Mary Walker: Thinking about water in flood season

Water levels and seasonal rains are unpredictable, cause hardships in Kenya

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Mary Walker

Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker volunteers at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 and provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker’s updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

The high water in Routt County this season (and elsewhere in the country, for that matter) is causing all kinds of problems for a lot of people. Meanwhile, in Kenya, it’s the complete absence of any predictability about water supply every year that causes life-threatening problems for its people.

Here is how it is supposed to go in a place like Narok, Kenya: wheat and maize are planted in March or so in order take advantage of the “long” rainy season of April. But the past couple of years, there have been drenching rains around Christmas that flooded the town of Narok and backed up its wastewater drainage system, forcing all downtown restaurants to close for several days because of sanitation concerns, and packing the streets with so much mud that vehicles couldn’t use most of the roads in town. Fortunately the road to Maasai Mara through town wasn’t affected. And then there hasn’t been much rain in April the past two years. “No farms, no food” is a for sure in Kenya — it is not just the bumper sticker expression it is here in the U.S. When wheat and maize crops fail in Kenya because of unreliable rains, real people really suffer.

Maasai women are having to spend more of their time searching for clean water in sufficient quantities for feeding their families. Once-dependable sources, such as rivers, even bore holes, are drying up. If they can afford pieces of sheet metal for their roofs, some drainpipe, and some kind of storage device they are able to collect a lot of water during rainy periods. But most of these women don’t have that kind of disposable income after they’ve taken care of the needs of their children — food and school fees, but also unexpected medical expenses, an unforeseen transportation expense, or assisting a neighbor or family member with an even more dire financial need. Besides a piece of sheet metal, there are so many things that even a very small “discretionary” amount of money can do for these women — a small solar cell to provide enough power to charge a cell phone (saving her from having to pay for that whenever she goes to town) or light one light bulb so that her children can study at night. Startup money to operate additional farm plots that increase her yield to sell would increase her income, which in turn would increase her ability to save even a small amount of money each month.

I was with a group of girls from the rescue center once when they were collecting water.

They complained that the water was too dirty to wash their clothes but they showed no hesitancy to drink it and did.

The irony of the overabundance of free and clean water in my life here in Routt County compared with the complete unreliability of water in Kenya makes me dream of the day when we have figured out how to share this resource across the world.

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