By Kipilat Kapusia
Fetching water during and after class hours has been part of life for many school-going boys and girls in Miskwony Village of West Pokot county.
This is because schools in the area are facing a water shortage crisis forcing learners to trek for over three kilometers in search of water as drought in the area persists.
Speaking to Education News, learners said that they risk their lives navigating dangerous places full of snakes, scorpions and other wild animals on their way to the river.
Mercy Chepchumba, a standard seven pupil at Miskwony Primary school explained that the shortage forces them to trek to fetch water in a nearby drying riverbed for drinking, cooking, washing, for use in toilets and to clean the school.
They spend many hours digging for underground water, a thing that has affected their education and health.
“Sometimes we spend almost the whole day digging for water and if we are fortunate to find, it is often saline, dirty and infested with insects,” she said.
She added, “Walking for long distances to the river is usually physically demanding and time consuming thus we have little time remaining to study.”
In addition, Chepchumba revealed that even though toilets are available and in good condition, unavailability of clean water forces her and other girls to skip classes during their monthly periods.
“The toilets are there but we find it safer to stay at home until our monthly periods are over instead of coming to school where there is no water to clean ourselves when we want to change our sanitary pads,” she noted.
A parent, Jane Cheyech said that because of the shortage, most girls frequently contract Urinary Tract Infections (UTI).
“Some parents cannot afford to buy their daughters sanitary pads and therefore the girls are compelled to use pieces of cloth during menstruation. Because of the water problem, the situation becomes worse because they can’t change and wash often hence they end up getting the infections,” she said.
Miskwony Primary Head teacher, James Matolo admitted to the water challenge facing the learners particularly girls especially during their menses saying that it became very uncomfortable for them.
“We have been having this water shortage for a long time. We only get dirty water from the dry river bed and underground water. This has affected their learning and performance since a lot of time meant for studies is wasted when learners go to fetch water,” he said.
Mr Matolo appealed to the government, humanitarian agencies and well-wishers to intervene so as to assuage the situation.
“We are asking the relevant ministries and humanitarian agencies to find ways to make water available such as drilling boreholes in the area to help learners access clean water,” he said.
The school board Chairman, Thomas Lotudo criticized the West Pokot County government and area leaders for not addressing the water menace in the region despite having a huge allocation of funds.
“We doubt whether we really have leaders because none of them have responded to our pleas despite bringing up the issue more than once. Furthermore, West Pokot gets a lion share of revenue after Nairobi. If the money was used in the right way, then water shortage would be a thing of the past,” said the Chairman.
He noted that from the month of October, water levels go down up to 10 to 15 feet deep and this exposes the learners to the danger of being trapped underground in case the ground breaks.
Mr Lotudo further disclosed that the water shortage had greatly contributed to water-borne diseases like typhoid, diarrhea and dysentery hence in a day, they took at least 10 students to the dispensary for treatment.
Last year, former Governor Prof. John Lonyangapuo rolled out an ambitious water project along the County borders and other arid areas in need of water to curb water shortage and solve conflicts among warring neighboring communities.
A total of five boreholes were sunk before the water rig broke down and heavy rainfall led to landslides in the area thereby stalling the project.
As the county and country transits to a new government, the learners and residents of Miskwony Village remain hopeful that both governments will put their plight into consideration and relieve them of their long overdue burden.