TURKANA COUNTY, Kenya, Feb 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A borehole dug by herders in a desperate attempt to survive Kenya's last severe drought has been transformed into a lifeline for thousands of children and animals as a new drought hits, thanks to the addition of solar pumping and water storage.
The well has become an oasis in the impoverished drylands of eastern Africa where charities say back-to-back droughts are threatening the lives of millions of children.
Originally built to meet the needs of 12 herders and their families, the upgraded borehole now provides water for thousands of people and livestock living at the foot of Pelekech mountain in Lokore region in Turkana County.
As a result, herders can bring home their livestock every day to drink water, which they say is a blessing.
"It is usually a disaster when animals are taken miles away from home in search of pasture and water because most of our children depend on milk for survival - and if there is no milk, it could mean death for them," said Jacinta Akiru, a 65-year-old mother of five from Lokore.
The Kenya Red Cross Society last month predicted the number of Kenyans without enough to eat would almost double by April to 2.4 million from 1.3 million, mainly in the country's north and along the coast.
NOT RUN DRY
At first, after sinking the well, the herders' families drew water by hand using a bucket and rope, and could only fetch enough for their immediate domestic needs.
"When we started this project, it was in a desperate move just to see if we could find some little water for domestic consumption," said Angeline Namudang, the treasurer for Lokore Community Disaster Management Committee, the group which sunk the borehole.
The herders used to spend weeks or even months away from home in drought periods, looking for water and pasture. They often returned to find their children, left behind with relatives, were malnourished or even dead.
That changed when a solar pump and water tanks were installed in 2013, with the help of international NGO Veterinaires Sans Frontieres Germany.
The well now supplies water kiosks and animal drinking troughs in two villages.
"This has been like a revolution to us," said Lotit Agirai, who has six wives and 30 children.
"Having access to water for domestic animals closer to home is the best thing that has happened to me," said Agirai, now in his 70s.
He used to trek with herds of livestock more than 30 kilometres across the border to Uganda's Karamoja area in search of water and pasture.
So far, 625 households are using the water facility. Each household has on average seven members, and about 150 animals, including goats, sheep, camels and donkeys.
Households pay 300 Kenyan shillings ($3) a month for water - 100 Kenyan shillings ($1) for domestic use, and 200 Kenyan shillings ($2) for animal access.
The money pays for maintenance and two watchmen to guard the facility day and night.
The borehole has never gone dry, and is still producing water during the ongoing drought which meteorologists say is the worst since 2011.
Access to safe water means fewer cases of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery and typhoid, especially during drought conditions, said Purity Ndubi, the nurse in charge of Waso dispensary in Isiolo County in northern Kenya - another arid part of the country.
"We always have a spike of these cases during droughts," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The same happens to livestock, according to Johnson Wamalwa, the chief livestock officer in Turkana West sub-county.
"During such periods, many animals from different places share the same drinking points, which makes it easy for infectious diseases to spread," he said.
Thousands of domestic animals have already died in the country's north because of drought-related diseases, fatigue from trekking long distances, and lack of pasture.
Between December and January, more than 6,000 goats and sheep died of goat plague in Laisamis sub-county in northern Kenya's Marsabit County, according to Michael Baariu, a local veterinary officer.
The plague is a highly contagious viral disease, and often fatal to sheep and goats.
However, the residents of Lokore are at peace. None of their livestock have died since the onset of the drought in mid-2016.
"We are also optimistic that our children will remain healthy till the end of the drought season," said Akiru.
($1 = 103.7000 Kenyan shillings)
Reporting by Isaiah Esipisu; editing by Alex Whiting.
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