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Kenyan Villagers Use 'Digital Wells' to Cope with Record Drought

In this photo taken March 22, 2019, Kenyan children dig deep into a dry river bed to retrieve water in Tarach, Turkana county, in northern Kenya.

Kenya is facing one of the worst stretches of drought in years, causing underdevelopment, fights over water, and fears of starvation. However, a village in western Kenya is using a high-tech solution to water scarcity with so-called "digital wells" in a bid to improve local livelihoods and prevent waste.

In Nakuru County's Solai village, a group of women carry jerrycans to the local well to collect water.

Solai villagers have long been dependent on seasonal rivers and salty Lake Solai for their animals and irrigation.

But drought ravaging much of Kenya has reduced the local river into a stream.

Residents like Anne Chesire said the drilling of so-called "digital wells" in December has been a lifesaver.

Previously, she said, they would have to wake up very early to beat the queue at the watering hole, which is kilometers away. The water was salty, said Chesire. But, since receiving the new taps, she said, life has become so much easier.

World Vision Kenya and the Nakuru County government funded the wells, giving residents access to clean drinking water, but also using a high-tech solution to prevent waste.

Villagers use cards fitted with microchips and pre-loaded with money to dispense and pay for the water, helping to fund the costs of drilling wells.

Charles Kimutai is the Chepkulu Water Project Chairman.

Kimutai said the card system has been very helpful since he no longer has to chase people down to get them to pay their water bill.

A water vendor guides a donkey cart as he transports jerrycans filled with water from the Athi River to sell in Nairobi on March 21, 2019.
A water vendor guides a donkey cart as he transports jerrycans filled with water from the Athi River to sell in Nairobi on March 21, 2019.

The project has brought much-needed water closer to home and extra income for locals, like mother of two Brenda Chepngetich.

She said she is now growing vegetables in her backyard which she also sells. It has helped her sustain a comfortable livelihood, said Chepgngetich.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui called on residents of Solai to take advantage of the new water access to grow and sell produce.

"As we move forward we will want to get the water not just into the water kiosks but even closer to the homes and actually into the homes, eventually," Kinyanjui said.

Project manager for World Vision Kenya John Mwaura said they have built 11 boreholes and water dispensing machines in the area since December 2018.

"Since we entered into the area, life has changed," Mwaura said. "As per an evaluation we did, water penetration was at 37%. And to date we have gone to 54%. So we can say this is an achievement and all this achievement is due to the project that World Vision is doing. And we hope to go far with the partnership we are doing with the government."

For the villagers of Solai, the access to clean, safe drinking water has literally taken a load off their backs.