Masai villagers at a newly sunk well near Mount Kilimanjaro
The elephant is probably the most instantly recognizable symbol of the world's wildlife.
An awesome creature dating from the eocene era 50-60 million years ago, weighing in at around 6 ½ tons, the largest living mammal reaching heights of 11 feet and living from 60-70 years, the elephant is also at the center of the struggle between man and his environment to save the world's biodiversity.
Early in the19th century there were perhaps 27 million elephants worldwide. Today that figure has dwindled to several hundred thousands, the elephants increasingly victim to poaching and latterly the encroachment of human activity on their habitat.
A modest project by a Japanese non governmental organization , the International Water Project (IWP), to drill boreholes for Masai villagers living in the shadow of Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, highlights how intertwined development projects designed to help struggling communities have become with efforts to protect the wider global bio-diversity, in this case the threatened African elephant.
Supported by JICA, a husband and wife team heading IWP have been sinking a series of boreholes in Kenya's Loitokitok area since 2005 using a method known as kazusabori, pioneered in Japan around 1870.
The system's great value is its simplicity and cheapness according to IWP director Hisayo Ohno. All that is needed are several steel, iron and aluminum pipes, a simple flap valve and the raw muscle power of local villagers. All materials are generally obtainable even in rural areas. Training and maintenance are relatively simple and the cost of each well is around one-third of other methods used in developing countries, according to Ohno.
Loitokitok has been ravaged by drought since 2005. Masai women watching one new well being sunk recently said last year they had lost most of their animals—cows, goats and sheep—and females had to spend most of their day fetching water from far away water points. Inter communal strife had increased, as had the struggle between the pastoralist Masai and increasingly thirsty elephant herds for scarce water supplies.
But as more boreholes are sunk in Kenya and perhaps in other semi-arid countries, rural villages will be assured of a continuous and safe supply of water and the struggle between settlements and other species such as the elephant will also benefit.