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In Kenya, Piped Water Shields Women and Girls From Wild Animal Attacks

In northern Kenya, climate change forces pastoralist women and girls to compete with baboons, leopards and elephants for water. By installing pipes and tanks to bring water to villages, communities can keep girls in school and women out of the path of danger.

Written by David Njagi Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Tapped water in villages means women and girls don’t have to encounter dangerous animals in the daily trek to find water. David Njagi

NKUTOTO, Kenya – For the 35 years she has lived in Nkutoto village, Scola Letena has had to fend off leopards, snakes and baboons just to get the water her family needs. Climate change has only made her journey more dangerous.

Water reserves within wildlife habitats in northern Kenya, such as the nearby Samburu National Reserve, have dried up, forcing wild animals to compete for the sources frequented by pastoralist women.

“Baboons and leopards attacked [us] and defecated in the water,” the mother of three said. “Elephants muddied it while snakes came to mate at the water sources.”

Even without the threat of wild animals, Letena’s was an arduous journey. Carrying her baby on her back, it took her four hours to get to Nkutoto springs, about 7km (4.3mi) away from her home.

But now, a water supply line that has brought water directly to the village means she no longer has to trek into dangerous territory to fetch water. She just has to turn on the tap. As a result, the number of reported wildlife attacks in Nkutoto is dropping.

The supply line from the Nkutoto spring source to the village was installed by the International Medical Corps (IMC) and local leaders.

Working with technicians, the community has fenced off the spring source Letena used to have to walk to, sealing it off from wildlife. Metallic supply pipes have been fixed at the source, allowing the water to flow downhill into Letena’s village.

“The tapped water is treated to make it safe for drinking,” says Augustine Lembuonamati, a district health officer at Wamba public hospital, in Samburu East constituency, adding that cases of typhoid and diarrhea used to be common due people drinking contaminated water.

Clean Water Keeps Girls in School

At the primary school in Lolkuniyani, another northern Kenyan village, children beam from their desks in classrooms that, five years ago, stood almost empty. Back then, the girls would be forced to stay home to help with fetching water while the boys helped with taking livestock to the water sources to drink.

But while boys could perform their task in one trip, the girls were only able to carry small amounts of water back to the village at a time, so they would be forced to make many trips to sources to meet their family’s needs. This could take all day.

Today, in between learning breaks, the children rush out of the class to the eastern side of the school compound. Here, a 2,000-liter (528-gallon) plastic water tank, installed by IMC, stands on a concrete ring. The children receive occasional water rations from the tank in the face of the heat that sears across hundreds of kilometers of northern Kenyan terrain.

The tank has another purpose. Using water harvested from roof collection, the school has managed to build and maintain clean latrine blocks within the compound. Latrines are an essential part of keeping girls in school, as they allow girls to deal with menstruation safely and privately.

“The children no longer go to help themselves in the bush, where they used to be attacked by wild animals,” says Esther Kagema, a teacher at the school. “This has improved school enrollment and performance, especially for girls.”

Waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera have also declined because they can access clean water to wash their hands after visiting the toilet, Kagema says.

Reducing Human-Wildlife Contact

Paul Gathitu, an official with Kenya Wildlife Services says that water harvesting technologies can help reduce human-wildlife conflict in areas that are facing pressure from climate change.

However, there is more to do to ensure the safety of communities living near wildlife habitats, such as fencing off villages and using drone surveillance, he says.

Baboons are driven from the nearby Samburu National Park into pastoralist communities, in search of water. (Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Incidents happen that are difficult to control when people walk through bushes, because they may disturb wildlife migratory corridors,” he says. Women and girls are more vulnerable to such attacks. Often carrying large amounts of water and their children, it is harder for them to defend themselves when they encounter baboons or other animals.

Samuel Lantogunye, a 73-year-old elder from Engilae village in Northern Kenya, says Kenya Wildlife Service has failed to protect pastoralist communities from wildlife attacks, an allegation that Gathitu denies.

“Kenya Wildlife Services seems more concerned with the welfare of wildlife than humans,” Lantogunye says. “When an elephant is killed, they respond very fast but if a human is attacked by wildlife, they never turn up.”

But Johnson Muregi, a government commissioner in Northern Kenya says that incidences of human-wildlife conflict have decreased due to water harvesting technologies that have been established within villages.

However, he says, the region needs more financial support from relief agencies to ensure projects that enable communities to build resilience against the pressures of climate change are sustainable.

“Pastoralist land is very expansive and has so many challenges that the government alone cannot be able handle them all.”

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