On this World Water Day 2014, I am encouraged by how USAID’s water programs around the world contribute to integrated approaches that meet the objectives of the Agency’s Water and Development Strategy, as well as the Feed the Future and the Global Health Presidential Initiatives. During my recent work in Kenya with the USAID team at Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I was able to see first hand the efforts to strengthen Kenya’s resilience to disease, climate change, drought, floods and water shortages.
Across Kenya, USAID’s AIDS, Population, and Health Integrated Assistance Plus (APHIAplus) program is working to strengthen and improve healthcare systems. In Kaputir, the APHIAplus Integrated Marginal Arid Regions Innovative Socialized Health Approach (IMARISHA) project supports a health clinic and a Community-Led Total Sanitation project.
As I walked up a slight slope to the village of Kaputir, the first thing I saw was the gigantic masonry water tank that holds 13,000 gallons of water situated next to a one-story, concrete block clinic with maternity, pharmacy, consultation and emergency rooms. The front of the clinic has a small porch on which children and adults sit in a long line, partially shaded from the sun, waiting for their turn to receive basic medical care. The clinic staff proudly showed me their microscope, as well as their solar-powered refrigerator used to store medicines and blood samples.
Also as part of APHIAplus IMARISHA, the nearby community of some 6,000 people is working to achieve “open defecation-free” status. For example, the house right next to the clinic is leading the charge by being the first to add a pit latrine; it has a slab covering the hole, surrounded by a thatched fence and a “tippy-tap” handwashing device with water and soap.
In the same community, another project implemented by the Millennium Water Alliance, through their partner World Vision, supports a large water storage project connected to a nearby borehole. The combined efforts of these programs ensure integrated water, health, sanitation and hygiene services, which in turn reduce the prevalence of diarrhea, a major contributor to childhood mortality.
As we drove into the Kalimngorok area, we looked out at the flat, brown, dry landscape with few bushes and no rivers or streams in sight. At first glance, I wondered how one could grow anything here. In the distance I saw a large water catchment, built to capture and store rainwater for both human and livestock consumption and irrigation. A secondary benefit of the catchment is that water has seeped through the earthen floor, helping to restore groundwater underneath. At the base of the catchment, the community has installed a substantial metal pump on a concrete slab to draw water from the restored aquifer. In the surrounding fields, farmers experiment with different crops resistant to drought, using soil tillage techniques to increase the capture of rainwater when the rains arrive.
We also visited USAID’s Turkana Rehabilitation Program in Kalimngorok, implemented by the United Nations World Food Program, which integrates rainwater harvesting technology and food production through a range of water management practices. I walked through the fields observing construction of on-farm contour bunds (embankments) that capture rain as it falls on fields and increases yields, and the building of water pans (shallow retention ponds that store water for irrigation and watering livestock). The program also promotes improved nutrition by establishing fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, diversifies income through bee keeping, and reduces environmental degradation through establishment of micro-catchments.
At both Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I am left with the sobering firsthand realization of the challenges of assisting thousands of people in this arid environment. But I am also left with a sense of optimism. We saw progress in action in capturing and storing water, providing healthcare, navigating the lack of an electrical grid and producing crops in such an arid environment. USAID/Kenya’s approach of layering, integrating and sequencing its technical interventions and projects brings hope that over time these activities could be expanded and provided at scale, changing the lives of thousands of people for the better.