Water shortage and Trachoma - A double burden for women and children in Samburu

Every morning before sunrise, women and children in Kenya’s Samburu County embark on an arduous journey, one that takes them miles away from their homes in search of water. By then, the men and young warriors would have left to look for pasture for their livestock.

Water is a rare commodity in this semi-arid part of the country, which also has one of the highest levels of trachoma, a blinding disease linked to poor hygiene. Rivers are few and seasonal here, leaving villagers with no option but to walk for hours to fetch water from distant shallow wells.

As a result, good hygiene and sanitation are compromised as the little water available is only enough for cooking. However, for the last three years, access to water points like boreholes provided for the community through partnership with Amref Health Africa, life is turning around especially for of women and children.

Women and children suffer the most from trachoma and yet it is they whose primary role it is to fetch water for domestic use. Without adequate water, families have to prioritise use of the limited commodity. Bathing and hygiene are low on the list.

“We rarely bathed our children and our homes were often very dirty. Flies used to hover around, infecting our children with trachoma.” explains Rose Lenemiria, also a water point committee member.

“We used to walk very long distances in search of water, risking attack by wild animals that still roam our plains. We were very happy when Amref Health Africa worked with us to renovate our borehole which was not working for a long time. We now have enough water to keep our households and children clean to ensure they are not infected with trachoma.” Ever since the Sirata borehole was renovated, the villagers only have to walk to the community water kiosk with jerry cans and fetch as much water as they need. This has improved cleanliness and sanitation, a key factor in the reduction of trachoma cases in this community.

“Look at our children. Do you see any flies that would cause trachoma?” asks one mother. “This water ensures that we keep them clean all the time. By bringing the water close to us, we have also been saved precious time to attend to our household chores and other activities,” she adds.

Next to the boreholes are water troughs which livestock drink from. Previously, scenes of animals and humans scrambling for water at temporary dams was very common, compromising water safety which led to frequent outbreaks of  water-borne diseases including diarrhoea.

To ensure that the community takes ownership of the water projects, Amref Health Africa involved the local people in rehabilitation of the water point. The community is also active in operating and maintaining the water source.

“This is our borehole, repaired for us by Amref Health Africa. We want to ensure it serves us for a long time even after Amref Health Africa has left,” says Fred Lesuyai, the borehole artisan and caretaker. “Planting trees will be our main priority to conserve the water catchment area and to attract rain.”