By Prof Ekamais Akuja
Having come into being after the March 4, 2013 elections, the County Government of Turkana was received will lots of expectation.
For nearly 50 years after independence, the presence of a national government was not felt in Turkana area. This is manifest in that fact that poverty levels are still in the upwards of 95 per cent, what with all the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and education being alien to the residents here. Poverty, ignorance and diseases were as a result grounded at the levels they were at before 1963.
Therefore, as a matter of priority, water, food security and social security rank high in the Turkana basket of wishes. Water comes top because it is where life is hinged. The livestock, which is Turkana’s main source of livelihood, depends on water for survival. The vegetation the animals depend on need water. The human beings themselves need water for drinking, domestic use and cottage industry. Any form of agro-pastoralism requires water. In a nutshell, water is the alpha and omega here.
More 80 per cent of Kenya is classified as arid and semi-arid land (ASAL), Turkana County being among the arid areas.
The long and short of all these is that to begin solving the myriad problems in Turkana, the entry point is water provision. Others will follow.
All indicators that were meant to be achieved by the millennium development goals (MDGs) by the year 2015 will not be achieved in Turkana. The medium term framework of Vision 2030 has not taken off. People are still drinking from water pans, ponds and streams. They still walk more than 50km to water points. Water is untreated and sanitation systems are non-existent. Open defecation is at 99 per cent.
Granted, Turkana has lots of water underground in Lotikipi and Napuu. The Lotikipi water is saline. Only Napuu water is fresh. For purposes of solving what is practicable at the moment, the Department of Water should have embarked on water-harvesting technologies, especially for the pastoralists and their livestock.
In regard to the few urban centres, it is lucky that through the Water Act 2002, there is one functioning water service provider in the area – the Lodwar Water and Sanitation Company Ltd (Lowasco). This company was established in February 2007. It was handed to the board of directors on September 1, 2007.
Lowasco has against many odds served the population of Lodwar Town satisfactorily. Things took a negative turn when the county government came into being.
The national government wrote to the county government at the earliest opportunity that since water was a devolved function, the water service providers would be under the county government. They stated that during the transition period and thereafter, the county government would subsidise the provision of water by offsetting the electricity bills and providing chemicals to clean the water.
To date, that has not happened. The sewerage services have been hampered by the very government or its agents purchasing exhausters, yet this is the legal mandate of Lowasco.
The suggested solution is that we stick to the directive of national government through agencies such as the Water Services Regulatory Board. The Rift Valley Water Service Board is fumbling and moribund.
In order to make progress, the board of directors of Lowasco had put an elaborate plan, which had succeeded elsewhere in East Africa.
In a nutshell, with a phased budget of Sh1 billion, the headquarters of Lowasco would be in Lodwar. In the first phase, water supply stations within a radius of 60km would be set up, covering up to Kakolol, Kerio, Lorugum, Lochwa-a-Ngikamatak etc.
The second phase would be to initiate water supplies within a radius of 120km, covering Kakuma, Lokichar, Kataboi, Namoruputh, Lorengippi etc.
Finally the water supplies within 180km and above would be covered. They include areas such as Lokitaung, Lokichokkio, Lokori, Kainuk, Lokiriama and so on. All these areas would have branches of Lowasco. Water will be availed to the locals and employment will be guaranteed. This was to last for a period of two years at the most.
The question then is: Why re-invent the wheel on water provision when elaborate plans are already there?
Prof Ekamais Akuja is an expert in ASAL areas. He is also a Professor of Drylands Agriculture at South Eastern Kenya University, Kitui.