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Water Quality Remains Pressing Issue in Horn of Africa Drought

Woman draws water from muddy pit while two girls look on.
Mary draws water from a hole she dug in a riverbank while daughters Faith (9) and Elizabeth (8) look on. Their daily journey for water takes about five hours. Jake Lyell Photography

We don’t hear so much about the Horn of Africa drought of 2011 these days. Things have stabilized somewhat in Kenya and Ethiopia, the two drought-affected countries where ChildFund works. The rains came. Some crops grew.  

Still, the drought has extended — and will continue — well into 2012. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), reports that the March-to-May rains, the primary of the two rainy seasons in the Horn, are expected to be “about 10 percent below average and poorly distributed.” The report states a low expectation for further improvements in food security in the region.

So, water remains scarce. And it’s more than an issue of quantity; water quality is also a life-or-death matter. The fact that 24,000 children die every day from diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses is a fact that all too many families live with — and live through.

It’s a fear that Angeline, a mother in Kenya’s Emali district, lives with every day. “At times I lose hope because I know that these diseases are caused by lack of safe water,” she told our photographer Jake Lyell, “but we don’t have any alternative but to drink the water.”

Water quality is thus critical to ChildFund’s drought response. In Emali, where many families spend hours of every day searching for water, ChildFund has engaged the community in various water-related activities including teaching about good hygiene and sanitation. To promote safe storage of water, we also provided large-capacity safe-water vessels to 134 schools. Six hundred pregnant or nursing mothers received jerricans, as well. Meanwhile, ChildFund New Zealand is raising funds for a new borehole that will provide clean water for the community.

In December, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos described the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa as the largest in the world. Acknowledging some improvements, she added, “the situation remains fragile, and organizations will only be able to sustain these improvements if the current level of assistance is maintained.”

With our supporters’ help, ChildFund will continue its lifesaving work in Kenya and Ethiopia for as long as it takes.

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