For a long time, residents of Bulto Abarufa village in Wayu Location of Kenya’s arid Tana River County had resigned themselves to fate. It was a vicious cycle which saw them walk 10 kilometres or more every time drought rendered their water sources, mainly seasonal rivers, dry. However, a water pan excavated in the area is quickly changing their lifestyle and saving cost of trucking water. 

Bulto_Abarufa_water_pan           Bulto Abarufa water pan in Tana River County

The 50,000m3 Bulto Abarufa water pan is one of the drought preparedness projects implemented by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) as part of building capacities of local communities to cope with drought episodes. 

The pan, excavated in 2018 with finances from the European Union-funded Ending Drought Emergencies-Support to Drought Risk Management and Coordination Project, benefits residents of Wayu Location and the surrounding communities. For Mrs Halima Omar, the water pan is a godsend. She recounts her arduous experience in the search for water during the 2016-2017 drought that swept across most parts of Kenya. She and other women from her village would leave their homes early in the morning, risking snake bites and attacks by wild animals, to trek 10 kms to a shallow well excavated in a seasonal river in an area known as Dabasimiti. 

Dabasimiti in the local Orma language literally translates to “held hostage by the concrete”, a possible reference to the prolonged wait to access water at the concrete well-head of an old well.

There, the women would be forced to wait in line and give way for livestock to water before they could access water for domestic use. The backbreaking return trip would see them get back home early afternoon in time to take care of a few domestic chores, including cooking for their families. 

“The lucky few would ferry back up to four 20-litre jerricans on a donkey if they owned one. Still, this was only enough for household use for a day and the cycle would run all over again,” Halima says as she fills her jerrican with water at the community access point, before swinging it on her back and starts heading home a few hundred metres from the water pan. 

Access to milk for households 

The water pan was established at a total cost of Ksh17,593,000 (approximately 160,000 Euro). Before its excavation, livestock hardly stayed around Bulto Abarufa beyond a month after rains, denying families much-needed milk – an important source of protein especially for children under five years.

 “We now have plenty of milk in our homes,” Halima adds with a smile. Mrs_Halima_Omar

 Access to water close to their homes has given the women a breather. The proximity of the pan and reduced waiting   time   has unlocked at least six hours and saved energy for women to attend to social-economic activities within the   homestead   and village. They no longer feel “held hostage by the concrete” and are exercising their newly found free   time to take care   of their families and improve hygiene levels in their households alongside other activities.

 “We also have time to look after the small livestock herd left behind after the bigger herds migrate as well as look for   wood   fuel,” Halima says.

 In addition, Halima is working on setting up a kitchen garden next to her house and has also taken up a leadership   position,   a previously unimaginable feat in the largely patriarchal community. The mother of six now serves in the   management   committee of the local nursery school that the community established as more households, attracted   by  the proximity to   water, settled in the area.  One of her sons is a pupil at the school, without which she would   have been forced to send him   to his grandmother 10kms away in Dabasimiti to attend school.

Halima Omar walks away with her water at
 Bulto Abarufa water pan in Tana River County.

   Reduced cost of trucking water

 The Bulto Abarufa water pan was excavated in early 2018 just in time to impound water during the March-April-May long rains and has served the community since without drying up. The pan hosted a heavy concentration of livestock since the beginning of 2019. According to the dam project committee chairperson, Mr Bakari Bocha, the dam served an average of 15,000 cattle, 18,000 sheep and goats and 100 camels Between January and March 2019.

The critical need for water in the area is captured in a near-death experience recounted by Bocha when he and two other men attempted to excavate a shallow well in the area in 2017.

 “The well caved in at 22 feet, almost burying us alive. We were losing livestock due to lack of water and pasture and we couldn’t just sit and watch. This dam is a blessing,” says Bocha.

The parts of Wayu Location served by Bulto Abarufa pan are some of areas not targeted for water trucking by the Tana River County Government during the drought experienced since January 2019. The water pan has thus considerably reduced cost of water trucking for the County Government and its partners.

Water trucking is ranked among the most expensive drought response interventions. According to NDMA Drought Resilience Officer in Tana River County Mr Abdulahi Halake, it would cost the County Government an average of Ksh 1,176,000 (about 10,700 Euro) to truck water to just one village in Wayu location, about 72kms from the county capital in Hola, for three months. It is on this basis that the NDMA is supporting communities to excavate water pans and medium-sized dams as a drought preparedness measure.

The County Government and partners are now replicating the Bulto Abarufa water pan model across the county due to its cost-effectiveness and efficiency. Establishment of two pans is already ongoing in different parts of the county with specifications borrowed Bulto Abarufa.