Daily life in dryland communities is so often dominated by the struggle to meet basic needs, such as food and clean water.

When people lack these essential resources, all other concerns become secondary. People find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty, forcing them to focus on the short-term to get through each day.

These issues are fundamentally linked with water scarcity; without access to a safe and reliable water source, farmers cannot grow enough food for their families and their future prospects can seem limited.

While the problem of water shortages may not discriminate, this is not to say that it affects everyone in the same way. Across global drylands, it is often women and girls who bear the heaviest burdens when communities lack sufficient access to water.

UN Women recently reported that women and girls experience disproportionate harm as a result of the impacts of climate change, with a key reason being that they are more likely to be responsible for collecting water.

Water collections trips can be dangerous, with possible dangers including wild animal encounters, abduction, and even rape during their journey.

“Water scarcity limited our access to safe water for drinking and for practising basic hygiene, both at home and in schools. It took its toll, especially on women and girls, who are faced with many possible dangers on the long journey to collect water, such as rape, abuse and wild animals... I used to fear sending my daughters to the river."

Agnes Mwende, Muunguini self-help group member, southeast Kenya.

Entrenched gender inequalities are also restricting the decision-making ability of women, creating a scenario where women and girls are especially deprived of opportunities to shape their own futures.

As climate change contributes to increasingly intense dry seasons, women and girls are making longer journeys (up to 12 hours a day) in search of a water source. The time and energy they spend on this task leaves them with less to devote to their livelihoods and education.

In the face of these challenges, sand dam projects offer relief from the pressures of water scarcity by providing a year-round source of clean water closer to people’s homes.

A sand dam is a concrete wall built across a seasonal riverbed that captures up to 40 million litres of water, replenishing every rainy season. This water is stored within sand, where it is kept safe from disease and evaporation. Watch here how sand dams work:

As well as providing a source of water which meets WHO drinking standards, sand dams also recharge groundwater levels and raise the water table both above and below the dam. This helps to restore degraded land, rebuild farming prospects by improving soil fertility, and regreen environments by encouraging vegetation growth.

With a reliable water supply and more fertile soil, farmers can grow more food to eat, store, and sell. As incomes increase from selling excess produce, parents are better able to pay school fees for their children.

A key part of sand dam projects is providing training in sustainable agriculture and environmental protection measures, helping communities get the most from their sand dam while conserving their natural resources.

There are multiple positive impacts of sand dam projects for dryland communities, yet they offer specific benefits for women and girls. For example, when water is available closer to home women and girls will spend less time on journeys to fetch water, allowing them more time to focus on their educations, their livelihoods, and their future careers.

“We believe that our children now have something to smile about; a promise for the future that they will never lack water. They shall get enough time to play and do their homework without the stress of water collection.”

Angelina Muthoka, Muunguini self-help group member, southeast Kenya.

In our recently published 2022 impact report (which you can read here), we found that sand dam projects have profound effects on the lives of women and girls. For instance, we observed a 112% increase in the number of women feeling hopeful about their futures, as well as a 241% increase in the number feeling proud of themselves.

Data from our Kenya programme shows that community self-help groups have a 60% female membership on average, whilst in our Zimbabwe programme we see an average of 50% female membership. With this level of representation in local community projects, women are better able to communicate their needs and have their voices heard.

You can learn more about the impact of our projects on the lives of women and girls here, in which two women from the Muunguini self-help group (pictured above) share their experience of life before and after building a sand dam in their community.

Women and girls play such an important role in dryland communities and deserve every opportunity in their lives. With your support, we can enable more communities to build sand dams and give women and girls more of a say in their futures, for generations to come.

£30 could provide a dryland farmer with drought-tolerant seeds, to grow a reliable source of fresh food for their children

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

£100 could provide 500 tree seedlings and a spray pump, to protect the trees from insects

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for your continued support. Any donation you could make today would be hugely appreciated and would be a valued contribution to our work supporting women and girls in drylands to shape their own futures.

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