Sarah Chamblis of Princeton University spent five days studying community conservation at Soysambu.  Apart from mothering a rescued baby ostrich she also wrote a couple of guest posts for us.

Enjoy and please encourage her with your comments.


During our stay at Soysambu, we left the ranch to interview some of the surrounding communities about their feelings about the newly developed conservancy.  They all seemed positive, although they listed many problems they were currently facing, hoping the conservancy would somehow help them with.  One topic came up with nearly every group we talked to: water.

Kenya is well into the dry season, and the landscape in the Rift Valley certainly looks like it is running low on water.  In conserved areas, the grass is dry and yellow, as is the somewhat sparse vegetation in the overgrazed areas outside of the protected lands.  The dirt is bone dry– you can tell a car is driving 30 km away by the plume of dust billowing up and rising behind it.  Parks are affected as well.  At Lake Nakuru National Park, our planned lunch by Makalia waterfall turned out to be a lunch by Makalia cliffs; all that was left of the water flow was a small muddy puddle at the base of the rocks.

Drought here is a huge problem, and it is not easy to see what the answers could be.  When I grew up in California we had droughts, but the sacrifices that entailed for me were using the same bathwater as my sibling* and my family not watering the lawn. Those solutions seem ludicrous here, where some women walk 20 km or more each day to gather 20 or 40 liters of (dirty) water for their whole family, less than a quarter of the water my sister and I used for a bath.  Apart from the climatic differences between central California and the Rift Valley, there is a huge difference in infrastructure: there, we have dams and reservoirs, and just about everyone has easy access to clean water.  California’s Central Valley is currently facing a serious drought, but I’m sure conditions there are not nearly as bad as those in Kenya now.

The question is, what are workable solutions?  We were told that the groundwater in the area has dangerously high levels of fluorine, so simply drilling a borehole for a well would not provide safe drinking water.  At one of the tourist lodges being built in Soysambu, they were constructing a large rainwater catchment.


Catchment Area

Basically, they covered a slope about half the size of a soccer field with cement, and dug a ditch below it leading to a large reservoir.  During the heavy rains of spring and fall, the reservoir will fill with enough water to serve the lodge’s guests all year. I don’t know what the cost of construction and maintenance of a similar catchment would be for the villages outside of Soysambu, but if they could find the funds and organize a cooperative effort to keep it operating, I think it would make a significant difference in their day-to-day lives.  I do wonder, however, what the long-term environmental impacts of these rainwater catchments would be.  What do you think?


Sarah with the baby ostrich

*so you know, now, with low-flow shower heads, taking a short shower (less than 5 minutes) is much more water efficient than bathing.

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