Climate variability adaptation in rural Kenya

Climate-change induced variability adaptation is no longer an auxiliary but a primary and long-term solution of affected populations . The current climatic trends affect all economic sectors but most of all agriculture and education.

To adapt to durable changes in weather patterns, rural households in Kenya adopt various  coping strategies. For example, pastoralists dug shallow wells and scooped dry river beds in search of water for their livestock during prolonged droughts.

Figure 1. Shallow wells in Kenya (Source: Peter Kinyae Musyimi)

Approximately, 1.2 billion people and almost one fifth of the world population occupy areas of physical water scarcity. A further 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people struggle with economic water scarcity in regions where they lack necessary infrastructure to draw water from rivers and aquifers. Water-related problems are also frequent in Kenya. This calls for relevant research and political goodwill at the national, regional and local levels to address these water problems affecting rural inhabitants. Extreme, severe, moderate and mild droughts are experienced in Kenya. Unpredictable drought intensities, increased drought frequency and duration characterize the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya negatively impacting livelihood systems. The increasing frequency of annual rainfall deviating from the long-term mean implies that arid and semiarid areas are getting drier.  The widespread droughts in Kenya represent major threats to portable water availability.

Households perceive droughts as the major cause of water scarcity in Kenya, others being abstraction and encroachment of people near water sources for irrigation agricultures, practices which compromise water availability in terms of quality and quantity. Prolonged droughts of 2002-2005 (4 years) and 2007 -2011 (5 years) led to the drying up of all shallow wells, rivers and streams. Earth dams and water pans were also affected. Earth dams in the area were used to ease overuse of boreholes by rural households and livestock in different areas. It was perceived that drought led to reduced flow of water in the Kwavombo spring which was worsened by encroachment of people who practiced irrigation farming contributing to reduced water levels and rationing of  water amounts supplied to households.

Rural households adapt to climate change and extremities specifically drought by using various strategies. These include rainwater harvesting technologies. Households use storage structures such as storage tanks, both masonry and plastic tanks to harvest water through roof catchment (see Figure 2) which would otherwise go to waste during the rainy season in the months of March, April and May (MAM) and October, November and December (OND).

Rainwater Harvesting- Roof catchment through plastic and masonry tanks (Source: Peter Kinyae Musyimi)

Rain water harvesting as a strategy also constitutes a reliable source of drinking water and reduces food crisis Kenya. Other strategies include sinking boreholes, piped water connections, water tankering, use of sand dams and pans, farm ponds, shallow wells along river beds and trekking for long distances in search of water (Figure 3). These adaptation and coping strategies present opportunities to address water scarcity in the arid and semi-arid lands during periodic dry spells.

Figure 3: Residents fetching water and a young boy trekking for long distances to water points in search of water (Source: Peter Kinyae Musyimi)

The challenges of water scarcity persist despite the above described coping strategies, therefore more viable and innovative strategies are called for in the near future. Challenges include poverty which was already a hindrance to rainwater harvesting technologies. Earth-dams and water pans were highly affected in terms of water borne diseases. This was attributed to their openness, contamination from animal droppings and from households washing clothes.  Their home use is therefore not hygienic, the majority of them are open and livestock drink water directly from them. Other challenges include inadequate power supply, influx of people near water sources and political wrangles that might hinder water facility development.

These findings contribute new knowledge that would serve as a basis for decision and policy making, water resource management and governance, as well as for education at community and institutional levels.

Ph.D. student at the Department of Geophysics and Space Science, Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest, Hungary

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