Assessing water availability under pastoral livestock systems in drought-prone Isiolo District, Kenya

Type Book
Title Assessing water availability under pastoral livestock systems in drought-prone Isiolo District, Kenya
Volume 106
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
Publisher International Water Management Institute
There has been growing frustration with the pace at which relief and development efforts reach
beneficiaries in drought-prone arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of East Africa, where 20 million
people are in chronic need of famine relief, and poverty prevalence exceeds 60 percent of the
population. This frustration reached its peak in the year 2000, when prolonged drought in the region
saw the loss of about 50 percent of the cattle in certain vulnerable districts of Kenya, mostly due
to lack of water. Relief agencies remained helpless lacking information to guide them at quick
notice, as to the precise location of alternative local water sources to offset precarious stress levels
in the most affected areas. At the end of the drought, stakeholders in certain ASAL districts decided
to conduct rapid assessments and document the status and access to water by communities and
livestock. In particular, the assessment was planned to capture strategic water sources for “droughtproofing.”
It was also agreed to link this information to Geographic Information Systems (GIS),
while taking into consideration impacts on livelihoods. As livestock husbandry is the predominant
economic activity in these zones, information on water for livestock is of paramount importance.
This report thus presents the results of a study to determine access to water sources by pastoral
communities and their livestock in Isiolo District of Kenya, with special focus on water availability
during drought conditions. The study was conducted between 2002 and 2003. It utilized GIS tools
and information gathered through rapid assessments involving researchers, government officers,
local communities and NGOs. Isiolo is an ASAL district in Eastern Province of Kenya, where
pastoral livestock systems form the main economic activity, but water scarcity and recurrent drought
are major constraints. From the study, GIS thematic maps were developed to include rainfall
distribution, land use-cover, drainage systems, hydrogeology and grazing potential as well as types
and location of water sources, their operational status and major characteristics.
The study determined that the total water demand for humans and livestock in the rural areas
of Isiolo District is about 6,018 m3
per day, which is equivalent to 2.2 million m3
per year. Developed
water sources are poorly distributed, amounting to 123 sources/points, of which only 44 (36%) are
operational during the dry season. There is no piped/tap water in the rural areas and the district
relies mostly on boreholes, accounting for 58 percent of all developed water facilities. This suggests
an over-reliance on groundwater, yet only about 20 percent of the district area has good groundwater
potential. Moreover, both supply and demand for water vary by season, with critical scarcity during
the dry season, when about 93 percent of the district area lacks water sources for domestic supplies
within 5 km distance, affecting 175 (73%) of the villages. At the same time, livestock lack access
to water to within 15 km distance in about 63 percent of the area, affecting 92 (38%) of the villages.
During the dry season, in areas such as Merti, Garbatulla and Sericho some of the people undergo
hardships as their villages are located 50-75 km from the nearest water point. Other constraints
include siltation of pans, recurrent droughts, lack of fuel to run boreholes, poor infrastructure,
overgrazing and degradation of areas around water points, high poverty prevalence and lack of
community water management institutions.

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