The Problem

Millions of people living in the drought prone Horn of Africa are facing persistent threat from a lack of safe, reliable and affordable water year-round. The arid regions of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia have experienced increasing frequency and severity of drought conditions, which are expected to further increase in coming years. The 2011 drought in East Africa caused food shortages for over ten million people across the region and over 260,000 deaths in Somalia alone. The recent 2016-2017 drought in Kenya resulted in over 3 million people facing food insecurity. Preventable death and malnutrition hits hardest in the nomadic and pastoral communities – UNICEF estimates that there are 19.5 million pastoral people in the Horn of Africa, of whom 40 percent survive on less than one dollar a day.

Drought emergencies occur when reduced rainfall, exacerbated in recent years by climate change, conspires with  with limited community capacity and institutional failures to cause dramatic reductions in access to water for people, livestock and agriculture. This lack of water results in catastrophic crop failures, public health stress, economic shocks, and displacement of people, disrupting patterns of nomadic migration. Historically, responses to drought have been reactive, involving international emergency assistance to save lives and livelihoods, that then disappears when the immediate crisis dissipates. 

The Platform

We can end the cycle of drought emergencies in the arid regions of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The solution is DRIP: the Drought Resilience Impact Platform, which ensures that even when rains fail, water is still available and drought emergencies no longer affect the Horn of Africa. DRIP is a combination of sophisticated water resource monitoring and forecasting tools providing actionable information and supporting an enabling environment for communities and institutions to proactively ensure that water access is maintained during droughts.

DRIP will empower institutions and communities to take coordinated actions that maintain safe water availability during drought conditions. DRIP applies a comprehensive systems design approach to integrate early detection and planning tools with groundwater monitoring and proactive management to enable drought-prone communities to become effective managers in the prevention of humanitarian crises. We will replace expensive short-term response measures like water trucking, with a framework for proactive and sustainable drought resilience. 

Our existing USAID supported Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership focuses on systems strengthening in the region, and our extensive sensor-based monitoring platforms in the region position us with the tools and expertise to apply DRIP successfully.

DRIP will link in-situ sensors deployed in East Africa with remote sensing data to improve estimates for rainfall and groundwater availability, and will develop a localized model for drought forecasting. 

In this region, indicators suggest that groundwater is largely from fossil aquifers and is not dependent on rainfall recharge. In 2013, five fossil aquifers were discovered in northern Kenya offering the potential for reliable year round water. We will develop estimates of groundwater sustainability to ensure year round access. 

We will use our localized drought forecasts and groundwater sustainability estimates to identify and prioritize strategically selected groundwater borehole systems to ensure water delivery during dry and drought seasons. We will operationalize DRIP’s borehole water services through pay-for-performance contracting, ensuring that all institutions and partners are incentivized to ensure water asset management and year round safe water supplies.

DRIP will include:

  • Systems analysis to understand the actors and factors that support increased water security. 
  • Groundwater quality, sustainability and asset management assessments. 
  • Online integration of in-situ and remote sensing data with localized drought forecasts.
  • Decision-response tools to identify water service gaps and forecast drought. 
  • Translation of service gaps and resource shortages into performance based water security actions, led by local organizations.

DRIP specifically targets many of the most vulnerable populations within sub-Saharan Africa – agriculturalists and pastoralists living on subsistence farming and livestock, who are prone to migration due to water and resource insecurity, and are often demographically marginalized ethnic groups. Preventable death and malnutrition, exacerbated by recurrent drought, hits hardest in the pastoral communities – UNICEF estimates that there are 19.5 million pastoral people in the Horn of Africa, of whom 40 percent survive on less than one dollar a day. In Ethiopia, nearly eight million people are affected by drought, food insecurity, floods and conflict. Political strife, exacerbated by the economic and social pressures of drought and food insecurity, has led to conflicts in the Somali, Afar and Oromia regions. In the northern districts of Kenya where we are presently operating (Garissa, Wajir, Turkana, Isiolo, Marsabit), there are hundreds of thousands of refugees in United Nations camps, including refugees from Somalia, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. In Marsabit, 10,000 Ethiopian refugees live outside of UN camps, in Turkana over 185,000 South Sudanese live in the Kakuma camp, and in Garissa 245,000 Somali refugees are in the Dadaab camp. These people are among the most marginalized communities in East Africa. Our proposal seeks to empower these communities to increase their drought resilience and water security, helping to preserve their way of life. 

