THIRSTY, HUNGRY, DESPERATE

Karachuonyo drought a boon for dogs as residents moan

County government has not honoured its 2015 pledge of Sh30 million for water project.

In Summary
  • Petitions often attract hostility from politicians, who would rather wananchi suffer in silence.
  • Petitions remind them of government failure to invest in clean water – a failed millennial promise.

The drought of 2015 was devastating for midwest Karachuonyo in Homa Bay county. Livestock died in such huge numbers, every dog had its own carcass. Villages had a foul, deathly smell wafting from every direction.

The drought named ‘Guok Ka Guok Gi Dhere’ was the severest in recent years. Lean dogs added weight as their masters moaned, hoping clouds gathering in the distant horizon would bring rain. The rains delayed. Peasants lost a lifeline.

Sinewy village dogs, starved, neglected, stray, and often beaten for being unsightly, had a memorable festival of carcasses. But hungry dogs could not eat all the waste, even with the help of vultures and hyenas.

 

Herders walked over 10 kilometres in every direction in search of water points to cool the thirst of their dwindling livestock. Without pasture, and too much dust, sometimes six-inches deep, weak animals dropped dead, drowning in dust.

Herders often leave such animals to die—a slow death. The trek for life continues with the surviving herd.

During drought women and children wake up by 4am, for the long trek in search of water. They sometimes trek eight kilometres for water, returning with 20-litre jerrycans for every trip, perched on their heads.

Children return tired. They go to school late, hungry, angry, thirsty and sleepy. School dropout rises, and truancy increases during droughts. Some children suffer waterborne diseases and malnutrition. These are the consequences of bad public governance.

Women get sexually harassed during dark dawns. Domestic violence rises when men demand a trough of scarce water to bathe when there isn’t enough for core household use. Or quench the thirst of weak or young animals that cannot make it to distant water points.

Intervention was needed after 2015 to save the peasant community from apocalyptic droughts. The community’s long-time hero, the father of community water rights movement, Bishop Haggai Nyang’, a retired Anglican Church of Kenya clergy, of Pii Engima or OurWaterOurLife advocacy, has been at the centre of the petitions.

Unless this project is rescued, it would be the fourth time Midwest Karachuonyo would have been denied water. The latest is the New West Karachuonyo Water Supply, which the Presidential Delivery Unit portal reports as 98 per cent complete. It is a dead project, after wasting Sh100 million. Government knows it’s a ghost project, like the Old West Karachuonyo Water Supply.

There were many missions to the offices of World Vision, Kenya Red Cross, Care, Plan International, ActionAid, and others. A sit-in at the Nairobi South C offices of Red Cross during that drought, earned water treatment chemicals for the heavily silted Kobondo Dam, the brainchild of Shujaa Bishop Emeritus.

Petitions often attract hostility from politicians, who would rather see wananchi suffer in silence. They don’t want petitions that remind them of government failure to invest in clean water – a failed millennial promise.

Even though every household was supposed to have clean, running water by 2000, this community still suffers perennial droughts. They share heavily silted ponds with wild animals.

World Vision, an international charity, with a presence in West Karachuonyo, the epicentre of perennial droughts, launched a gravity-driven water supply project in 2015. The source is Kodera Forest, in Oyugis, Kasipul constituency.

Kodera Forest, a water towerbordering Kisii highlands, has aquifers that can supply water to the low-lying areas of midwest Karachuonyo. The project, a water pipeline, covering 25km, is supposed to connect to the dead West Karachuonyo water supply.

The supply’s main intake is at Homa Lime, on Lake Victoria, then flowing to Pala Market, making 30km of laid pipes on a rough terrain of gullies. Much of the area is about 8km away from any reliable water mass, Lake Victoria or River Tende.

World Vision has spent about Sh120 million to draw water across the distance. But more money is still needed to supplement what World Vision raised abroad.

The World Vision project may stall unless more partners sign up. The waterline has been diverted through a shorter route because of funding challenges. There was no public participation on the change of course.

The diversion has caused an uproar. Villagers are crying for further support to the project. There is social media outrage, directed mostly at the Homa Bay county leadership.

The county has not honoured its 2015 pledge of Sh30 million from its annual budget of about Sh7 billion for a partnership with World Vision. Although water supply is a devolved function, the county is yet to make it a priority, even in the age of Covid-19, whose prevention rides on running water.

Unless this project is rescued, it would be the fourth time Midwest Karachuonyo would have been denied water. The latest is the New West Karachuonyo Water Supply, which the Presidential Delivery Unit portal reports as 98 per cent complete. It is a dead project, after wasting Sh100 million. Government knows it’s a ghost project, like the Old West Karachuonyo Water Supply.

Water rights activities will be trekking 17km, away from Midwest Karachuonyo, to picket at the county offices. They want the county to honour its Sh30 million pledge for partnership with World Vision.