Fauzia Mohammed, 12, a primary schoolgirl in Modogashe on the border of Garissa and Isiolo counties in northern Kenya, often misses classes in order to water her family’s goats. She makes several trips to a virtually dry riverbed to fetch water.
“I missed school today because I used the only water left at home to make tea and breakfast. The goat kids drank all the water we had, so I had to get some more,” she told The EastAfrican at one of the wells.
The only water sources in the area are deep wells in a sandy riverbed.
“Sometimes it takes five or more people to go down the wells to reach the water,” said Ali Dabasso, a pastoralist.
The loose sandy soils are a death trap. In the past two years, five people have plunged to their death in the wells, according to locals. Adida Abduba, 21, says 10 years ago she survived death by a whisker after the well caved in as she fetched water, burying her alive.
“When I was pulled out, I was unconscious,” she recalled. She lived to tell the tale.
In the past five years, the rains in northern Kenya have been erratic. The acacia trees are gone and the herders have moved their livestock closer to the Meru National Park in the Mt Kenya area in search of pasture.
“We have not received any rains here for two years,” said Mr Dabasso.
The problem has been compounded by charcoal burning which has decimated the available vegetation.
This is not unique to northern Kenya. Indeed, it is common in most arid and semi-arid areas of the country.
The residents of northern Kenya have started looking at mechanisms of coping with climate change, including damming rainwater.
In Tanzania, in the central areas, which are arid and receive unreliable rains, the communities rely on shallow wells, dug communally.
“We use the water to irrigate our vegetables,” said Saidi Athumani, a farmer in Singida.
The government has embarked on building dams to harvest floodwater during the rainy seasons for future use, according to Stanley Mngale, Singida’s agricultural officer.
He said water management coupled with innovative conservation technologies are resilience mechanisms that will help local farmers grow food and earn some income.
In northern Kenya, following prolonged periods of insufficient rainfall, the communities are engaged in the construction of water pans and dams.
“Climate change is real,” said Lordman Lekalkuli of the National Drought Management Authority and chairman of the Isiolo County Adaptation Planning Committee.
“We have tried to understand the dangers of climate change and adapt to the main challenges facing the communities in the arid and semi-arid areas.”
“Pastoralists have now realised the importance of conserving water, as the rains sometimes fall for only three weeks, whereas the water collected in the dams can be used for up to six months,” Mr Lekalkuli said.
Other arid and semi-arid areas such as Kitui, Garissa, Makueni and Wajir have adapted the Isiolo model of water conservation.
A County Adaptation Fund was established and the projects are implemented by community committees, which identify challenges and find the relevant interventions to counter them.
The fund has helped community members build their resilience to climate change by constructing and maintaining sand dams, which provide a reliable source of water during dry periods.
Some of the existing sand dams were rehabilitated while others were fenced off to avoid misuse and contamination by livestock and people.
The water is pumped into troughs using a diesel pump. The herders pay for watering their cattle and the money is used for fuel and maintenance of the pump.
The northern Kenya communities have also learned to reserve some grazing areas for the dry seasons.
Dr Joseph Kithinji, Isiolo County director of veterinary services, said the movement of livestock has been fuelling the spread of diseases.
“The Meru National Park is a repository of diseases and the incoming livestock bring more,” Dr Kithinji said, adding that if the diseases are not contained, they could wipe out all the livestock in northern Kenya.
To safeguard the health of the livestock as a climate change resilience mechanism, a modern laboratory has been built in Kinna Ward for disease control, surveillance and responding to outbreaks.
“We no longer try to guess at the diseases affecting our livestock,” said Hassan Wario a pastoralist in Kinna. “We just inform the professionals working at the laboratory who take samples from the animals, test them and prescribe remedies.”
The climate resilience and adaptation mechanisms have so far borne fruit and other arid and semi arid areas in Kenya and Tanzania are catching on.
The ASALs contribute most of the animal products in Kenya and Tanzania.
According to a United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep), investing in mechanisms to adapt to climate change will promote the livelihood of 65 per cent of Africans while failing to address the issue could reverse decades of development on the continent.
Africa’s population is set to double to 2 billion by 2050, the majority of whom will continue to depend on rain-fed agriculture.
“With 94 per cent of agriculture dependent on rainfall, the future impact of climate change — including increased droughts, flooding, and sea-level rise — may reduce crop yields in some parts of Africa by 15–20 per cent,” said Unep executive director Achim Steiner.