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Searching for water

I had always assumed that traveling through a desert would be hot, dusty and disorientating. Last week I found out that yes, all of the above is true.

The Chalbi desert is a vast expanse of salt-covered sand that runs through part of Marsabit district in north-eastern Kenya Often as you’re driving through, you imagine you see a pond of water or the end of the desert. As you get nearer, you realise it’s a sand dune.

Another mirage?

So when I saw what I thought were about 100 men towards the edge of the desert, I just assumed I was going a little mad and seeing a mirage again. Turned out I wasn’t. Water shortages We happened upon 91 men who have been living here for the past two weeks. These men came in search of water for their animals, which surprisingly exists as a result of a spring at the edge of the desert. The water in the spring is too salty for human or animal consumption, so these men were here to de-salt the water.

Lowest water tables

The manmade wells in their towns are almost dry and cannot accommodate the needs of their animals. De-salting the spring should supply them with water for the next six months. It’s the same story everywhere in the vast dry and arid plains that surround the desert. With no rain in most areas for the past two years, the water tables are at their lowest.

Coping in harsh conditions

The people who inhabit this harsh area have been coping with inclement conditions for centuries. Moving with their livestock to where they can find water and pasture. This year, they have been traveling further and further to feed and water their cattle, goats and camels.

It can now take some three to four days between pastures where they can find a well with water. For these pastoralists and livestock owners, this is the only way to keep the majority of their animals alive until the next expected rainy season. But those rains are not due to fall until November.

No one dares think what will happen if those rains do not appear again.