Thirst in the midst of plenty

She stops briefly to catch her breath as sweat flows down her dusty face onto her bare chest. Her eyes scan the horizon, taking in details of the rough terrain she is yet to negotiate with her tired legs before she finally reaches home.

Pangs of hunger gnaw at her tiny stomach and a cold shiver runs through her anatomy albeit briefly. Regina Akai, has become inured the treacherous life of hunger, thirst and fatigue she has to endure daily to bring home a jerrican of water for family use.

She left her home at the break of dawn to walk for many kilometres to a dried up riverbank. Several women with jerricans were already there by the time she arrived. For hours they silently dug into the sand then waited for water to collect before scooping it into their containers.

The journey back home was more tedious. The blazing Turkana sun was burning the earth and its inhabitants with almost malicious fury. Although her feet had trekked through the rocky and sandy paths that weaved through the wilderness, they had never really been used to the heat. The sand, by this time of the day was like burning coals.

Regina always prayed to God before embarking on the journey that she would not meet wild animals that prowl the land and that God will spare her attacks from bandits and cattle rustlers that are known to strike with lightning speed. By now she was used to the numerous poisonous snakes that hide in the rocks and the sand.

“I have hoped and prayed that one day a miracle will happen and water will be brought to our manyattas. My prayers made me smile when I heard news from my son that plenty of water had been discovered under the earth in Turkana. Now we have water and oil. But that seems to be just that, a dream. I hope it becomes a reality in my lifetime.” She says gently as she squats to pick up her jerrican and complete her journey home.

Despite the fact that water is the most common substance on earth; it actually covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface; residents of Turkana County have never had easy access to it.

For years, Turkana, the second largest county in Kenya covering 77,000 square kilometres, was known for its encounter with drought, hunger and perennial insecurity from violence perpetrated against its people by cattle rustlers from neighbouring communities. Then suddenly, a research by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) revealed that the county sat on more water wells than any other county in Kenya.

The discovery of water came fast on the heels of that of oil from underneath the burning sand.
Regina, a residence of Nakaparaparai Village near Lodwar town is among those who were delighted by the news. Her neighbours from the small Lobei Kotaruk ward in Loima sub-County suffer similar fate. They have to fetch water from killer wells where 6-7 people have to line up from top to bottom to get the supply, it is deep and dangerous.

When UNESCO announced the discovery of two aquifers in Northern Turkana, Regina was elated. The study showed that the region is home to a reserve of 250million cubic meters of water, which is naturally replenished at the rate of about 3.4 billion meters cubic per year.

Many believed this wealth could provide the solutions to water problems not just in the drought – wrecked region in northern Kenya but for the entire country.

She still hopes that with good governance and management, the water and oil discoveries will transform Turkana from its medieval status into a civilized 21st Century economy.

The 2009 Census report showed that estimated 60% of residents in Turkana are pastoralists who have long struggled with seasonal drought. The potential for further environmental degradation in already fragile ecological condition is a concern for those living near the oil zones.

Reserves of land will be appropriate for mining activities and risks of air, soil and water pollution are significant.

The Director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Richard Kering said that they have received environmental impact assessment report to help monitor the drilling process.

Although Tullow Oil Company assures that horizontal drilling will not affect water in Lake Turkana it is feared oil exploration around the region might interfere with ecosystem.

According to Dr Alain Gachet, a French scientist and President of Radar Technologies International, Oil will naturally be found above the water and drilling could affect the water tables. Both resources are vital to transforming the livelihoods of Turkana people and joint research with oil companies could establish how one could be affected by the other.

For the economic stakeholders, there is a responsibility to ensure that the exploration and exploitation of all of the regions resources is an inclusive process, which is subject to inflexible control.

It is Regina’s prayer that soon she will be able to sleep in peace and use her energy for other homemaking chores instead of fetching water. It is her hope that soon she won’t have to risk her life in search of this life-giving commodity.

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