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Story Publication logo June 12, 2009

Digging for Water in Kakuma

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English

Kenya's Kakuma Refugee Camp was for years among the world's most famous, home to the "Lost Boys" of...

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At the crack of dawn when women and children in other parts of the world wake up to take warm showers and sit down to breakfast, women and children of Kakuma in Turkana Region of Kenya wake up to a different exercise: to walk for miles in the hunt for water.

It would be one thing if the women and girls, once they arrived at the watering point, could just draw water from a free-flowing source or from a reservoir. But walking is just the beginning: Upon their arrival at the "water source" the real work begins, as they dig the ground for water in the essentially dry gulch that goes by the name of Tarach River.

Early one morning I walk down to the valley that gives Kakuma life. Mine is a short walk, two kilometres at most, and when I arrive I have the privilege of watching groups of women and children in their brightly colored clothing and heavy strands of beads form a rainbow of colors as they troop down the nearby hills toward this gargantuan valley of life from different directions.

Most of these women have walked for miles to be here and when they arrive, they scatter on the river bed, all of them sitting or kneeling to scoop dirt from the holes they dug yesterday or to dig new ones.

The women and children sit digging stumping and panting until they make a cylindrical hole where the water oozes and collects.

Ironically, just by the banks of the valley where the women are now digging, Kakuma Township authorities, with the help of aid agencies, have put up mechanical water pumps where people can draw water.

However, most of the women and children now digging in the sand cannot access the water because they cannot raise the five Kenya shillings (USD 6 cents) that they are required to pay, per jerry can, for the maintenance of the water system.

Atuu Logel is one of the many women who say they have opted instead to draw from the sometimes contaminated water of the valley. Her children have at times suffered from diarrhea and other waterborne diseases. Like many other women she has abandoned her health to fate.

Now and then they gulp the water direct from these shallow wells. Passersby too, men especially, swing by for a swig. The heat bears down. No one here can wait to get home and boil the water.

The women's weather-beaten faces and creased brows tell of the hard life they have led, fending for their families. It is a woman's world here. Women do most of the work: they fetch the water, they hew the firewood, they make the food, and they construct the houses and make the fences.

Meanwhile, most of the men here wake up and troop to town, and sit down in the small curved seats called ekicholong that every Turkana man carries about. They sit down under trees and play ngikilees, Turkana's version of chess, dawn till dusk. In Kakuma town, after watching the water-burdened women climb up the hills from where they had come, I catch up with Lokichar, one of the men who woke up to play ngikilees in town.

We talk about water scarcity in the region and about the politics of water. Lokichar tells me that the job of fetching water is a "women's and children's job." And what is the men's job, I wonder: "Men sit and wait for the women and children to provide," he says.

As the climate continues to change, prompting the women of Turkana to dig deeper on the dried river valley for water, the suffering of women and children here will continue to rise. The situation can only get worse as long as men here remain apathetic to the tribulations of their women who spend their lives toiling for basics.

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