the Maasai and Lems

Waterbores For Africa

Our Changing World

As weather patterns shift and change over centuries, they determine the quality of life on the Earth below. Soil quality, wildlife and plant biodiversity, resistance to natural disasters; all of these are at the whim of climate. Of the many types of transformations we’ve seen since humans began to take notice of such things, the process of desertification is perhaps the highest priority. Due to the huge public health and safety risks it poses in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, especially, many organizations are researching methods to combat and mitigate the process, including the use of waterbores.

Desertification and Climate Change

The definition varies considerably, but it is generally accepted that desertification is process by which land becomes desert through excessive droughts or deforestation. Among the exhibited symptoms is water scarcity. When the demand for water in drylands exceeds what is available, water scarcity results in negative impacts on human health, livestock, fuel, and agriculture. While drought happens less frequently than other natural disasters, it tends to affect a broad region for seasons or even years at a time, even after the drought ends. In a region with a sufficient support system, the effects may be somewhat mitigated. However, in a region with little support from neighboring communities, the effects can be much more devastating.

Additionally, desertification has long term effects well after the rains become more favorable. Over the course of time that desertification continues, cover vegetation is etched out, causing decreased ability for the soil to hold nutrients. Meaning, that if and when the climate shifts and does become more favorable, the loss of natural support systems is often so crippled that even with the reversal of the trend, flooding, dust storms, and other hazards are increasingly probable. When the land is degraded, it becomes less able to retain water, and water scarcity is increased.

This process has happened independently of human interaction for millennia but our contributions to climate change have shifted the responsibility into our hands. Climate change has seen a significant acceleration in this process, and there are few parts of the world likely to feel the impacts more than sub-Saharan Africa. One tribe in particular, the Maasai, are feeling the effects of this crisis.


Loss of Rainfall and Culture

Maasai Dancing

Maasai dance moves

The Maasai are a widely-documented tribe that has been in Tanzania and Kenya for over 2,000 years. Iconically dressed in red cloaks, staff in hand, images of the Maasai have graced countless publications and photos. The Maasai are known for their spirited jumping dances, song, and cattle-centric lives. Like all civilizations, their lifestyle and culture are directly linked to the geographical conditions of their home. Agriculture is not easily practiced in the region due to soil conditions, so the Maasai use cattle for most of the food needs. Since cattle is so highly prized, then, it is also an indicator of status or wealth. Additionally, since cattle need to graze, this practice gives rise to Maasai’s nomadic culture.

With climate change now affecting this relatively isolated and unsupported indigenous population, their access to water is creating a health and safety crisis.

The effects of limited access to water need barely be enumerated: Limited access to clean water means a higher rate of water-borne illness. Despite held-beliefs that humans can adapt and thrive in almost any setting, many of these bacterial diseases can plague people over the course of their lives, skewing development and inhibiting their bodies’ ability to acquire nourishment from food, which results in the severe forms of malnutrition, kwashiorkor and marasmus. Chronic illness also means severely interrupted, if not totally dismantled, opportunities at seeking education.

Additionally, as desertification intensifies in Tanzania and Kenya, livable land is becoming more sparse. The Maasai in particular are resorting to consolidating communities together so they can share resources such as water more easily. Wanting to preserve their indigeneity, the Maasai bring their livestock in these denser consolidated communities and as a result, levels of disease are on the rise. The community of Engikaret in particular”…..collects water during the rainy season but they only dig a hole on the ground for the rain water collection and there is no fence (to bar animals from getting in) for water security, so the water is completely unsafe.” states safari guide and operator Robert Oltumure.

Many tourists in Tanzania and Kenya end up spending some amount of time meeting local Maasai people as a part of their safari, and it ends up being an eye-opening and really valuable experience. There is irony, of course, in the fact that these excursions often have inadvertent negative impacts on the Maasai. The tourism industry often accounts for an excess of water being used, leaving little for the people who actually depend on its presence. That’s due to a single water source providing for many safari lodges, camps and indigenous communities.This impact when taken with the ongoing effects of drought puts the Maasai and other groups at risk for accessing water on their own land. The access to and maintenance of an indigenous community’s natural resources is linked directly to the preservation of one’s identity and sense of self and history. For a rural community such as Engikaret (mentioned earlier), being able to access water on their own land does more than save lives. It continues culture and reinforces a sense of community.

In light of much of Africa’s perennial and increasing need for access to water, a great deal of research has already taken place on how to put the brakes on this problem. The man who revealed the great quantity of groundwater in Africa recently spoke out, revealing that there is more than previously thought, and public knowledge of this issue is at an all-time high. While accessing groundwater beneath the surface of the Earth can include several points of failure that need to be overcome, (from construction of a bore to access water and regular maintenance after it is complete) research continues to drive this field of study: How do we access groundwater safely for indigenous communities on vulnerable land?

Waterbores as a Solution

A water bore system pumps up the water found in the cracks between soil, sand, and fractured rock, and at best, can be a clean source of drinking water. At the very least, having access to rainfall that has accrued throughout the year gives the recipients an opportunity to use water for cooking, cleaning, growing food, and more. In areas with very poor population, access to groundwater through a bore can act as a buffer to help ensure food security in a number of ways.

Some Assembly Required

With these benefits in mind,Gondwana Ecotours has created an initiative to build a water bore in Tanzania for the community of Engikaret. After creating a trip to, and having an invaluable experience meeting with the Maasai herdsmen of Engikaret, Gondwana wanted to find a way to give back to the community in a meaningful way. The majority of waterbores are built without proper consideration to how they will be maintained once the project is completed. As a result, most fall into disrepair and provide only a very short-sighted benefit to the community. The aim of this project specifically takes this trend into account and the project is being carried to completion with tools and training for the system to be maintained. Gondwana is making a donation to fund the project for every guest that join them in Tanzania to help fund the project. In addition, they are partnering with different companies that are willing to donate a small percentage of profits to this cause.

In addition to helping this community tap into their groundwater, it is Gondwana’s hope that this campaign will raise awareness about the desertification in the region. Their goals, apart from the bore itself are to spur similar action in other companies and to help push research to continue to make bores increasingly available and effective. In the short-term, however, this project is a great model for how for-profit businesses can still incentivise and endorse global welfare concerns in a meaningful way. While the international community has taken steps on curbing climate change and its deleterious effects on the planet, immediate action is still absolutely necessary on a global-scale to create a safety-net for African regions to help secure them against disease, drought, and famine.

Unfortunately, because of the complexity and scale of desertification, water scarcity, and climate change, getting involved in solution-building isn’t always simple. To create real lasting change and help out in regions experiencing desertification, the best thing to be done is promote awareness, education, and assess one’s personal contribution. Beginning at home, we can look for ways to reduce our own water waste and contributions to climate change at large. As within any ecosystem, the choices and actions of one element affect all the others. What choices one makes at home ripple throughout the world. People looking to get involved in this region should start by exploring the concept of desertification, as well as solutions to the problem.

. For more information on desertification in Africa, visit the United Nation’s Convention to Combat Desertification, or contact Gondwana Ecotours.