By Anthony Langat
CHEPKRAM, Kenya, Feb 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With her year-old baby strapped on her back, Christine Lenganya, 25, lifts and balances a 20-litre jerrycan of water on her head.
The mother of four leaves the borehole and follows a rocky footpath that weaves through dense acacia trees uphill to her home. This is the second of two trips she makes daily to the nearby communal well, fitted with a solar-powered pump.
Before the well was drilled, Lenganya had to make a long trip morning and evening to a dam 7 kilometres (4 miles) away.
"Life was so hard, and I could hardly do any meaningful work at home. I arrived tired, and the little water I brought was not even enough for use in the family," Lenganya said.
Her husband used to walk the same distance each day to take his seven cattle to the dam to drink.
At other times, when the area's rivers and dams dried up, Lenganya's family - and many others in Kenya's West Pokot County - were forced to go and look for water in neighbouring counties. That often led to conflict with the Turkana, Tugen and Samburu people over scarce pasture and water in the north Rift Valley.
But now tensions are abating as a result of the new well the West Pokot County government put in at Chepkram. The borehole, equipped with drinking troughs for livestock, is one of more than 30 drilled in the past two years.
The county, which bought its own well-drilling rig, has also fixed over 100 disused boreholes, and fitted the best-yielding wells with solar-powered pumps that make it quicker and easier to access the water.
The project has focused "on places where there were no boreholes and (that) had water shortages", said Alfred Tulel, West Pokot County's chief water officer.
WATER PROMOTES PEACE
Now the semi-arid county has a more reliable supply of water - a change Tulel believes will bring greater peace to its pastoralists.
"Most of the people in this county keep livestock, and if they have water for their cattle and sheep, they will not cause any trouble," he said.
The wells have brought other changes too. Pokot herders who habitually moved in search of water and grass have begun staying in more permanent settlements, Tulel said.
Lessening of tensions in the Uganda border area also has led to the construction of more homes, said Samwel Kosgey, director for water in West Pokot County.
The county has planted 100 hectares (247 acres) of drought-resistant grass at Masolo to serve as pasture for the residents' livestock. Kosgey said the grass is maturing and will soon be handed over to the community to harvest for fodder.
The Ministry of Livestock project, funded by the World Bank, is now expected to be rolled out in other parts of the county, Kosgey added.
The new boreholes have brought an uptick in school attendance, as families who once followed water regardless of the school calendar stay put.
Chepkram Primary School now has 228 students, a significant jump from two years ago when the village well was first drilled, said teacher Matilda Simiyu.
Lenganya said her seven-year-old son has not missed school to help her fetch water or his father drive cattle to drink since the well was installed.
West Pokot County now plans to drill more boreholes, especially on its border with Turkana County.
"We feel that the job is not yet concluded because we are yet to finish upgrading all of the boreholes," Tulel said.
Neighbouring Baringo and Turkana counties have also embarked on well-improvement efforts to minimise conflict in the region when water runs short.
"If our neighbours keep up with us on this, then we will address the issue of conflict, especially over water, once and for all," Tulel said.
(Reporting by Anthony Langat; editing by Laurie Goering and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)