Humans cannot live without water, and yet about 884 million people worldwide did not have access to clean drinking water in 2017. In Tanzania specifically, about 4 million people do not have access to safe water. For Maasai pastoralists, knowing when and where water will be is crucial to survival.

To discuss water in Maasailand, within Tanzania and Kenya, it is important to understand what the environment is like. The water crisis begins with the environment: the semi-arid environment and seasonality of rain. In this region, seasons are accurately described as the dry season and the rainy, or wet, season. Within Kenya and Tanzania, there is very little running water, especially during the dry season. Because of this, many local peoples have to travel long distances (10-20km) for water; once there, it is always a possibility that they could arrive and there is no water left. Once the distance is traveled to obtain clean and fresh water, if it is there, the next step is to carry what can be brought back. Maasai may use donkeys to carry water, but people also carry water themselves. While women carry water on their heads, men carry water using their shoulders to demonstrate their strength. As pastoralists, Maasai must find water sources for their cattle, which can also be large distances away. But, what about during the rainy season? Natural reservoirs are plentiful during the rainy season and are filled up in March/April, usually lasting until July. It is around August and September that people begin to drive cattle further across longer distances in search of clean water. Strong cultural taboos against bathing and relieving oneself near water sources help keep limited water resources clean for consumption. Thinking about this from a year-long perspective, water is a necessity. This means that just because it is more abundant during the rainy season, does not mean that the dry season doesn’t present an issue; water is needed every day.

As climate change increases the length and severity of droughts around the world, the semi-arid regions of East Africa are particularly at risk. On a large scale, the pipes needed to divert clean water to all those who need it require coordination among all different tribes in a very large area, and it is more difficult and expensive to get water to a village than electricity. On this note, there are conservation projects working to restore natural watering holes to benefit both the wildlife and pastoralists, such as the Maasai, that inhabit this area. One such project is the Waterhole Restoration Project in the Merrushi Group Ranch, Kenya. These watering holes, according to Maasai pastoralists, were created by animals such as elephants through digging; they are naturally occurring, but have been deeply affected by prolonged drought within the region. Not only did elephants create these watering holes, but they also maintained them. Prolonged drought, and a decrease in elephant populations, lead to what is called silting. Essentially, this means that the watering holes are being filled up due to higher levels of vegetation growth and mud that accumulates at the bottom of the watering holes. 

It is easy to take water for granted when it flows out of your tap every day without fail. It is important to remember that fresh, clean water is a valuable natural resource- just like the wildlife and ecosystems it feeds!