It is only mid-morning in Mata-Arba village in Cherab Ward, Isiolo North Sub-county but the fierce sun belies the time of day. Mrs Halima Wako walks to a watering point with a 20-litre jerrican to draw water for domestic use. She joins other women waiting their turn at different water kiosks in the vicinity.

This may appear like an easy task considering that their homes are just a few metres from the watering points. It was not always so. “We used to begin the trek in search of water at 6 am and would only return home at about 3pm. And to get the water, we had to dig shallow wells in the river bed,” recalls Halima.

There were frequent conflicts between the women and herders as each group sought to be the first to access water.

“Sometimes, they (herders) would pour our water back into the well, leading to altercations and further delays,” recalls Halima. Having walked long distances and spent the better part of the day searching for water, the women would have to undertake their household chores such as washing and cooking up until late into the night. This sometimes led to domestic quarrels.

“Some women miscarried from the strain of the long distances to fetch water for their families,” says Halima.

Water supply project

These challenges have now become history, thanks to the Merti-Korbesa Water Supply Project, a joint initiative by the NDMA (with funding from the European Union), Northern Water Works Development Agency and the County Government of Isiolo.

The Ksh96 million project involved drilling a solar-powered borehole at Merti township; piping the water along a 25-kilometre stretch; installation of elevated 50,000 litres steel tanks in three villages; a 231,000-litre booster tank at Mata-Arba; and provision of two pipeline patrol motorbikes.

The project also benefits three dispensaries, an estimated 5,000cattle and a similar number of goats and sheep. Keeping livestock, especially the breeding herds close home during drought periods ensures a stable supply of milk, thus impacting positively on household nutrition. Area Senior Chief Mr Ibrahim Huka says lack of water used to be a huge challenge at the local dispensaries, especially when it came to maternity services. Mothers who had delivered went for days without showering for lack of water. He also had to resolve numerous water-related conflicts.

“My office was converted into a temporary court for arbitration of conflicts among herders from neighbouring locations over water disputes at wells. Sometimes the conflicts were between women who would travel for over 20 kilometres to fetch water and herders who would demand to have their livestock drink first,” recalls Chief Huka.

Saving cost of water trucking

The NDMA Isiolo County Drought Coordinator Lordman Lekalkuli lauded the partnership, saying coming together has enabled the execution of a mega project and a sustainable solution for communities in the area.

In the past, partners would spend about Ksh50 million annually on water trucking in the area. However, that did not resolve the perennial water scarcity which took a great toll on women and girls on whom the responsibility of fetching water falls.

‘‘Water shortage in schools impacts on student enrolment, attendance and performance. This is a lasting solution that can be replicated in other areas to end high water stress and contribute to resilience building of communities to drought,” says Mr Lekalkuli.

In addition to the connection to the villages, a total of four schools have benefited from the water project. In the wake of the newly introduced Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), many schools in ASALs lack water, which is key in implementing some projects, especially in agriculture as a subject. For pupils at Mata-Arba Primary School, however, the availability of water has made it possible for them to grow vegetables as part of Grade Five learning projects.

“Many pupils at the school had never had an opportunity to witness any type of crop production. It has now become a real-life experience thanks to the provision of water,” says Mr Hussein Diba, a Senior teacher at the school.