YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholic Relief Services is working to help Kenyans get enough water. Kenya is a water scarce country, and the annual renewable fresh water supply per capita is just 65 percent of the recommended global standards.

“Approximately 80 percent of Kenya’s land is classified as arid or semi-arid lands which are home to roughly 30 percent of the population,” Lane Bunkers, CRS Country Representative for Kenya, told Crux.

It is estimated that 41 percent of the country’s more than 46 million people still rely on unimproved water sources, such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, with just 9 of the country’s 55 public water service providers providing continuous water supply.

“The recurrence of and intensity of droughts has increased over the years — exacerbated by climate change — which has greatly impacted the livelihoods of the local population which is largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture and livestock for their livelihood. In fact, 2016 and 2017 were very dry years in Kenya with drought conditions persisting for a two-year period and affecting nearly the entire country. Although 2018 saw a normalization of the rains for most of the country. And with climate change, the situation can only worsen,” Bunkers said.

According to TheWaterProject.org, Kenya’s water scarcity means women and children who are the primary water harvesters spend up to one third of their day fetching water, and this opens them up to several dangers, including attacks by predators. Ironically, they also become at risk of contracting water-borne diseases, given that the water “is not only contaminated at the basins and pumps where water is collected but the containers are almost always ‘found,’ second-hand objects, often previously used for oil, fertilizer or wastes.”

The CRS and its partners are now helping out through the Kenya Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development Program, or Kenya-RAPID. It is a project being implemented in five northern counties in Kenya which are classified as arid or semi-arid lands.

As a founding member of the Millennium Water Alliance which implements Kenya–RAPID, Bunkers told Crux, CRS participated actively in the development of the Kenya-RAPID project, and are the lead implementer for two of the five counties: Turkana County and Isiolo County.

“Kenya-RAPID attempts to do more than simply provide water and sanitation services for those in need. The project promotes a responsive and accountable governance framework at county levels that ensures sustainable provision of water and pasture. By working hand-in-hand with country government officials, we have been able to influence policy development that is comprehensive and serves all parties. We have also worked to promote a transparent budgeting process of county funds dedicated to water, hygiene and sanitation activities,” Bunkers said.

“The project also promotes replicable and scalable private sector business models for water, hygiene and sanitation activities, as well as livestock service delivery, which has sparked innovations such as solar-powered water flow meters. We have also facilitated relationships with private sector service providers who are interested in expanding their market to the Kenya-RAPID project counties,” he continued.

The impact has been significant. Testimonies contained on the CRS website illustrate the level of success.

“We used to fetch water quite a distance away – 4 miles one way. Our children did not go to school because they were dirty since we had no clean water. Now they are able to go to school,” said Monica, a farmer, in whose community a borehole, a water tank and a group of solar panels had been installed, thereby creating a solar pumping system to provide potable water for the community to “drink, cook, wash, irrigate land and sustain livestock.”

“Before, we had water that was dirty and had waterborne diseases. Now we are able to drink clean water. Because of the water, people can grow their vegetables, and our livestock are able to access water,” Monica explained.

Monica, like other community members, now has a thriving farmland where she cultivates crops and vegetables not only for home consumption but can now afford to sell some excess to make extra cash.

“I’m expecting to harvest my tomatoes and make $1,000 from the sales. I will save the cash and use it to buy onion seeds, pesticides and herbicides, and [more land] to extend my farm,” said Philip, who uses proceeds from his tomatoe farm to supply for his wife and four kids.

Yet, the work of the charity isn’t without risks and challenges. Bunkers noted that CRS works in very large counties with low population densities and with pastoralism as the predominant livelihood.

“Providing services for this population in such a large geographic area is challenging. Additionally, tribal conflicts over scarce and over-burdened pasture and water sources produce insecure situations at times which will limit our accessibility to some of the communities we would like to reach,” he told Crux.