Water Crisis Persists Four Weeks
Volume 1, Issue 3 / February 2009
A broken water pump sparked a four-week water shortage that forced extensive water rationing and left refugees seeking alternative sources of water
Thousands of refugees living in the multinational area of Zone Five were affected by a four-week water shortage during January and February.
The problem began in mid-January when a water pump serving Zone Five broke, according to the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) employee who operates the pump. The shortage persisted while LWF Water Department waited for repair materials to arrive from Nairobi.
The pump operator reports that the problem was fixed on 15 February. An LWF Water official who spoke to KANERE on 16 February said, “The problem has now been sorted out; there is no problem of water now.”
However, on 24 February the new water tank was still being installed and was not yet functioning. Community members report that water shortages persist and water flow remains inconsistent.
On February 28, an Ethiopian Oromo refugee living in Zone Five reported continuing water shortages. “The problem was not fully fixed and the shortage continues. Water comes only three days in a week, meaning it skips a day. And when it comes, it will never be enough and never completes a full hour of water flow.”
Towards the end of February, many refugees were growing desperate. “Something has to be done because water is life and this place is too hot,” one community member complained.
The community living in Zone Five of Kakuma Camp was especially affected by the shortage. During the height of the crisis, they say they were forced to survive with very little water for as many as four days while waiting for the next water flow.
The Somali Community Administration of Zone Five says they submitted reports to LWF Water, but no action was taken for several weeks while the situation continued to deteriorate.
When the Somali Overall Chairman consulted the LWF Water Officer and UNHCR Community Services, he was told that “because Zone Five is highly populated, the water supply will be less.” But the Chairman says the water shortage is not related to a population increase in the zone, as the population has remained stable and may have even decreased when a number of families left for resettlement.
On 11 February 2009, community members from Zone Five said they had not received water for three consecutive days. One Somali woman reported, “Our leaders know about our problem. They have even gone to the compound to seek a solution for this, but they are told to wait for the pump to be repaired.”
An officer of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Water, who requested anonymity, explains, “We were forced to ration water to all communities so that at least every community could get a little water to keep them going as we waited for the materials to repair the pump.”
As a result of water rationing, many communities were surprised to discover that their usual one-hour water flow had been reduced to a 30-minute flow.
On 22 February, Faiza, a woman from the Somali community, reported that water flowed for only 30 minutes at her community’s tap. “It’s now three days and we have not received water. Today water came but it flowed for less than 30 minutes. We are ten in our family and we only managed to fetch two [20 litre] jerry cans of water.”
“When water comes it only runs for 40 minutes-at rare times it runs for one hour. Some people don’t even get water, but they go home with empty jerry cans,” reports a refugee security man who works at Turkana Cafeteria in the camp.
The brief water flows are also hard to predict. “Water comes at an irregular interval and so it is hard to predict as to when it will come,” reports one refugee man from the Oromo community.
“We are not told or informed [of water flows]. Not at any one time did LWF inform people that they should be ready to fetch water at a particular time,” laments the refugee security man.
Each evening for several weeks, refugees gathered outside the gates of the NGO compound with jerry cans to request water. When asked why they were waiting outside, the refugees said that they sought permission to fetch water from the compound. Water periodically spills from overfilled tanks in the compound and goes to waste.
But the refugees were denied entry by guards at the gate. According to one LWF security guard who requested anonymity, “The issue of water is supposed to be handled by LWF Water Department. We cannot allow them to fetch water here unless we are directed by LWF Water Department.”
Reports one refugee, “The security guards are good and they sometimes give water to the people, but they fear their supervisors who don’t let the security men give water out. That’s why you may find water flowing freely even if people are standing at the gate watching and waiting for water.”
During the water shortage, hundreds of refugees could be seen carrying jerry cans in search of water from distant locations. Water taps were crowded with dozens of jerry cans keeping place in the “queue” as their owners hoped for water.
Despite their efforts, refugees said that they were uncertain whether they would get water at all. Besides, the only means of transport for heavy water containers is by boda-boda bicycle taxi at a cost of 20 Ksh per jerry can.
The buying and consuming of water from seasonal rivers became more common as the water shortage persisted. When asked about the danger of water-born diseases such as typhoid and cholera, people report that they are aware of the risks but have no other choice.
Refugees themselves are of differing economic status. Some report that they can afford to purchase clean water, while others who are financially unstable or of low economic status must consume water from the seasonal rivers or lakes. The water shortage affected vulnerable households and individuals most seriously.
Leila is a Somali refugee who bought water from the laggae to make ends meet. “I use it for washing clothes, utensils, and also bathing,” she says.
She believes the water shortage may end within a few days, citing the installation of the new tank in the Zone Five community. “We have been having so many problems of water, but at least we have hope now that the water tank is being fixed.”