The Colonel, the Chief, and Mzungu….
Barut. Well, I thought we’d just go off and do what we did yesterday: GPS as many boreholes and kiosks in a 10 hour period as is humanly and logistically possible. Not so much…
Dr. S. had some cedar posts, a wheelbarrow, barbed wire, and various other tools for us to deliver to Magoon, a small community within Barut District. The materials were for a tree nursery, projects that SUMAWA has been supporting and implementing within the watershed as income generating/reforestation activities for sustained watershed health. We were to deliver the supplies to the “Colonel.”
Apparently the Colonel is a retired Lt. Colonel from the Kenyan army who is now the chair of the Njoro Water Resource User Association (WRUA), an organization actively pursuing solutions to watershed debilitation, water access, and poverty, the main driver of debilitating activities. The Colonel is a very nice man. A very official man, and a very respected man around town. Dr. S. sent us to the Colonel, as Barut is big, almost 300 square kilometers including the Nakuru National Park, and difficult to navigate, even for the Kenyan Magellan himself, Inonda.
After dropping off supplies, the Colonel decided he would just go ahead and take us to the points. “Great” I thought. Next thing I know, there’s six people in the Land Cruiser, and we’ve just initiated the perfect logistical opportunity for a water topic community door-to-door.
First stop: Ainoptich boreholes and kiosks. Second stop: Barut District Office. Enter the Chief.
The Colonel, Chief, and friend discuss important things…(I’m Mzungu)
The Colonel being a military man is very official. Now we are official, and we stopped at the Office to get the Chief’s approval for the work. The Chief, Rashid Abdallah, is a very nice and polite gentleman, Egerton educated, young (mid 30s), and well dressed. We had a nice meeting and discussion in his office about Barut, and about water, the contents of which I shall present below:
Barut district is a 300 square kilometer official district in Nakuru, Kenya. It consists of 20 villages, 3,000 households, and approximately 20,000 people. It is divided into two divisions: Barut, and Kapkures. Residents of the district engage in small-scale farming and livestock production, and small to medium enterprises consisting primarily of dry goods and merchandise, and sand farming, or mining. The northeastern side of Barut appears literally carved away, a man-made badlands of quarrying with hand-held hoes and wheelbarrows, where stubborn farmers cling onto a few hectares in small islands of stubborn pride, their maize crop literally on the edge of disappearance into a Sergio Leone set.
Last years harvest sucked, but there was some surplus. This year’s harvest also sucks, and the surplus from last year is quickly dwindling. Colonel says if the rain regime holds, they’ll become another Ethiopia. Hard to believe when faced with such greenery, but the soils are very leached, and stunted crops paint the horizon yellowish green. Add to this around 3,500 internally displaced from the post election violence. The UN and Kenyan Red Cross are working currently in Barut, as there is still a camp of 50 families here, behind the office, living under blue and white tarps, now on their sixth month of food aid. Other IDPs have integrated into the community, and share lodging with Barutis. Still others are finally returning from the Mau Forest, where they sought refuge from the chaos, adding additional strain on the districts meager resources. Thing about: food insecurity, and limited water access. Then 3,000 crash the party.
Water in Barut. Barut is blessed with boreholes. There are seven total, with six currently functioning. Three are colonial relics, drilled by white farmers in the early 1950s, and handed over with zero training to the local community post independence. Four were recently drilled, two of them by schools in the district to provide for students. All of the recently drilled boreholes are courtesy of US and European donors, primarily faith-based NGOs associated with LifeWater Kenya. The non-operational borehole was vandalized in January, a result of resource conflict over water access allowed to surface under the guise of ethnic violence.
According to the Colonel, Chief, and Inonda, the issue in Barut is not boreholes, and is not water. Near the top of the watershed in the community of Kamasai, there is borehole pump system that moves water to very pinnacle of the watershed. There, a series of reservoirs are poised to gravity deliver naturally filtered water to the entire district. Yet, it supplies a only a few kiosks and cattle troughs due to limited storage, distribution network, and inadequate pump power (5 HP). The main issue indeed is the power and distribution network. With adequate and properly planned piping, water could be delivered to every household in the district from a single borehole, if the sufficient water could be moved to the tanks. The water supply is not limiting, it is the administrative and organizational capacity of the communities themselves that is lacking to coordinate a district wide water distribution plan. And here is where things get tricky…
Kamasai: Barut’s silver bullet…Just add Horsepower.
Western donors are excellent at providing boreholes, tanks, pumps, and the materials for modernizing the water system. But material modernization goes beyond the capacity for actual community utilization. Inonda’s revelations here are brilliant. Essentially, there is an evolution in the culture of water from river water users to groundwater users to a more modern piped network. While evolution can be rapid, for example, the installation of a borehole and construction of kiosks giving river waters a new source, the ecological shock can be unexpected. Women collect water at the river, and in general, utilize that time for valuable social interaction. Moving to the kiosk allows for similar interaction, but within a less private environment. Moving to a household piped system destroys the social context of water collection, and though well intended, can literally bring animosity upon the donor, and ill will upon the investment. The change must be gradual, and accompanied by education, discussion, deliberation, and adaptation. Thanks Inonda. You’re a good driva.
We only got around 10 points plotted today. Chief and Colonel had a lot of business to attend to, and the research definitely took a backseat, as did the researcher, literally in the Land Cruiser. We met everyone. I thin I met every suit in Barut today. Every water issue was brought to the table, every detail recorded. I may as well do my thesis on water access and social ecology in Njoro. I’m already half done with the data collection.
Tomorrow, we’ll get a few more points, and hopefully conclude this GPS business. It’s dark now. The sun drops in a half hour. Children’s laughter melts into cricket chirps and the occasional bird call. Dinner will be lentils and rice and a glass of guava juice. I miss Misty and pizza.