Global Policy Forum

'Think Beyond Traditional Relief', Says CARE Engineer

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AlertNet
October 21, 2002


Chaungo Barasa is a water engineer working for CARE International UK to assist refugees and local people in a drought- and war prone district of north east Kenya. He tells AlertNet what he would change with hindsight and how to stop factions fighting over water.

AN: Why is there a water shortage?

CB: Garissa is prone to droughts and floods which occur roughly every four to five years. Major droughts come every 10 years. Almost every drought is accompanied by mass movements of people, massive deaths of animals and then famine. There have been at least 15 significant droughts since 1902. Droughts in the 1980s and 1990s are rated as the most severe and fatal in the region during the 20th century. The drought of 2000-01, which followed the el Niño phenomenon, caused great suffering too. It is estimated that some 100,000 people -- about 35 percent of the district's population -- were directly affected by that drought. Around three million cattle, eight million goats and 80,000 camels were put at risk. The economic value of the livestock lost was estimated at about $743 million.

AN: Where do people find water?

CB: The only dependable water sources in Garissa are boreholes drilled to an average depth of about 150 metres. At that depth, quality is often assured, so water treatment is not a crucial. A good borehole can yield 20,000 litres an hour, a moderate one 8,000 to10,000 litres an hour. This can serve over 10,000 people and about 6,000 cows. But it is an expensive necessity. A well developed borehole can last 12 to 15 years, after which it should be rehabilitated to last another eight to 10 years. The cost of an operational borehole is around $50,000.

AN: Who looks after the boreholes?

CB: Water User Associations (WUAs) manage the boreholes and charge for water. A diligent WUA can collect about $38 daily. If it spends 70 percent on operation and maintenance and saves 30 percent, it can replace a whole generator in five years and drill a replacement borehole in12 years. But this never happens, which is why CARE moved in. There are only 32 serviceable boreholes for an estimated 400,000 people.

AN: What will happen when the project's scheduled time comes to an end?

CB: We were due to finish in October, but the project has now been extended until April 2003. At the beginning of the programme, CARE and its partners had three objectives: to build the technical and management capacity of WUAs, improve the sustainability of water supply systems for livestock and crop farming and develop the communities' conflict resolution capacity. In a midterm review by the British Department for International Development (DfID), the TCB programme was given a mean-draft rating of "Project likely to be largely achieved". This represents a success rate of well over 75 percent. In the report we also scored top marks for our work with the WUAs. I think the sense of ownership and management capability the WUAs have now built up is our most outstanding achievement.

AN: If you had to start out all over again, with hindsight, what would you change?

CB: If CARE was doing another similar programme I think making sustainable increases in pastoralists' household income would be a key output. And we would work to build their lobbying ability to influence government policy regarding livestock marketing and ownership rights for WUAs. Perhaps we should also have made gender equity and empowerment a major programming factor as well. We were not able to influence the gender structure of the communities. It is a male-dominated society. The WUAs are dominated by men and when women do sit on committees they are hardly active in the discussions.

AN: Conflict management between different communities in the area was a major part of the project. What caused the conflicts and how did CARE act as peace broker?

CB: The bulk of the conflict in this region is over scarce pastures and water. This has declined over the past two or so years, partly because of food distribution, livestock restocking and water supply rehabilitation by organisations like CARE. Another cause of conflict was banditry. But this has stabilized over the past six months because of innovative security tactics such as working with elders' courts and community counsellors. And a third source is the tension between refugees and locals due to the perceived material advantage of the refugees. Refugees are seen as having much better access to water and education. However, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), alongside partners such as CARE and because of increasing agitation from locals, is becoming more sensitive to the welfare of locals neighbouring refugee camps. Other than isolated skirmishes around boreholes and refugee camps, and bandit robberies, there has been no major fighting or upheaval in the area for the past two years. And more than 2,000 Kenyan refugees who had fled to Ethiopia following political clashes in 1992 and 1997 finally returned home in 2001.

AN: How did you get involved in relief work and what skills did you bring to the project?

CB: I was a water engineer assistant in the Busia district of Kenya when Ugandan refugees fled there to escape the 1986-1987 war. I was assigned to advise on the development of a water source and to plan the construction of latrines. I was overwhelmed. I had never seen a refugee in my life, and I did not have the roughest idea how to set up a latrine for them. By the next morning three latrines were completed. A nearby spring had been cleaned up and I had recommended the drilling of a borehole. At the next committee meeting the Red Cross recommended my plan for the borehole be implemented immediately. Although I was not paid for what I was doing, I felt so satisfied I have never looked back. Since then I joined various aid organisations. I came to CARE in 1997 and joined as Garissa project manager seven months ago. Apart from my water engineering background and experience, my reputation for fairness has really helped the project because people from this community tend to be very wary of people they don't know.

AN: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work in the field with a relief organisation such as yours?

CB: I would share Dr. Krisno Nimpuno's wisdom with them. Relief is an evil to development. Yes, whoever they are, let them come so we can save a life, but then what do you do with a saved yet wretched life? Think beyond traditional relief. That is suited only to the 20th century. We have moved on. Thanks to CARE's new strategy focus on economic development and DfID's funding, as well as increasing emphasis on poverty solutions, we no longer view a borehole as "development" on its own, but rather as a stepping stone in a larger process of poverty reduction.


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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.