Published in September 2023

Without a reliable source of clean water, people living in dryland communities often find themselves lacking the opportunities they want in life. Speaking with two members of the Uvilani Central self-help group, we learn how a sand dam project has opened up new possibilities for a local community in southeast Kenya. 

In a visit to southeast Kenya in early 2023, our local partners, the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), conducted an interview with two members of the Uvilani Central self-help group (SHG). Jennifer Nzueni, 67, and Rose Wayua, 64, joined the SHG in 2021 and 2022 respectively in order to find a solution to the challenge of water scarcity that the community faced. Jennifer began by revealing the impact this situation was having on their lives:

"Before we began this project, life was hard. The challenge of water scarcity was overwhelming us. We suffered a lot, especially during the dry season which occupies most of the year."

Water collection duties, which predominantly fall to women in southeast Kenya, often involve long journeys to the nearest water source. Rose described her experience of water collection in the past:

"I would wake up at 6:30am to prepare my children for school before rushing to the river to fetch water, which would take around one and a half hours because of the distance from my home. At times, some of my nine children would miss school so they could accompany me. This was a situation that was repeated many times."

Despite the hard work and sacrifice that went into water collection journeys, the water that was fetched was often of poor quality. As Jennifer explains:

"We had several cases of cholera and dysentery in our community that were brought about by drinking dirty water from scoop holes. The water from these sources could be contaminated by wild animals and livestock, so our health back then was not always good."

The impacts of frequent illness, tiring journeys to water points, and the lack of a reliable water supply meant that farmers would struggle to grow many crops on their land. Without a productive farm, local people often struggled to feed their families and achieve much income. Rose reaffirmed her own experience of these challenges:

"Lacking water made life very difficult. I couldn’t grow enough crops to provide for my family and my farm was barren. Unreliable rainfall in this area made it hard for anyone in the community to have a productive farm."

Rose Wayua, member of the Uvilani Central self-help group, southeast Kenya.

However, since constructing their sand dam in October 2022, both Jennifer and Rose have reported that their lives have changed for the better. After the subsequent rainy season, members of the community were able to collect water from their sand dam which they could use for drinking, farming, and domestic use. Rose remarked on the differences she has witnessed:

"After constructing our sand dam last year, we are no longer experiencing water scarcity in our community. Waterborne diseases have gone away and we have received farming training, helping us to increase our produce. I am now making serious plans for my future farming and income."

Jennifer echoed this message, expanding upon the effects the sand dam has had on the surrounding environment and farmland:

Jennifer Nzueni - member of the Uvilani Central SHG"Before the sand dam my farm was barren and unproductive, but since working on this project the land itself has changed. It is a welcoming sight indeed!"

Jennifer Nzueni, member of the Uvilani Central self-help group, southeast Kenya.

With the climate-smart agriculture training that communities like Uvilani Central receive, they can make the most of their sand dam water and begin to plan for a brighter future. Rose shared how her aspirations for her farm have changed:

"I plan to start increasing my vegetable farming so that I can grow more produce for my household uses and for sale. I hope to one day be able to make 1 million Kenyan Shillings each year (about £6,250), money which I can then use to help the less fortunate in my community."

For members of dryland communities like Uvilani Central, having a reliable source of water is crucial to their prospects for the future. By enabling the construction of sand dams across global drylands, we can continue to support communities to gain access to clean water and the opportunities that come with it. Jennifer concluded her interview by declaring:

"Having a sand dam and shallow well has created life changing opportunities for us. My life has taken a good turn and I now feel that I own a massive project that will serve me for the rest of my life."

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