Flowing for the First Time: Water Changes Everything in Tana River, Kenya
This coming weekend is World Water Day, a tradition that was started by the United Nations in 1993 to recognize that a basic building block of healthy living—clean water—is beyond reach for millions of people worldwide.
A resource we take for granted
Free-flowing, clean tap water, running toilets, water offered to you at no cost every time you sit down in a restaurant—these are all simple realities of my daily life that never crossed my mind until last month when I travelled to the Tana River region of Kenya with my colleague Andrea Tamburini, our Director of Operations.
You can read about and have a theoretical understanding of what it is like to struggle every day to access clean water for yourself and your children, but seeing the real, tangible difference water means to people’s lives firsthand is very hard to understate.
When Andrea and I arrived at the first village we visited, Ziwani, the water had just begun to flow from the comprehensive water system that my Kenyan Action Against Hunger colleagues had built for the village. There was a palpable feeling of exuberance throughout the village as we were proudly shown the pipeline and kiosk that will distribute water to the community.
"You can read about and have a theoretical understanding of what it is like to struggle every day to access clean water for yourself and your children, but seeing the real, tangible difference water means to people’s lives firsthand is very hard to understate."
A sense of community pride and ownership
As we traveled from Ziwani to Maramtu a, to Qarangariti, and Pokore, and Sombo, all villages helped by our water, sanitation and hygiene team, I continued to see the effectiveness of our approach to helping communities not participate but take ownership of creating sustainable solutions for access to clean water. At every village it was clear that the communities felt an incredible sense of engagement in their water projects. While we are the facilitators, the community members are the ones managing their water wells and pipelines on a day-to-day basis, usually via community-organized water committees. They’re dedicated, as we are, to the long-term success and sustainability of their water points.
That community dedication is for very compelling reasons. In some villages, before we worked with them to bring them regular access to clean water, villagers traveled up to two hours each way in exchange for the opportunity to pay a full 50% of their wages to obtain contaminated water. They ran the risk of getting attacked by crocodiles along the way—many lost their livestock this way, and some people were even seriously injured or killed. Their whole lives were wrapped up in the anxieties and time commitments of fetching water. It fell mostly to women and children, keeping them away from income-generating work activities and school, respectively.
And to what end? The water was often dirty, carrying waterborne diseases that made kids sick and completely undid the benefits of any nutrition they were receiving. In that way, unsafe water is a big contributor to malnutrition.
For this year’s World Water Day, we’re calling on our donors and friends to really think about that vital connection between water and nutrition. I know that I am remembering the people I met in Tana River, Kenya, and the indelible mark that water is making on their lives for the better. I hope that you will pause to consider what the impact of having access to clean water means to people around the world.