At the other end of the Tana River lies Mount Kenya, and that’s where I was today. But not on the lush, sodden windward side of the mountain which feeds the Tana. I was in the rain shadow of this vast mountain. On one grassy wind-swept slope a desolate community was trying to scrape some kind of harvest from the stubborn soil. Here too the rains had failed and they would have to buy their food from the market. They would get what casual labour they could find from “over there”
“Over there” was a few kilometres away, where the crops looked promising, despite sitting in the rain shadow. It’s thanks to a community-driven irrigation project, supported by AAIK. Two streams that trickle down Mt Kenya are being tapped for their valuable supply of water: ActionAid is providing the materials – like pipes and water tanks - the villagers are providing the labour.
And what labour it is. They have dug over 50kms of trench and laid pipelines to hundreds of homesteads.
There’s another 20kms or so still being laid to extend to hundreds more. And though it’s hard labour on steeply wooded slopes with huge rocks in the way of the pipeline, the villagers are totally committed. Virginia is a 62 year member of the community, lean and determined, giving it her all because she knows what a difference it will make to her life. She’s seen what it’s done for her neighbours – flourishing crops have brought new houses, motorbikes, electrification, less time spent carrying water by women and children, and more time for other activities like studying.
The enthusiasm and commitment of the villagers is deeply impressive but they know they have to be careful. The snow-line on Mt Kenya has retreated, the water that was once too cold for the cows to drink no longer has the same icy kick and the water they receive is carefully rationed. They know they have to preserve the opportunity they have been given as best they can, so they are planting trees to protect the water catchment area, and help the ecosystem be as strong as they can make it.