Charlie Taylor (former Sand Dam Foreman at Sand Dams Worldwide), reports on the complex challenges in our Lekurruki region of work, and how sand dams have been and will provoke further positive change...

To be honest I didn’t really know that much about Kenya before I started working here. I had the usual half memories from films and books and I did a bit of general reading but not a great deal of research. Moving from south eastern Kenya to the northern rangelands is like moving country. The landscape and the culture are so completely different.

This is a landscape one of huge plains and huge skies, mountain ranges, rocky promontories and lots of big wild animals. I was lucky enough to go to Tsavo when I was in Makueni and although it is immense (bigger than Wales) it is still a park. Here I am working in open countryside where wild animals still live in alongside humans. Nomadic pastoralists with their livestock in Lekurruki, Northern KenyaThere are few restrictions to their movement and although they are scattered across the landscape this is still very much the land of elephants, giraffe, leopard, impala and many other species.

"Sand Dams Worldwide plan to roll this work out into other conservancies as they develop their water strategies and help reduce the need for people and animals to travel huge distances to access water and grazing."

Charlie Taylor, former Sand Dam Foreman at Sand Dams Worldwide.

This is also the land of nomadic pastoralists. People who still live by walking their livestock following the rains and the grass alongside the wild animals with whom they are competing. There are many tribes here and they don’t always get along but the names Maasai, Samburu, Pokot and Turkana conjure up another time and another world when land ownership was unheard of and all the cattle in the world were given to them by Ngai - God.

Today the big challenge is balancing three competing priorities: grazing for domestic livestock, grazing for wildlife that brings in tourist income and water for people and animals, both wild and domestic. Sand dams can be part of that solution but the issue is really complex and putting in a new water source can make things better rather than worse. It is an irony that water points can create droughts. The high levels of grazing around sparse water points leads to stripping of the vegetation so that when the rains do come, the water runs off the soil rather than soaking in making drought conditions more likely. You can also create a hot spot where people trying to graze livestock are brought into conflict with wild animals attempting to reach water; this can result in deaths of both animals and people.

To ensure that we are making things better and not worse we work with the local communities and agencies. The Northern Rangelands Trust oversees the establishment and management of conservancies across a huge swathe of Kenya. With international donors and aid, they help support the management costs of staff and equipment and help with governance and strategy development.

Lekurruki Conservancy Trust was established to put community lands under management control. They have developed a strategy, grazing plans, wildlife plans and water plans. We are working with LCT to help them deliver their water plan which includes dams built for domestic water, for domestic animals and some just for wildlife. We are planning to build 18 dams in this relatively small area (15,400 hectares) which is home to around 4,500 people plus the many nomads who pass through. This should avoid the ‘hot spot’ problem and although it will tend to draw more nomads in, there will be more water for them. Getting the grazing pressure right is critical and with the very poor November rains, this is another drought year. It is also an election year which means tensions are running high in some places.

There is huge potential in northern Kenya for sand dams and a huge demand for water so Sand Dams Worldwide plan to roll this work out into other conservancies as they develop their water strategies and help reduce the need for people and animals to travel huge distances to access water and grazing. It is challenging but fascinating work.

Please consider making a donation today to enable more pastoralist communities to extend the network of sand dams in the Northern Rangelands, providing their families, neighbours and livestock with clean water for life.