Over the last few months we have witnessed the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19); creating a devastating threat to the health and security of people all around the world.

Throughout this period, a key message from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been to wash your hands regularly in order to help curb the spread of the virus. But for many, following this simple guidance is not an option.

Around the world, 2.2 billion people still do not have access to clean water available when needed (UNICEF, WHO 2019). Instead, many have no choice but to walk for hours each day to fetch water; often from a busy water collection point, where the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is increased, or from a dirty, contaminated river, posing an additional threat of contracting waterborne diseases.

“We used to experience a lot of diseases in the community because the water points were contaminated. You used to get humans stepping on the water. The livestock and donkeys too would go to the water point, so it was not clean... Some of the diseases caused by drinking the unclean water were so severe that people would need to be carried to the hospital.”

Lois Mwangangi, member of Kavoko self-help group, southeast Kenya.

The WHO recommends 50 litres of water per day per person for drinking, washing, cooking and maintaining proper hygiene. In the UK alone we use on average:

  • 149 litres of water per person each day
  • 46 litres to shower
  • 14 litres to flush a toilet

Yet we know that many households living in rural dryland communities are having to make do with much, much less.

In Zimbabwe for example, 47% of the communities we work with were only able to collect around half the recommended minimum amount. In the dry season, when water is even more scarce, to conserve water the majority of households were having to restrict the number of buckets of water they used for bathing, impeding their ability to maintain proper hygiene.

Until these communities have water close to their homes, which they can use to practice safe hygiene, their health is going to be continually under threat. As we live through these challenging weeks, it is imperative that we continue to support more vulnerable communities to gain access to clean water, and with your help we can do just that, by supporting them to build a sand dam.

A sand dam is a concrete wall built across a sandy riverbed. During the short but intense rains common to dryland regions, water flows over a sand dam and deposits sand behind the wall, where up to 40 million litres of water is stored, safe from contamination and disease, to be harvested over the coming months. Watch here how sand dams work:

Initial data from our water yield study in southeast Kenya, which is measuring the amount of water abstracted from 30 sand dams, has shown that one community was able to abstract over 20,000 litres of water in a single day!

“Life has really changed for us, and for our children and grandchildren. It takes just 10 minutes to collect water. Now we can cook, they can bath, they can wash their clothes, and they can even attend school because we can access water nearby... There are fewer diseases too because we can access water from the shallow wells, which give us clean water for the community.”

Jackson Nzumo, member of Kavoko self-help group, southeast Kenya.

By ensuring that communities have a source of clean drinking water which they can also use for hand washing and cleaning, sand dams greatly reduce the threat of ill health of entire communities. Cases of waterborne diseases are also reduced, as they no longer have to drink contaminated water.

Communities also receive Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) training, covering the importance of good hygiene behaviours such as hand washing, and their role in preventing disease, helping to ensure healthy hygiene is ingrained in their daily living.

As part of the training they are shown how to make a tippytap; a simple hand-washing device made with just a few basic materials. Practical solutions like these are helping communities protect themselves against global health threats.

Sand dams play a wider role in reducing the impact of food insecurity and improving communities’ livelihoods. With water to irrigate their crops, and training on the use of sustainable agriculture techniques, farmers are able to grow enough produce to become self-sustaining, ensuring a source of food and income, even during challenging times like these.

What’s more, children can attend school more often as they no longer have to spend hours fetching water; they are healthier and better nourished, and they have water to wash and take to school.

“With the virus (COVID-19) gradually spreading to rural areas, sand dams are going to play an enormous role in preventing the spread of the disease.”

Grace Mureithi-Korir, Communications Manager for the Africa Sand Dam Foundation, southeast Kenya.

With your support we can help reduce global health threats for many more rural dryland communities, simply by providing them with access to clean water. Here is just an example of how your support could help:

£20 could provide a community with 4 bags of cement for their sand dam

£30 could supply a community with a rake, gardening fork, shovel and watering cans, to plant trees for fruit, fuel and fodder

£60 could provide a community with a roll of barbed wire, to reinforce and strengthen their sand dam during construction

Now, more than ever before, we need your help, so where it is safe and responsible to do so, we can continue building sand dams alongside our in-country partners, and safeguard the health of vulnerable dryland communities with lifelong access to clean water. Thank you for your support, and above all, we hope you and your family are safe and well.

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