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Water harvesting slakes thirst at an innovative Kenyan inn

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Pius Sawa/AlertNet

(Read caption) Gaitano Likhavila supplies water for his KwelaKwela Inn in Kenya solely from the rainwater he collects and stores in an underground tank. He saves money and also ensures that he has a reliable, safe water supply.

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When Gaitano Likhavila was still working as an accountant at the provincial hospital in the west Kenyan town of Kakamega, he ran into a situation that got him thinking about water.

“There was a serious water shortage that made the hospital administration almost close down the hospital. At the same time, a lot of rainwater from the roofs was wasted, running down to the River Isikhu, but nobody thought of getting hold of this free water,” says Likhavila.

In 2007, he left the hospital and set up a business, now known as the KwelaKwela Inn, along the Kakamega-Kisumu highway. The venue, which occupies three-quarters of an acre, is well-known for traditional African foods, cultural performances, drinks, and lodging, and has a large garden for outdoor functions.

But as he built his business he faced one big challenge: a shortage of water. At first he paid local women to carry water on their heads from the Isikhu River, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away, for cooking, drinking, washing, and other daily use.

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“It was very expensive for me, because I needed a lot of water to run my business on a daily basis. Not that the water from government was not available, but it was not reliable,” he explains.

But the Isikhu River also dries up between rainy seasons when there is very little precipitation, and the situation has been getting worse each year due to changes in the weather patterns, experts say.

“Today there is no predicting [the weather],” said Moses Agumba, head of the Lake Victoria South Water Services Board, which operates in the area. Increasing deforestation and climate change have made rainfall erratic, he said.

The Lake Victoria Water Development Authority, a government department that connects homes to piped water supplies, depends on the Isikhu River to pump water into its storage facilities. When water shortages hit, rationing becomes the only way to serve the population.

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