DRIP will achieve long term financial sustainability through demonstrating the capability for improved resource allocation of already existing local, national and international drought response budgets. USAID recently estimated that an early, proactive and planned humanitarian response to drought, rather than a reactive and late response, would save USAID over 780 million dollars over 15 years in Kenya alone. In Ethiopia, a recent study estimated the costs of emergency water trucking attributable to water system failures at over $2,000 per person over ten years. Thus the DRIP combination of information and empowered action should result in greatly improved use and effectiveness of money already provided by national and international donors for infrastructure and capacity building. Therefore our plan will not require additional resources to be sustainable.

DRIP will end drought emergencies in the Ethiopian regions of Afar, Somali and Oromia, the Somaliland state in Somalia, and the northern counties of Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir, Turkana and Marsabit in Kenya.

Our Team

Karl Linden talking with a student in his CU Boulder lab The Mortenson Center in Global Engineering at CU Boulder combines education, research, and partnerships to positively impact vulnerable people and their environment by improving development tools and practice. Funded by USAID, we are leading a $15.3 million, four-country, multi-partner study to identify the institutional and governance conditions that result in effective improvements of complex water and sanitation systems in this region. Further, we have successfully designed and deployed sensors that monitor and enable maintenance of water systems for over 2.5 million people yearly in the Horn of Africa. Our team has designed and managed a $25 million water and energy intervention in Rwanda. We are ready to scale proven capabilities and deliver a solution to drought emergencies.

CU Boulder and our partners are already scaling existing efforts within water-stressed areas in the region, and will leverage this experience to accelerate our impact. Using satellite-connected sensors, our extended team is currently monitoring the water supplies of over 2.5 million people in arid Kenya and Ethiopia. Additionally, our local and national partners are linking this data to regional water service providers, local government leaders, and national policy makers in order to create an accurate picture of resource availability, and thus improve water services and drought resilience. CU Boulder is currently running impact evaluations in Kenya and Ethiopia focused on improving water access during extreme drought. Our data is being used by local utilities, non-profits, regional governments, national entities and international donors. Previously, in Rwanda, we demonstrated a 10x reduction in water system downtime (from 200 days to 20 days) using our sensor-triggered repair system. 

Furthermore, through the leadership of the USAID Sustainable Wash Systems Learning Partnership, we are refining the use of monitoring and management tools with systems- and network-strengthening activities toward sustainable water service delivery. Our aim under SWS is to provide USAID and the broader WASH sector with clear lessons and evidence on how and when to apply systems approaches - particularly around the sustainability of rural water and sanitation services, and including monitoring and maintenance tools and approaches - to inform the scaling of these approaches globally. These lessons can be directly and rapidly applied here.

USAID Sustainable Wash Systems Learning Partnership

The Millennium Water Alliance (MWA) will leverage expertise at convening partnerships between government actors, NGOs and private sector partners to coordinate our work on the ground in the three countries. MWA currently leads a $35 million program with over 20 private, NGO, and government partners in five arid counties of northern Kenya. MWA is also convening a five-year program in Ethiopia focused on the use of systems strengthening and facilitation approaches to strengthen water and sanitation systems district-wide for improved service delivery. MWA members, including CARE, IRC WASH, World Vision, Food for the Hungry and Catholic Relief Services, have long-term relationships with community, government, other local stakeholders, and extensive expertise working on water services and land planning and management in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.