Published in June 2022

The capacity of sand dams to regreen areas offers a wonderful visual representation of the change they can influence. Speaking with community members in southern Ethiopia, we learn how peoples' lives are changed by sand dams just as much as their local environment is.

The Benatsemay district, or "Woreda" as it is known locally, is located in the South Omo zone of southern Ethiopia. Across Ethiopia, each Woreda is divided into 34 sub-districts, or "Kebeles", that form the smallest administrative units in the country. Among these Kebeles in Benatsemay is Mukecha, home to around 2,200 people who rely heavily on rearing livestock to support their livelihoods.

For a long time, community members in Mukecha did not have access to a clean and adequate water supply, so were forced to dig scoop holes in river channels to acquire the water they needed to survive. This meant daily journeys of up to three kilometres for most households to collect from an often-contaminated water supply, leading many to suffer from waterborne diseases.

In 2021, the Mukecha community partnered with Sand Dams Worldwide, and our in-country partners Action For Development (AFD), to construct the Mukecha sand dam in a nearby river channel, with funding from Jersey Overseas Aid, Isle of Man Government and the Beatrice Laing Trust. Completed in November 2021, the dam now provides clean water to the local community less than 30 minutes journey from their homes. This has had a profound impact on the lives of the local people, for whom the benefits have included safer journeys to collect water, a reduced prevalence of waterborne diseases, and more time to spend on their other productive daily activities.

Among the locals of the Mukecha community was Bergi Bura, a 46-year-old woman with eight children who described the sand dam project as "a gift from God". Following the completion of the dam, she told us that she sees the struggle and drudgery of fetching water, particularly in the dry season, as a thing of the past.

Bergi and the other women in the local area used to travel long distances to get water, a journey which she described as unsafe and inadequate to meet all of her household’s water needs.

Bergi Bura, Mukecha community member - Ethiopia"Women and girls were expected to wake up early, sometimes as early as 5:00am, to fetch water over long distances. I am thankful to God and those who supported us that adequate water is now available in my community."

Bergi Bura, Mukecha community member, southern Ethiopia.

Another community member we spoke with is Bona Torsi, a 47-year-old woman with six children. She explains that in the local culture, fetching water is a responsibility that falls predominantly on women, who would often have to walk for up to four hours a day while their children remained at home. After this journey, women were often exhausted and struggled to complete their other daily responsibilities, such as collecting firewood and cooking. This was further compounded by issues of sickness caused by contaminated sources, as well as the water needs of peoples’ livestock.

Bona went on to express her gratitude for the occurrence of the sand dam project in Mukecha, sharing how it has relieved a great burden from the women of the community in particular.

"Now, fetching water is no longer such a burden. We can get drinkable water within less than 30 minutes’ walk from our homes and even our livestock can get water nearby." She tells us. "There is no need to take long journeys to fetch from unprotected water sources, as we did previously. Now our families can also help us with this task."

Bona proclaims that the greatest benefit of all is the absence of waterborne diseases, with the community being less vulnerable to disease outbreaks than ever before. She also shares her experience of agricultural training sessions, which have helped the community to get the most out of their sand dam and affect positive change in terms of their natural environment. She concludes with the powerful statement that their local area "is changing from a dry land into a green one".

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