Sitting a couple of kilometres outside the village of Wajir-bor in northeast Kenya is something quite rare for these dry parts: a small, well-maintained reservoir full of water with a watchman standing guard at the gate.
A dam was constructed here after the Wajir County Assembly passed a climate change act in 2016, one of the first in Kenya, freeing up government funds for projects chosen by local people.
The people of Wajir-bor, 40 km (25 miles) west of the border with Somalia and inhabited mainly by the Degodia clan of the Somali ethnic group, decided on the water pan, which provides water for domestic use and for livestock to drink.
With the money, they also installed a water tank and a diesel generator to pump water into an animal trough, and fenced off the shallow reservoir to keep it clean.
Wajir’s Climate Change Fund, set up through the act, is resourced with 2 percent of the county’s development budget. The money is set aside for efforts to adapt to climate change impacts such as worsening drought.
The fund can also harness finance from international sources, and has received about 62.7 million Kenyan shillings ($606,000) from the UK government.
Wajir residents have chosen community members to represent them on the local adaptation committees that shape the projects, with women making up at least a third.
This system gives a voice to ethnic Somali women who are traditionally excluded from leadership roles in their patriarchal communities, experts say.
In Wajir-bor, five of the 13 committee members are women. A water users association was also established, led by an elected board of 12, including three women whose job it is to manage the water pan on a daily basis.
Ahmed Abdi, CEO of Arid Lands Development Focus Kenya (ALDEF Kenya), said women now have a chance to influence decisions that affect their livelihoods, particularly on issues of grazing pastures and water.
“Traditionally, women only had more say when there was water scarcity,” said Abdi. “It is then they can decide that the little water that is available near the homestead will not be used for livestock but for domestic use.”
In that case, men are forced to search for water further away, he added.
But now women are starting to gain more power over the wider water situation.
“After the recent rainfall, there is still water in various smaller pans and earth dams where the livestock graze,” explained Amina Mohamed, 50, a committee member for the Wajir-bor water association. “This dam will be opened for use when the livestock have exhausted water in other dams.”
She also works to maintain the fence around the water pan, and prevent people and animals from trespassing.
“We asked the county to build the fence so that livestock do not walk into the dam when drinking, making the water dirty,” she said.
The watchman keeps them out during the day but Mohamed said a herder recently got in with his animals when the guard was off-duty.
“We investigated and found out the person who broke in and he has since been arrested,” she said. The committee will ensure the trespasser pays for the fence repairs, setting an example to others.
El-Ben dam is another water project paid for by Wajir’s Climate Change Fund. Hebla Hussein, 52, a mother of nine, helps manage the local water users association. Its committee of 12 members includes five women.
Hussein is also involved in the day-to-day running of the water pan, which has been fenced off due to the menace of wildlife like thirsty giraffes and hyenas.
“Giraffes are strong and can damage the fence and get into the dam to drink, especially when it is dry,” said Hussein.
The El-Ben water users association has already reported the invasions to the Kenya Wildlife Service, asking it to provide water for the wild animals.
Women’s involvement in climate change adaptation committees is a step forward but it is not yet enough, experts say, as they do not yet have equal representation in most cases.
ALDEF Kenya’s Abdi said it is just as important to select female members who are well-equipped to push forward the concerns of other women when it comes to climate change.
“It is not about numbers but about getting the right person,” he said. “If you get a few women who are able to articulate their issues, even among many men, then they will be able to represent themselves.”