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Better water management and long-term solutions for the Kenyan drought

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Humanitarian aid often focuses on immediate relief, yet policies that offer long-term solutions are just as important. Better water management can help prevent problems with drinking water during extreme drought. In Kenya, Stephen Njoroge coordinates UNICEF's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme via the Dutch Surge Support Water (DSS Water) programme. He explains how he implements water management in Kenya.

Persistent drought is a growing problem in the Horn of Africa. Droughts have always been common here but have become more frequent recently. They also last longer and are more severe. In the past decade, the situation has been critical on 3 occasions. The rainy season of spring 2022 was the driest of the past 70 years, and around 1.5 million animals died. "Due to the precipitation deficit, water sources are insufficiently replenished", Stephen explains. "Wells that once supplied enough water for 4 months of the year now do so for only 2 on average, leaving humans and nature with less and less time to recover."

According to Stephen, there has been so little rainfall in Kenya for the past 4 years that the groundwater supply has come to a standstill. A situation that is hitting the population hard. "Some 4.2 million people are in need of humanitarian aid because of water and food shortages."

Deteriorating water quality leads to deteriorating health

Stephen explains that when water is scarce, the water quality also deteriorates. "The little water still available often contains higher concentrations of minerals. As a result, crops tend to grow less well. But for people, a lack of clean water has even greater consequences. Water then becomes contaminated with bacteria that can cause diseases such as cholera." He further points out that the problem is getting worse because people pay less attention to their hygiene when there is a lack of water. They also have to travel greater distances to get water. "Sometimes they walk as much as 4 miles instead of one, which is physically demanding and even dangerous. Local communities can start to compete with each other for water, which can result in conflicts."

WASH improves access to water, sanitation and hygiene

UNICEF's WASH programme aims to tackle the drought problems in Kenya. The programme consists of practical, long-term measures. Stephen lists them:
throughout the region, we are restoring 720 neglected boreholes and constructing 150 new ones;

  • we are providing chemical water purifiers, menstrual hygiene products, soap and buckets for better hygiene;
  • we provide schools and hospitals with boreholes, or we connect them to a water network;
  • we install toilets and water points for hand washing;
  • we promote hygiene through communication;
  • we teach how to deal with medical waste, such as gloves and needles;
  • we go where the risk of water contamination is greatest, using mobile water treatment units.

Stephen adds, "My role is coordinating all the aid related to water, sanitation and hygiene. I assess where the need is greatest and how we can solve the problems in the long term."

Tackling drought together

So, how do you tackle drought? Stephen points to the climate. "Programmes such as WASH for Climate Change and the use of technology are ways of dealing with drought, but ultimately, global CO2 emissions will have to be reduced. And that is not all. Crops need protection to retain water when it rains, preventing precipitation from washing away over the land." Stephen would like to see more research that involves local people. "They have lived with water scarcity for generations and have the most experience with this climate. Their knowledge can help us develop even smarter long-term water management."

Would you like to use your knowledge to help out in disaster areas?

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency implements the DSS Water programme DSS Water on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DSS Water provides global expertise and practical help in humanitarian disasters such as drought in the Horn of Africa.

Are you an expert in a particular field? Would you like to help in water-related emergencies in other countries? DSS water is always looking for experts. Learn more about DSS water and sign up to be one of our experts.

Would you like to contribute to mental health and social support (MHPSS)? Read more on the DSS MHPSS page.

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