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Solar-Pumped Water Slakes Rural Kenya's Thirst For Development

Stooped over knee-high rows of green gram plants at her farm in eastern Kenya, Grace Kaari hums to herself as she slices out weeds with a blunt machete.

Two years ago, Kaari would not have had time to tend her crop in the morning. Instead, she would have been traveling to gather water, at a river 12 kilometers (7 miles) away.

“I used to spend the whole day fetching water. I could not do anything else for the day because of tiredness,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But a recently installed solar-powered water pump has now brought the precious resource direct to her village. And with the village water storage tanks full, she has time for the endless other tasks on her one-acre piece of land, she said.

Access to clean water remains a struggle for many of rural Kenya’s poorest households, with families blaming the problem on everything from a lack of infrastructure to a lack of government commitment to help the country’s most marginalized.

But some counties, such as Kaari’s Tharaka Nithi – where rural electrification is widely lacking – now are tapping solar energy to pump water to villages from nearby rivers.

The water is then directed into village storage tanks where household members can fetch it free of charge.

“People have been struggling with water scarcity, yet this county has three permanent rivers. The challenge was to tap water from the sources and bring it near homes,” said Jasper Nkanya, the county’s executive commissioner for agriculture, water, irrigation and fisheries.

Nkanya said the county has plenty of sunshine, a resource that went untapped for years, though that is now changing.

“The solar units are able to absorb energy which can be used to pump water during the day and at night” using a a battery system, he said in an interview.

Established at a cost of 8 million Kenya shillings ($80,000), the solar pump project, which serves over 40,000 people, is funded by the county government, Nkanya said.

Residents say easier access to water has made a difference in their lives, particularly those of women and girls, who are traditionally charged with gathering water.

“My daughter used to miss school as she accompanied her mother to fetch water,” said Martin Mwiti, a motorbike taxi operator in Marimanti.

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