s drive south of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

In Nalepo Primary School, the children run to the water pump twice a day to fetch water for their school. They often miss lessons, queuing for water with the local livestock.

When the pump runs dry, there’s no water to cook their lunch and the children don’t eat.

“A hungry child cannot learn. A hungry stomach cannot concentrate,” said headteacher Benjamin Moonka.

Water shortages impoverish the entire Maasai community, who depend upon livestock to survive. Last year, there was a terrible drought which killed thousands of animals.

Many families migrated in search of water, pulling their children out of school.

“They just move, they forget books and when they come back, they were like they were coming to start afresh,” said Moonka.

In nearby Sajiloni Primary School, gutters catch rain as it falls on classroom roofs and pipes carry it into a storage tank.

This simple rainwater harvesting system has transformed learning in the school, increasing both enrollment and grades as children no longer waste time fetching water.

Our ‘Tale of Two Schools’ video makes it clear that Africa’s water crisis is not caused by a lack of rain but a lack of investment in life-saving solutions.

Picture caption: Boys from Nalepo Primary School carry water back to their school in semi-arid Kajiado County, south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. The school depends on students fetching water before coming to class. The headteacher says enrolment has fallen as drought has forced people to migrate. Picture taken June 12, 2012. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

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